N. Shatrujeet

BPL Mobile: Clarity in communication

The latest television commercial for cellular service provider BPL Mobile uses ‘silence’ to effectively communicate a simple message on sound clarity

From a cellular operator's point of view, it was the most obvious thing to highlight… the aspect of clarity of sound.

Yet, like most obvious things that get overlooked, sound clarity - one of the most critical elements in any conversation that involves the usage of cellphones - has rarely been communicated to the consumer as a USP. Which is why the latest television commercial for cellular service provider BPL Mobile deserves mention.

Actually, this piece of communication scores not merely because it talks about superior sound quality. Yes, saying it first has distinct advantages, but it could well have been said in the most prosaic of terms. What makes the BPL Mobile ad - and its message - stand out is the manner in which perfect sound clarity has been showcased.

The ad is about this man who gets a call on his cellphone as he is stands at the junction of a busy road. There are interfering noises everywhere… traffic, people, a rackety drilling machine in operation. However, once the man puts the phone to his ear, a strange, ‘blotting-everything-out' kind of silence seems to descend around him. The man is initially puzzled at the silence, but then a slow realization dawns on him and he smiles. The camera cuts to the man's pregnant wife sitting at home, smiling fondly in silence. She is seen pressing a phone against her distended stomach…

True, the ‘pregnant wife-loving husband-ear to womb' thing has been done many times before, so nothing novel about that. But it is the relevance of the situation to what BPL Mobile is communicating that is noteworthy. The power of the silence, the way the silence drowns out all other noises, is a very simple but clever way of communicating one simple message - sound clarity that allows one to hear every word that is said. Or not said.

The interesting thing about this commercial is that at the time of the initial briefings, sound clarity wasn't supposed to be the message. In fact, this commercial wasn't supposed to be a commercial. "Some three-four months ago, BPL had commissioned IMRB to conduct a survey among cellular subscribers in Mumbai," reveals Prabha Alexander, associate account director, McCann-Erickson. "One of the findings of the survey was that subscribers of both BPL and Orange claimed that BPL Mobile was a superior product in terms of sound clarity. Now this gave us a window of opportunity to go one-up on Orange." Incidentally, Alexander reveals that BPL's superior sound quality is something that even BPL Mobile subscribers in the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Goa mention.

Given the IMRB survey's findings, BPL's first instinct was to talk about how BPL Mobile helps check power drainage. "The initial task was to communicate how BPL works harder to preserve a cellphone's power resource," says Alexander. "After all, if you have poor sound clarity, your handset will be used for longer periods, and this drains the battery. So we thought about how with BPL Mobile, your battery will never give up on you." The problem with talking about power drainage was that there is a direct co-relation between battery life and sheer usage of the phone. And battery life is also a function of individual handsets. This claim had too many holes.

The next thing that was explored was coverage. "The brief to us was actually for a press ad that said ‘We are a superior network'," says Varun Mehta, ex-creative consultant, McCann-Erickson. "But you can't just claim coverage. And at the end of the day, coverage doesn't mean much. That's when I said, let's speak about clarity. Nobody has ever emphatically spoken about clarity, so say it while you can. It's just a matter of time before someone or the other talks about this. Why can't BPL be the first?"

The issue settled, the process of ideation started. However, the agency felt a press ad would not do full justice to the claim. "It began as a press ad, but we started pressing for television for three reasons," says Alexander. "One, we felt there was a deeper story here. Two, we felt that as there was no immediate sales objective to the ad, a press ad might end up being a blind spot - it's here today, but gone tomorrow. And three, a TV commercial would cost us much less."

The upshot of this reasoning - and the script that Mehta created - was that BPL agreed to a television spot. Mehta, of course, insists that he cannot really say how the idea occurred. "It just happened, and thereafter it was damn simple." Interestingly, he reveals that there were three versions of the ad that were presented to the client. And all three pertained to the ‘sound' factor.

"After shooting the film, during the edit, Abhinay (Deo of Ramesh Deo Films) wanted the man in the ad - and the audience - to hear the baby's heartbeat once he put the cellphone to his ear," says Mehta. "But I wouldn't hear of it simply because that would give away the game to the audience. That silence added to the intrigue in the ad. Abhinay then said let's put the baby's heartbeat at the end, when we show the pregnant wife. But I was arguing for complete silence because I felt that suited the message the best. Finally, we presented all three edits to the client. And I am thankful the client picked the silence."

So are we. After all, we are a bit tired of listening to something go ‘dhak, dhak' at the end of an ad. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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