Devina Joshi

Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju

With the launch of Max New York Life’s latest campaign, fear is back as the predominant emotion in the life insurance category

Remember the life insurance ads of yesteryears (call it the last century/ millennium, if you must)? Dread and fear were the two primary psychological hooks for the category, and it wasn’t uncommon to hear ambulance sirens wail in the ads, as horror struck family members worried about the future on losing a loved one. With increased privatisation, the category became chirpier with emotional ‘We’re there for you’ kind of appeals being made by various brands.

Now, in a life insurance ad by Max New York Life (MNYL), it seems fear – and its relevance to the basic need for insurance – is back. Anisha Motwani, senior vice-president, marketing, Max New York Life, says, “The category is getting crowded with the sappy, emotional kind of appeals. I’ll say it is gutsy on our part to bring fear back as it is one emotion that is avoided by most Indians – they love a happy ending.”

Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju
Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju
Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju
Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju
Max New York Life: Desperately seeking Sanju
Shots from the ad
However, she adds, people in India are still in denial with reference to this category. They largely tend to believe ‘it can’t happen to me’, which is an area that MNYL wishes to address. “We worked around the famous insight that problems never announce their arrival, so one has to be prepared,” Motwani explains.

The ad, created by Euro RSCG, opens on the shot of a woman hurriedly climbing up the stairs to her flat. On passing the security guard, she enquires if her husband has arrived home. He says he has. She quickly opens her door and rushes in, calling out to her husband, Sanju. She prepares tea, and calls out again to her husband, expecting a reply. But there’s only silence. Next, she calls him on his mobile phone, only to find it ringing in the house itself, under some couch pillows. Now, she is a little worried, and calls out frantically for him, exploring every inch of the house. Her worry escalates into panic on finding her husband very still in a rocking chair on the terrace, coffee spilling from an overturned cup beside him and newspaper sheets scattered all around. Assuming the worst, she creeps up behind him and nudges him. Sanju, who had been listening to music on his earphones, is quite startled. The couple hug each other in relief. The ad ends with the thought, ‘Museebatein bataake nahin aati’, and therefore, Max New York Life helps a person prepare for such unprecedented events.

Motwani admits that this is a “health insurance brief given for a life insurance ad”. To her, the idea here is not only about health problems, but about any threat to a peaceful life. “The insight fit the brief perfectly,” she says.

Says Mani Jayaram, vice-president, creative, Euro RSCG, “We wanted this film to be a relatable, slice of life one, as the insight itself is very real.” The ad idea was thought of by Euro’s associate creative director, Nikhil Pandey, who cracked the idea “one fine afternoon”. The name Sanju was chosen as it is a generic one (the name is rather prominent, being the only words uttered in the ad for a long time).

“The film had to build on the paranoia aspect, and we had to let the viewer believe that something was very wrong, to play on fears,” says Pandey. The essential brief was as basic as the category itself: to address the question why one should opt for insurance. Exaggeration had to be used to make the ad a little scary, but not so much that the relief in the end is lost on the audience.

The ad has been directed by Subir Chatterjee of White Light Films, along with Namita Roy Ghosh. A young couple was chosen as with an old couple, the viewer would have jumped to the obvious conclusion easily. The ad was shot over two days in two separate flats in Mumbai (for different scenes). The flats were not prettied up – they were shot just as they are in reality to give a slice of life feel. The security guard was thrown in to heighten the pressure, as then the woman is expecting her husband to be in the house.

The shot of the woman calling her husband on his mobile, only to find it ringing within the house, was used to make the ad more chilling.

“We used a jumpy kind of narrative,” says Chatterjee. Some shots were taken from a 16mm handheld camera. Further, multiple dissolves were given to the woman’s face, to make it look like she has searched in every direction (it also gave the passage of time effect).

“Sounds were of extreme importance to add to the sinister feeling in the film,” Chatterjee adds. A faint ambulance sound on the woman reaching the terrace, the shrill ring of the mobile, or even the terrace door banging, are all intended to make the film edgier.

The ad is currently playing with the IPL matches.