Saumya Tewari

KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts

In promoting the eighth season of 'KBC', Sony Entertainment Television puts the widespread discrimination against people from northeast India in the 'hot seat'.

KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts

Advertising, like films, is a formidable tool that holds a mirror to the society indicating the gaping holes in our social fabric. The latest campaign titled 'Kohima' - promoting the eighth season of the popular game show Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) - tugs at heartstrings and touches upon the sensitive issue of racialism or discrimination that people from the northeast face. While the onus of curbing socio-economic issues is not on brands, ads like Kohima do the cause a big service in their own little way.

KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts
The ad - just over a minute long - opens with Amitabh Bachchan (host of the show) asking Poornima, a young contestant hailing from the northeast: "Which country is Kohima city in? (A) China (B) Nepal (C) India or (D) Bhutan." The contestant opts for an audience poll (a lifeline in the game show) and 100 per cent of the respondents say India. Bachchan tells her, "It's India, everyone knows this answer," to which the young contestant replies, "Everyone knows the answer, but how many people actually acknowledge it?" The film ends with the message 'Yeh khel kuch aisa hi hai, yahan sirf paise hi nahi dil bhi jeete jaate hain'.


The Kohima campaign is laced with images that say a lot in a short span of time. Watching the show are a family, a chef, a young man and watchmen - all from the northeast - and two young (rather loud) Hindi speaking men.

Executed by Leo Burnett, the campaign is a part of series called 'The Unity Edition', which will have other promos promoting the game show on similar lines. Published on July 8th on YouTube, the campaign has already done 4.5 lakh views. Gaurav Seth, marketing head, Sony Entertainment Television " The films are going to focus on how KBC as a platform unites India, but more importantly wins hearts."

It would seem that the Indian advertising industry is willing to highlight the northeast region to make audiences elsewhere aware how integral a part of the country the region. In the past few months, a couple of big brands have incorporated characters from the northeast in their mainstream ad campaigns.

Nestle India's 'Share Your Goodness' campaign executed by McCann-Erickson India showcased a North Indian family adopting a young girl child from northeast India. A recent campaign from Hindustan Unilever, for its dishwashing soap brand 'Vim', was filmed in Mizoram with its brand ambassador television actress, Sakshi Tanwar. The ad featured the world's largest family comprising of 160 members who live under a single roof.

Early this year, Tata Salt chronicled the hardships and achievements of boxing icon, MC Mary Kom who hails from the northeast in its 'Maine Desh ka namak khaya hai'. Another ad campaign from Big Bazaar for its clothing range featured a northeastern father-son duo getting ready for a Valentine's Day date humming a Bollywood song.

Shape of things to come?

KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts
KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts
KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts
KBC Kohima: Winning Hearts
So is this becoming a trend? Gayathri Smitha, casting director and partner at Insaights, a media production company, asserts that requests for oriental, or northeast, faces have increased. Take Nestle.

"The client particularly wanted a oriental-looking child. Advertisers and brands are slowly but steadily looking at promoting this region," she says. While there are early adopters incorporating northeastern faces is far from becoming a trend, believes Ram Subramanian, founder and director, Handloom Picture Company. "On many occasions, clients have asked us to not take faces from northeast India stating that they do not represent the entire country and may end up confusing the viewers," he laments.

Dubbing it as a 'losing battle', Subramanian says that sometimes it becomes difficult to convince the clients. The KBC Kohima promo is a standalone campaign in terms that it is based on northeast region while the Nestle ad campaign was a part of a story. "Show me a regular ad film campaign where you have seen a northeastern face," he says.


Each season of Kaun Banega Crorepati has been promoted with a theme. Last year, the communication theme was 'Sirf Gyaan Hi Aapko Aapka Haq Dilata Hai' highlighting the power of knowledge and how it is a potent agent of change as well as the greatest leveller in the face of gender, lineage and language-based biases in society.

The first season of the show focused on two factors - the huge prize money and the host. For the second season, christened 'Kaun Banega Crorepati - Dwitiya', the campaign revolved around the stories of an aspiring cricketer and a Bollywood struggler, and spoke about how they could make it big with KBC. The punch line used was 'Umeed se dugna'.

The third season featured a new host - Shah Rukh Khan. His introduction in the campaign was done with a fast-paced music track, featuring Khan himself. The ad was based on the insight that a single question could change one's life. 'Ek sawaal jo aapki zindagi badal de' was the line used. In the communication that heralded the fourth season, Burnett launched a four-phased ad campaign hinged on the theme 'Koi bhi sawaal chhota nahi hota'.

Season 5 improvised on this theme and extended it to 'Koi bhi insaan chhota nahi hota'. The genesis of this extension was in the popular Indian societal belief that when given the right opportunity, everybody is capable of achieving the extraordinary. The sixth season of the show was built on the campaign, 'Seekhna band, toh jeetna band'. The campaign sheds light on the paramount importance of learning.

Smart execution

Saji Abraham, vice-president, planning, Lowe Lintas and Partners Worldwide believes that it was a smart move on Sony's part to pick 'life stories' instead of highlighting the money aspect and using the topic of national integration in advertising

Applauding the execution, he points out "It is sharp - right up to the clincher of her revealing why she chose the audience poll. It was poignant and drove the message home very well." On being asked whether he can think of any other regions that the channel will target in its next line up of campaigns, Abraham says, repeating a similar execution might seem a bit clichéd. He suggests playing up on various existing stereotypes in the country. "How about policemen who are corrupt or taking the armed forces for granted," he smiles.

Abraham says that it is great to see northeast faces in the ads and such media exposure could go much further to integrate the country than government diktats or reminders about our geography lessons. "The integration message works if it is integrated (pardon the pun) well into the ad. In the Nestle ad, the girl could have been anyone and the film would have worked just as well," he notes.

Satbir Singh, managing partner and chief creative officer, Havas Worldwide feels that the northeast has unfortunately been a 'blind spot' for decades. "This spot is a beautiful reminder that our fellow countrymen from there are as much a part of our nation as any. Another winner from KBC and Sony," he says.

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