N. Shatrujeet

Bajaj Pulsar: Origin of the 'male' species

A look at how the creative idea for the Bajaj Pulsar evolved from ‘no-frills performer’ to ‘Definitely male’, in the context of the latest ad for the brand

Funny how grammar - or rather, grammatical usage - can give birth to an advertising idea. That too, one that, in a way, repositions the competition… despite seeming to say the same thing that the category has always subconsciously been saying, albeit not in as many words.

We're talking about the communication for the Pulsar, Bajaj Auto's latest bike. And the brand's slug, ‘Definitely male'.

But first, let's quickly run through the latest piece of communication for the brand, currently airing on television. The ad starts off with a couple of nurses walking surreptitiously down a deserted hospital ward lined with beds. One by one, they stop by each bed, stealthily lift the linen, inspect the ‘occupant', shake their heads and move on. Till they come to something largish, draped in covers.

They look at one another in hushed anticipation. With a bit of egging from the other, one of the nurses reaches out and pulls off the covers. Pupils dilate, and the two stare at one another for a moment, before excitedly screaming, ‘It's a boy! It's a boy!'

Cut to the shots of the Pulsar burning rubber on an expressway, as the voiceover talks about the power of the 180-cc engine. The commercial ends with the shot of the bike on its side stand. As the two nurses saunter past, the bike slowly but deliberately turns it's ‘head' to follow them sashaying down the road. ‘Definitely male.'

Looking at it, almost every Indian bike ad made to date - especially those that play on ‘performance' and the pleasure of biking - has had strong ‘male' undertones. One way or another, true-blue biking has always been equated with the Alpha male image. But that image has always been the rider's… This is the first time that the bike itself has been endowed with a ‘sex' (‘gender' is too weak a word in this context).

Here's how it happened. "When the product first came to us, we immediately saw there was something different here that was calling out to us," says Mahesh Chauhan, vice-president, O&M. "But, of course, we tap danced around ideas for a while before arriving at this." The first thing that occurred to the team was the Pulsar's indigenous construct. "Here was a purely Bajaj product that Kawasaki had had nothing to do with," Chauhan continues. "So the first idea was ‘Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani'. The idea was to leverage the emotional chord. But we somehow felt that following this track would be doing an injustice to a bike of this calibre."

The next idea that was conceived centered at the Pulsar's 180-cc engine. "We thought of saying something like ‘The new order in biking'," says Chauhan. "After all, here was a one-of-its-kind bike with a 180-cc engine. Then we realized that although this was a path-breaking bike in cc terms, the ‘new order' idea itself was not future-proof. Tomorrow, a 180-cc engine might well become the norm, which will make the Pulsar very ‘current order'."

What eventually paved the way for the ‘Definitely male' idea was the look of the product itself. "See, it is a great looker, yet has a certain rawness to it," Chauhan explains. "And its focal point is the brawny petrol tank - its ‘chest'. In some ways, it reminded us of the old Yamaha RX100. It is full meat. And it didn't have fancy trimmings like farings and decals and whatnot."

That the Pulsar "didn't have fancy trimmings" was a starting point. Add to this the fact here was an R&D-intensive product, and the idea began to take shape. "In India, ‘the make-up job' is symptomatic of the bike industry," Chauhan continues. "Almost every bike maker has routinely been taking some old model into the design studio, tinkering it a bit, snazzying it up with frills and relaunching it under a new name. Recycle, reinvent, relaunch has been the game, with very little invested in R&D. Now with the Pulsar, Bajaj had actually come up with an original, no-frills performer. It wasn't a decked-up sissy."

From ‘no-frills performer' to ‘Definitely male' was the result of grammar and usage. "The first imagery that came to us was of this macho guy… predictable stuff," reveals Abhijit Awasthi, associate creative director, O&M. "But we wanted to do more. So one day while Piyush (Pandey) and I were discussing this, we suddenly asked ourselves why do we say, ‘bike chalti hai' and ‘she rides like a dream'? Why not ‘bike chalta hai'? Why isn't a bike ever referred to in the masculine gender? That's when we decided that this could well be the world's first He-bike. This was the creative rendition of the ‘no-frills' idea, and one that simply repositioned the competition. From there we moved to ‘Definitely male'."

One of the interesting things about the Pulsar ad is that unlike many bike ads - where the rider (the model) is as much a hero as is the bike - here, zero footage is dedicated to mug shots of the rider. "The point is, Bajaj has made such a great product, it has to be the hero of the ad," says Awasthi. "That's why we focused on some really phenomenal biking shots, and I must give the client credit for that. Even the soundtrack does not have any SFX, none of the usual heavy metal or rock stuff. Just sounds of the bike zipping past."

The ad itself was aimed at incorporating three things: the fact that a new bike was being unveiled; the arrival of the ‘male' of the species; and a typical male ‘naughtiness'. Which is the Pulsar's personality. "This bike is not about the steroid male - the Schwarzenegger," points out Mahesh Neelakantan, account director, O&M. "We did not want it to be an out-and-out power bike. The Pulsar is about living life to the fullest, in a smart way. In personality terms, it's a mix of Saif (Ali Khan) and Aamir (Khan) in Dil Chahta Hai. The bike is male, but a naughty boy at heart." That explains the ‘ogling' at the nurses - though some might find that a trifle sexist.

Too bad if they do. ‘Coz it's a perfectly natural thing to do. And definitely male.

Agency : O&M, Mumbai

The Team :

Creative : Piyush Pandey, Abhijit Awasthi, Iqbal Arab, Rajneesh Ramakrishnan, Samir Sojwal, Vijay Sawant, Suhana Sharma

Account Management : Mahesh Chauhan, Mahesh Neelakantan, Anurag Tandon

Filmmaker : Prasoon Pandey

Production House : Highlight

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