Sumita Vaid

Airtel: The power of spontaneity

The latest television commercial for Airtel uses music as a metaphor that compels people to ‘communicate spontaneously’

Cellular operators, especially the pan-Indian ones, are taking to the rooftops these days. Be it Birla-Tata-AT&T (through its new corporate identity, Idea), Hutchinson (for its new brand entity, Hutch) or Bharti Cellular, every operator is feverishly wooing consumers, pitching the ‘quality aspect of service' in the target's mind. With the trusted set of catchphrases, of course: superior coverage/reach, voice clarity, better service… and innovative tariff plans and value-adds.

At the same time, cellular operators are busy creating ‘umbrella branding' that communicates a distinct and unified brand image to consumers across the country. Advertising that rises above the exigencies of hastily reworked tariff plans - based on the demands of individual cellular circles - to reach out and touch the consumer's heart.

One such exercise at branding is the latest television commercial for Airtel (by Rediffusion, Delhi), Bharti Cellular's post-paid cellular service. And here, the reaching-out-and-touching is through music, courtesy music maestro AR Rahman. The ad, which can be termed as ‘a day in the life of Rahman', goes like this.

Rahman is walking out of some international airport with a friend when he spots a cranky kid in the airport lounge. Spontaneously, he takes the kid's harmonica, and starts playing a few notes to cheer him. Suddenly, Rahman pauses, realising his impromptu tune could be a winner. His friend agrees. Using his Airtel-enabled cellphone, he immediately calls up his sound engineer seated in a studio somewhere in India, and bounces off the tune. The engineer seems impressed, but suggests "something more" is needed.

Cut to Rahman riding in a limousine. He is a man possessed, wrestling with the strands of the tune he has plucked out of thin air. He spies two musicians, a flautist and a percussionist, playing by the roadside. He gets them into the car, and they start jamming straightaway. The tune gathers momentum. As the car drives past a park, Rahman sees a symphony orchestra playing. Struck with an idea, he leaps out of the car and heads towards the stage where the orchestra is seated. In no time, Rahman has the orchestra under his baton. The music in full bloom, Rahman fixes his cellphone to a microphone - and his sound engineer back home records the composition. Voila.

Everything in the ad happens on impulse. And that personifies Airtel's brand promise of giving consumers ‘unlimited freedom to communicate spontaneously' - not just through words but through emotion. And in that freedom lies the experience of living every moment. "There could be a moment of amazement watching the sun set, and one might want to share that with a friend," says Hemant Sachdev, director, marketing and corporate communications, Bharti Cellular. "It's the joy of that moment and Airtel helps create that expression. The idea is to convey Airtel as a unifying force that cuts across all barriers - caste, creed, race, geographical distance, age, demographics and culture to connect people."

Music is integral to the ad, reinforcing the brand idea. "Music is a universal language, transcending all barriers. And this works very well with the joy of communicating whatever you feel," reasons Sachdev. He, however, insists that the Rahman's choice as brand endorser was inspired by the idea, not the other way round. "Since the idea was to use music as a metaphor that connects people, there just was no better endorser than Rahman. He has brought worlds together through music."

Sachdev adds that Rahman's presence in the ad is not in the role of a brand ambassador, but more as a character in the script. "True to the sentiment of spontaneity, we have no actors in the ad. They are all musicians." The gentleman with Rahman is Chris Nightingale, the music supervisor of the musical, Bombay Dreams. The sound engineer is actually a sound engineer in a Chennai-based studio. Ditto the flautist and the percussionist and the band playing in the park.

Airtel covers 16 Indian states and connects 600 million Indians. Pan-Indian appeal. So why the foreign locales? "Shooting in London was not out of choice," explains Sachdev. "Rahman is in London composing music for Bombay Dreams. It was not possible for him take time out. So we decided to shoot in London." Maybe it's for the best, as the subliminal message in the ad cannot be missed. Remember, the stress is also on clarity… "Rahman's mobile phone is fixed to a mike (in London) so that the sound engineer can record his composition in Chennai. That speaks volumes about the clarity."

The ad, with its rather non-conventional and very-likeable endorser, has got noticed - that much is for sure. What remains to be seen is how Airtel takes this forward with an allocated budget of Rs 100 crore and the likelihood of another television campaign with the master musician. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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