Sumita Vaid

Siyaram's: Becker serves a global statement

In a contradiction of sorts, German tennis star Boris Becker has taken up the cause of dyed-in-the-wool Indian brand Siyaram

Using foreign celebrities in Indian advertising is not something new. In fact, often in the past, Indian marketers who want to project a 'global image' for their brands have deemed foreign celebrities a good strategic fit. For instance, suiting brand Reid & Taylor uses Hollywood actor Pierce Brosnan (aka James Bond) to emphasise the brand's international pedigree. Suiting brand Vimal was one of the first Indian brands to ink in foreign celebrities such as Vivian Richards and Allan Border to give the brand an 'international feel'. More recently, another suiting brand, J Hampstead, had cricket legend Geoffrey Boycott giving tennis duo Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi a few lessons on wielding the willow. Waugh twins Steve and Mark too have endorsed Indian brands, while Kelvinator roped in half the visiting Australian side when the team came visiting India last year.

The latest instance of a dyed-in-the-wool Indian brand being endorsed by a foreign celebrity is that of suiting brand BodyCare from Siyaram. The celebrity - German tennis great Boris Becker. The ad in question has Becker playing cricket with some urchins in what looks to be a typical Rajasthani haveli. Of course, the man wields the bat as if it was a tennis racquet, and successfully dispatches the ball into one of the haveli's many balconies, from where a desi damsel (Diya Mirza) watches the tennis pro coyly. Yes, all the trappings of a Siyaram ad are firmly in place, including the line, 'Coming home to Siyaram's.'

But Boris Becker? And 'Coming home to Siyaram's'?

Sounds like one big contradiction, doesn't it? After all, Siyaram celebrates the cultural milieu of India, where 'Coming home to Siyaram's' signifies a reaffirmation of one's roots… one's Indianness. Flaxen-haired and light-eyed, Becker is nobody's idea of 'Indian'. Which makes one wonder whether foreign celebrities are all that integral to the brand idea or whether they serve more as quick-fix solutions?

"Not at all," insists Tarun Joshi, branch head, Percept Advertising, Mumbai, speaking about the Siyaram ad. "Boris Becker was definitely a well-thought decision." To understand the agency's reasoning, it is pertinent to go back to the product being advertised and the overall suiting material market. Times were when suiting players were entrenched in either the polyviscose (terry-viscose or PV) category or in the worsted (blended wool) category. The drawback with worsted is that it primarily constitutes winter wear. PV, on the other hand, is all-weather, and thus, a volume generator. Naturally, both the power loom operators (the unbranded players) and large-looms operators (the branded players) are eyeing this category keenly. "This category is being compressed from both ends. It has now become imperative to defend the category," explains Joshi.

Value addition is one way out. The other is creating new sub-categories within PV. "We have created a new sub-category called Body Care," says Joshi. "What happens with any polyester blending is that the porosity reduces dramatically. Thus, it is not healthy to wear. So, instead of using polyester, we are using a new technology, RF 2000 (RF stands for Relaxed Finish). In addition to hydro-massage, this technology ensures freshness and comfort."

With the sub-category in place, the task was to take the brand idea to "an iconic level". In this context, two things needed to be taken into account. First, unstitched fabric is not popular among the youth, as they prefer readymade suits. Second, because the fabric is 'healthy', the communication had to bring forth associations with health and care. "And this association has to be conveyed through somebody who has an international appeal and healthy outlook, but slightly past his prime," says Joshi. "The entire concept was made keeping in mind the health facet, and so the association with a sports personality was but natural. Other than cricket, tennis is the only game which is popular all over the world, and has a great fan following. Becker was the ultimate choice for Body Care as he is an international tennis icon, and is remembered as someone who exudes class and style."

"The whole concept was based on a romantic connect that recognises international trends, while being rooted in Indian values," says Ronnen Chatterjee, executive creative director, Percept Advertising. "The mantra 'Coming home to Siyaram's' captures this very spirit." But where does Becker fit in with Indianness and the 'Coming home…' theme? "In the film, we show Boris Becker moving in his swank Mercedes in some city in Rajasthan, when he sees a couple of kids playing gali cricket," explains Joshi. "That really intrigues him. Out of curiosity he steps out of the car for a closer look. And the next thing is he takes the stance to play a game that is completely alien to him, in hot and trying conditions, and yet feel at home, relaxed in spite of everything."

Whatever… But the Siyaram ad does remind one of the DKD2 commercial for Hero Honda, where Hrithik takes a baseball-like stance while facing up to Saurav Ganguly's bowling. Coincidentally, that that ad too was by Percept. © 2002 agencyfaqs!