Sumita Vaid

AC Black: Uncorking surprising possibilities

Using a more lateral approach to communicate the idea of ‘naughty fun’, the new ad for AC Black portrays the brand as a catalyst in sparking romance

‘Kuch bhi ho sakta hai… kuch bhi!' The line, in its very construct, is a potentially campaignable idea. For couched in it is the suggestion of uncertainty, surprise and even the impossible, all of which can be tapped to generate intriguing executions and concepts in brand communication. Especially when the fundamental premise of the communication - in the case, for whisky brand AC Black - is based on fantasies linked to the sparking of sexual chemistry between total strangers.

So if the launch ad for AC Black was about this man and woman at some sort of a ‘singles' bar mentally playing a tippler's version of strip poker, the latest commercial is all about two strangers being thrown together (literally) at a party, and where and how they end up. AC Black, of course, works as the catalyst in both instances, setting up the strangers by creating exciting possibilities of interplay.

The new ad, which went on air recently, goes something like this. A semi-formal party is in full swing. A man downs the contents of his glass and places the glass on a tray borne by a passing waitress. As the waitress makes her way to the pantry, a woman places her empty glass on the tray. As the waitress weaves in and out of the crowd, the two empty glasses slide and knock against one another. Cut to the man and the woman who, on account of some mysterious force, strangely get ‘pulled' to one another. Nonplussed, they exchange apologies and return to their respective spaces.

Just then, the glasses on the tray again come together. Again the man and the woman get drawn to one another - this time in a tight clinch. Music strikes up in the background, and the two start dancing. The duo moves and sways to the synchrony of the glasses on the tray, till finally, the washed glasses are set side by side in the pantry. Time comes to a standstill as the assembled guests expectantly watch the man and the woman in a ‘freeze'. ‘Kuch bhi ho sakta hai…' goes the slug, as the waitress picks up one of the glasses and mischievously places it on top of the other. ‘…kuch bhi!'

Risqué without being obscene, the idea, quite clearly, draws from a mix of non-verbalised human penchants (such as ‘mental undressing') and fantasies (meeting that passionate stranger in a party). Which, given the brand's personality of ‘naughty fun', is just fine, as excitement and sensuality are anyway largely intrinsic to the category. Now the reason AC Black has chosen to occupy the ‘naughty fun' space is not hard to fathom. It is one platform that rival brands in the semi-premium segment (the Rs-225-to-Rs-275-a-bottle bracket) had left empty when Jagatjit Industries decided to launch AC Black early last year.

"AC Black was up against brands like McDowell's No. 1 (from UB Group flagship company McDowell and Co) and Royal Stag (from Seagram), which account for close to 85 per cent share of the seven-million-cases-per-annum semi-premium segment of local whisky market," says one marketing consultant associated with the liquor industry. "This is the fastest growing segment (growing at a rate of 15 to 18 per cent) in the Indian whisky market (which is growing at 8 to 10 per cent), but it is also a tough segment to establish brands in as consumers are extremely choosy and brand image has to be sharply etched." He points to brands such as Tilsbury (Pernod Ricard), Special Appointment (Radico Khaitan) and Whytehall (Bacardi-Martini) that failed to make an impact in this segment to prove his point. "AC Black had to quickly create a point of difference and ensure brand recall to induce trials, which can explain the bold stance in the advertising," he hypothesises.

This reasoning is borne out by J&A Communications, the agency handling the account. Speaking about the advertising objective placed before the agency in the run-up to the ‘striptease' ad, Shivjeet Kullar creative director, J&A Communications, says, "The brief given to us was to bring out a standout commercial with a standout idea that cut through the clutter and made people notice AC Black as it was a new brand. The idea (of ‘Kuch bhi…') was to make excitement intrinsic to the product and convey the possibilities of excitement with an element of surprise." Kullar adds that the launch ad was "very successful". For the record, AC Black is reported to have sold four lakh cases in the first nine months after launch.

One of the interesting aspects of the new AC Black ad is its more lateral approach, as compared to the launch ad. While in the ‘striptease' ad there was a direct correlation between the cause and the effect - sip AC Black, discover possibilities - the new ad is more tangential in the way it uses the sliding glasses to tell the story. "The challenge was to make a standout commercial without taking recourse to the usual shock tactics such as sex," says Kullar. "We had to come up with an original idea never seen before - which was a trifle difficult as one has seen so many ideas in one form or the other." He adds that the agency presented some 25 scripts to the client, of which this one was selected.

The ‘glasses' device might have served as an executional differentiator, but the lateral approach was also prompted by Government statute pertaining to alcohol advertising. Showing bottles in the ad is a no-no. Showing amber-coloured liquid in a glass is a no-no… "Given the restrictions, we had to think of something different," says Kullar. "We had to keep in mind all the regulations while thinking about the sequel to the first ad. Incidentally, because we could not show glasses with liquid, we thought of black glasses - which had a perfect fit with the brand AC Black. We made a conscious effort to make the brand central to the storyline and elemental to the romantic plot. The brand is not relegated to pack-shot status."

Kullar also draws attention to the aspect of filmmaking. "One of the interesting things about this film is the zero use of computer graphics," he says. "Pradeep (Sarkar of Apocalypso) wanted to make a ‘genuine' film, so we used springs, ball bearings and channels to affect the various movements of the glasses, and the whole thing had a very natural effect." He adds that during the course of the shoot, the agency also came up with an alternative ending for the ad. "We would launch that one in a couple of months," he says, without revealing more. © 2003 agencyfaqs!