N. Shatrujeet

Center Shock relives shock-and-awe proposition for Mirchi variant

The new film for Center Shock Mirchi is as berserk as the two that preceded it, but is in tune with the requirements imposed by the nature of the variant

The last time confectionery major Perfetti Van Melle India commissioned a piece of communication for its chewing gum brand Center Shock was way back in December 2002, when the second ‘hilaake rakh de' commercial (‘horse') went on air. Since then, there has been virtual silence on the brand, with not one Center Shock ad appearing the whole of last year. Even at the product level, there really was nothing new on Center Shock that could have excited the consumer.

Well, that has just been taken care of - both in the form of another ‘shocking' product innovation, as well as in the form of fresh communication. In fact, the new film for brand variant Center Shock Mirchi (yes, you heard it right) is going on air in parts of south India later today, and should beam into homes across the country very soon.

Coming after two totally bizarre films (‘barber shop' and ‘horse'), any new Center Shock commercial has the unenviable task of meeting - if not surpassing - the brand's wackiness quotient. To Perfetti and agency O&M India's credit, the new commercial is as berserk as the two that preceded it - but berserk in a manner that is in tune with the requirements imposed by a ‘mirchi' variant. Before we give too much away, here's the commercial in a nutshell.

A swimming competition is about to get underway in a venue somewhere in the Far East. As the swimmers prepare to take their positions and the public address system announces the start of the race, a teenaged Billy Bunter look-alike squeezes between the flag-waving crowds to his seat. Pleased with his efforts, the chubby boy smiles happily at the cheering crowd, enjoying every moment of his day out. Then, to while away time, he pulls a Center Shock out of his pocket and puts it into his mouth.

Just then, on cue, the swimmers dive into the pool and the race begins. The swimmers lunge forward. The crowd cheers lustily. And the boy watches the proceedings with great interest, chewing away all the while… when suddenly, his face goes immobile and he stops chewing. The noise of the crowd drowns out. Eyes popping, he looks around vacantly for a moment, then leaps out of his seat with a high-pitched yelp. Shouting wildly, he pushes and stumbles out of the crowd, and rushes frantically towards the pool.

Once at the poolside, he throws himself down on the tiles and dunks his head into the water. The race quickly forgotten, the curious crowd stares at the amazing spectacle unfolding at the water's edge. Officials and organizers run to the convulsing boy and try to hold him from tipping into the pool. The boy keeps lapping water…

The film ends with the shot of the boy slavering at the bottom of the drained-out pool, relief all over his face. The swimmers, meanwhile, continue doing a breaststroke ‘hop' from one end of the now-empty pool to the other - oblivious to the drama that has occurred, and the fact that the pool they are in no longer holds any water. ‘Naya Center Shock Mirchi. Pilaake rakh de,' purrs the voiceover.

The ‘mirchi' variant is Perfetti's latest attempt to "keep the buzz going on the Center Shock brand", reveals Sameer Suneja, head - marketing, Perfetti Van Melle India. "The idea is also to keep category growth on track, which is one of the things the Center Shock brand has always worked towards," he adds. For the record, since its launch in 2002, Center Shock has been a catalyst in the growth of the domestic chewing gum market. On the eve of the brand's launch, the market was estimated to be worth roughly 1,000 tons per annum, and declining at 25 to 30 per cent. Two years down the line, as per Perfetti's estimates, the chewing gum market stands at approximately 3,500 tons, with Center Shock having a 30-per cent share of the market (by volume). Together with flagship brand Center Fresh, Perfetti claims to own nearly 75 per cent of the market, by volume. "Center Shock helped in explosive category growth, and the mirchi variant has been launched to stimulate further growth," says Suneja.

Speaking about the nature of the new variant, Suneja says, "Center Shock stands for shocking experiences. The original flavours (apple and peach) were launched to shock the consumer, and we had to follow it up with another flavour that had the same effect. So, after intensely sour flavours, we decided to launch a hot and spicy variant." The new variant, interestingly, was not put through research at the pre-launch stage. "Knowing research, we were almost certain the product would be killed if we pre-tested it," he says. "We decided we would take a chance on it by going ahead with the launch."

The brief for the ‘mirchi' commercial was, well… the product itself, says Abhijit Avasthi, creative director, O&M, who has scripted the ad. "The way it works between us and Perfetti is that we have very simple and interactive briefing sessions," he explains. "We were given the product, told to eat it and decide what to do about its advertising. The only client requirement was that we give them something as memorable and funny as the earlier Center Shock films, yet convey the product message in a convincing fashion."

‘Mirchi' being the product message, the task can appear to be a fairly simple one. But, as Avasthi points out, there is a whole lot of advertising done internationally that has ‘hot' and ‘fiercely spicy' at its core. "Lots of really good stuff has been done internationally to communicate ‘hotness', be it for Mexican restaurants, Thai food or Tabasco sauce," he says. "The challenge was to do an ad that was uniquely centered on the product, yet was different from the advertising for so many spicy/chilli products."

The breakthrough eventually happened when the agency looked at the executional aspect of such ads. "What we saw was that whenever a spicy product was being advertised, people were focusing on the impact of such products on things around it," Avasthi explains. "So you have fire, burnt holes… But few ads had looked at how such products affect those who have consumed them. What happens to people whose tongues are on fire? People will do anything to get to the nearest source of water, and drink as much of it as possible. We simply took that thought forward and exaggerated it in the script."

The rest, of course, is the effect of meticulous layering. The water source became a private pool, which then evolved into a pool where a swimming competition is under way. The venue for the strange ‘Olympics-like' competition became some Far East nation (director Prasoon Pandey's idea), which adds to the overall intrigue. "Prasoon loved the script, and once he decided to set it in the Far East, he also gave the film a treatment reminiscent of the C-grade kung-fu movies of the seventies," Avasthi reveals. "We also gave the film a funny twist by showing these swimmers bent on completing the race, irrespective of whether the pool has water or not." In fact, it is these little things that ultimately make the ad memorable. A long-forgotten ad for Sil Chilli Sauce from 2000 was also about a man throwing himself into a pool after consuming the sauce, but that one wasn't half as entertaining as this one, simply because this one tries that much harder.

One of the most interesting aspects of the ‘mirchi' film is the subtle but apt change in the brand's signoff - from ‘hilaake rakh de' to ‘pilaake rakh de'. Perfectly relevant, it flows naturally from the old slug. "It just happened, and because it felt right, we used it," smiles Avasthi. © 2004 agencyfaqs!

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