Shreyas Kulkarni

Does festival advertising need a rethink?

The same old ads dressed in different clothing are becoming stale now.

Come August and Indian households unconsciously prepare themselves for a two-pronged attack till the end of the year — A flurry of wishes on family WhatsApp groups and an assembly line-like supply of near similar ads.

The first appearance of either of the two means the bugle of India’s festival season has been sounded.

Not many disapprove of India’s steady stream of multicultural festivals. However, the lack of diversity in India’s festival ads has begun to creep into the consciousness and might soon annoy people more than their uncle’s poetic wishes on the magic of Diwali’s lights and the beauty of the Christmas spirit.

Think of those countless ads which show smiling families, ultra-clean homes, and sweets and chocolate hampers nonchalantly arranged on hand-polished tables, they feel like candid photographs which were shot over hours of retakes.

These ads also love to pull on viewers’ heartstrings. Go back to Amazon India’s 2021 Diwali ad which showed us a mother-son duo meeting the man who’d helped find a hospital bed for the boy during Coronavirus’ second wave.

Is the ad beautiful? Yes, it is. But, such ads are becoming one too many. Amazon has made similar emotional ads for Rakshabandhan, Surf Excel has made a name for such ads too for Holi.

“I see more and more often emotional storytelling during festive - something that brings a lump in the throat. Once again very effective but now being used more and more,” says Prashant Gopalakrishnan, founding Partner and Business Strategy, Talented.

Accompanying these video ads are the litany of print ads which scream offers and discounts in font sizes too big near a festival. From smartphones to TVs to laptops and even an ironing machine, everything is affordable during this period.

Because the Indian consumer plans for the year during the festive sale, “the scramble to get a campaign on air that cuts through the clutter starts months in advance… They also are willing to splurge more than their capacity primarily because of the offers on display,” explains Gopalakrishnan.

Iraj Fraz, Creative Head, North, DDB Mudra reveals they made a list of recent festive ads involving housemaids and security guards and stopped after listing 11 and took a professional oath to not go near them, for at least a few years.

“The industry needs to spare them for some time, and look for fresher targets of festive generosity in our stories Even if it means resorting to using the evergreen advertising favourites – children and dogs,” says Fraz.

This does not mean all festival ads are stale or boring. Some do stand the test of time be it Netflix’s take on such ads from 2016 or Cadbury’s AI ad featuring Shah Rukh Khan in 2021 and Facebook's Pooja Didi in 2020.

Burnt out agencies or conservative clients?

Good creative work emerges from engaged artists. Now, considering the doling out of near similar ads, the assumption that advertising agencies have run of fuel or that clients are not too keen to approve out of the box work becomes stronger.

“I think it’s very wrong as an industry to blame the client,” feels Vikram Pandey (Spiky), national creative director, Leo Burnett. He says agencies need to sit down with clients and show them the different ways one can execute a festival ad and that it does not always have to be “diya and mithai.”

Talented’s Gopalkrishnan states “creative freedom is not a challenge at all as long as the intent is there to stand out.” He credits new-age brands like Cred, Dunzo, and Livspace as the ones spearheading the challenge of standing out.

Look to your elders

People look to their elders to understand how they overcame a challenge. So, where do the present crop of adland creatives look to for inspiration?

For Spiky, “There is a lot to learn from the western world when it comes to their Christmas advertising” because they too, in a way, follow similar festival advertising codes. A campaign he touted was Harvey Nichols’ Sorry, I Spent It On Myself by adam&eveDDB. “We need to challenge ourselves.”

Gopalakrishnan feels brands too need to take the onus to drive excellence. He speaks of REI, an American retail and outdoor services company, which closes its doors on Black Friday and urges people to do something outdoors.

“We definitely need more risk-taking marketeers. Fortunately for us in India, we are seeing more and more of them.”

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