Abid Hussain Barlaskar

Knorr breaks mom-kid routine with sexually suggestive Karan Johar spot

The new ad for Knorr features Karan Johar and has completely ditched the 'mom-kid' narrative and its positioning as a quick solution to hunger for kids. The adults (KJo and Aashim Gulati) in the ad are discussing soup at 3am.

The latest ad film for HUL's soup brand Knorr features Bollywood actor and director Karan Johar. But that's only a part of what's new. Titled 'One Night With Karan’, the new commercial is a pleasant break from the brand's past ads that were targetted at mothers for so long and had cemented kids as the brand's core consumer (like Maggi). This time, the ad gave the 'mom' and 'child' plot a complete miss. The campaign has been crafted by Lowe Lintas.

Also, the choice of Karan Johar as the face and the brand going ahead with a narrative that hints at his sexual orientation is unusual. In the ad, Johar prepares soup at 3am for a friend (actor and model Aashim Gulati) who arrives at his door wet and cold. The KJo visuals include the stereotypical effeminate characteristics usually associated with a gay person. It is interesting how the campaign banks upon Johar's popularity and common conversations that take place around his sexual life and orientation. It wouldn't make sense to the ones who are unaware.

"Karan Johar is someone who embodies emerging progressive cultural shifts and we are delighted to have him as our brand ambassador," an HUL spokesperson says.

The 2009 campaign was crafted by Lowe Lintas, Mumbai lead by Arun Iyer (then group creative director, Lowe). Around 2015, the brand was also positioned as a quick remedy for untimely hunger in kids with the tagline – 'Choti bhook bye bye!’.

The campaign before the current one featured chef Pankaj Bhadouria in the avatar of a ‘mom'.

While the new ad has given 'moms' a miss, it has retained another of its core propositions — that of 'restaurant-like soup'. With an all-adult commercial, the brand could also be shifting/diversifying its TG and positioning itself as a solution to untimely adult hunger too.

Speaking on the new ad, a Lowe Lintas spokesperson says, “The idea was to tell newer stories in the category. To explore fresher characters and situations. While doing these, the focus was still to land our proposition of 'restaurant- like soup'. Hence the story is focussed on an occasion where it would be impossible to get 'restaurant soup' yet Karan manages to make it with Knorr."

The campaign is active on social media, digital and TV.

Expert speak:

Naresh Gupta — chief strategy officer and managing partner, Bang in the Middle, says, “It could have been much sharper. Somehow for me, it loses zing somewhere in between. It could have been a much more memorable commercial than what it is.”

Naresh Gupta
Naresh Gupta

"For the brand though, there are elements in the ad that are built on some past and some new things. Knorr is about snacking in between meals, and that comes across clearly. The product is something that singles stock at home for quick hunger fixes is the new element and that's a welcome element. Karan Johar and his portrayal will be the buzz on social media, but his portrayal is there and yet not there. Maybe there is a second TVC on its way that builds on this,” Gupta expectantly says.

Navin Kansal, chief creative officer, 21N78E Creative Labs says, "It's a fun, light-hearted take on what seems to be the 'flavour' of the season viz. celebrating same-sex relationships.”

Navin Kansal
Navin Kansal

"Knorr pretty much occupies the numero uno slot in people's mind when it comes to the premium soup category. While it is definitely a departure from the kind of mom and kids advertising it has done in the past, it can afford to take the stance and expand opportunities for consumption — be it time of the day or rather night and social occasions," he adds.

“Karan, far from being in a soup, seems to have had a whale of a time. In keeping with his real life persona, he relishes getting his leg pulled. The narrative in this commercial while laced with innuendo, and at times a bit self-indulgent, works because of the self-deprecating humour that Karan brings to the table. Will the deliberate intent to go over-the-top without crossing the line, work for the brand? Only time will tell," Kansal signs off.

Gulshan Singh, national planning director, FCB Interface, says, “Knorr is up-aging and how! It’s a definite shift from the ‘mom and child’ story that has long defined Knorr, while staying within the ‘restaurant-like food at home’ proposition. Also, overtly calling out ‘Chicken Soup’ is rare, most Indian food brands tend to play safe and stick to vegetarian options. Overall, a brave move by Knorr.”

Gulshan Singh
Gulshan Singh

He adds, “The look and feel is more like a coffee commercial — perhaps no coincidence considering Karan Johar’s Nescafe work from a few years ago. It makes Knorr older, and shifts the emphasis on the social setting rather than the nutrition and ingredient focus that Knorr has long been consistent about.”

“This is probably the most encouraging part of the ad — a ‘wholesome’ brand such as Knorr endorsing, even subtly, a departure from the heteronormative world view of Indian advertising (outside of much smaller brands such as Anouk). It’s a bold move, and can gain them either lots of bouquets or brickbats. Also, we must keep in mind, that message comprehension amongst audiences that are familiar with Karan Johar’s presumed sexual orientation will be different from those that aren’t,” Singh reminds.


Client: Hindustan Unilever

Brand: Knorr

Agency: Lowe Lintas, India

Creative Team: Sagar Kapoor, Goral Ajmera, Karan Shrinket, Rajesh Sutar

Account Management: Anaheeta Goenka, Geetanjali Saini, Amla Nair

Brand Planning: Aditi Patwardhan, Vineet Singh

Production House: Offroad Films

Director: Gauri Shinde

Music: Aman Pant

Executive Producer: Khalil Bachooali

Producer: Madhuri Joshi and Abhirama Kanekar

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