Shreyas Kulkarni

So, how did CRED get its IPL ads right? Director Ayappa credits his client for taking the idea forward

Also, what's being touted as 2020's best campaign so far didn't have an 'agency' behind it. Is that a problem?

“Download CRED baby, download CRED…”

It is not every day that you have Bappi Lahiri’s voice stuck inside your head. But that is exactly what has happened to several folks who have watched CRED’s three-ad Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign over the last two weeks.

Kunal Shah founded Bengaluru-based CRED in 2018. Its website describes it as "... a members-only club that rewards individuals for their timely credit card bill payments by providing them with exclusive offers and access to premium experiences." It is also an official partner of the Dream11 IPL; a three-season deal that will run through the 2022 season.

'Not everyone gets it' is the caption of the three ads that feature Lahiri, along with Bollywood stars Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. It is also a nod to CRED’s 'members-only' barrier; only those with a credit score of 750-plus become CRED members.

A major reason for the campaign’s success is that not many understood it, but were curious enough to explore what exactly CRED is... Yours truly had to sit down and explain to his mother what the app is because Bappi Da’s jam was stuck in her head too.

In 2019, the app had released an explanatory three-minute ad called, of all things, 'The Explainer'. It featured actor Jim Sarbh, who pitched CRED as a smooth alternative to the hassle-filled credit statements and all those hidden charges. The app’s description read, “Makes one wonder if it's worth it, doesn't it?”

Fast forward nearly a year later (2020) and we’ve got a campaign that several folks claim as the year’s best so far. In it, we see Kapoor, Dixit, and Lahiri audition for a CRED ad and take a dig at themselves while doing so.

At the end of each ad, we hear the CRED team say - Let's do a simple voice-over like ‘Download CRED’. It’s refreshing to see stars make fun of themselves.

The ads’ YouTube description reads, “One thing is clear though: we are not in the ad making business, we are in the credit card business. Unfortunately, this means that the making of our first major ad continues. Till then a voice-over will have to do.” Maybe the act of not taking itself seriously worked in CRED’s favour.

We (afaqs!) got in touch with Ayappa KM, founder, Early Man Film, the campaign’s director. He revealed that it was Tanmay Bhat, co-founder of comedy collective All India Bakchod (AIB) and a YouTuber, who came up with the campaign, along with his team (written by former AIB writers Devaiah Bopanna, Puneet Chadha and Nupur Pai).

Ayappa KM
Ayappa KM

When Bhat approached Ayappa with this idea, the latter found it interesting and that’s where it took off. “Initially, it was only Anil Kapoor and Madhuri Dixit. We only added Bappi Lahiri at the last minute,” says Ayappa, adding that the campaign was executed under a tight deadline of 6-7 days.

The client

Ayappa says that the client made all the difference in this ad. He said that Shah was clear that CRED isn’t a ‘massy’ product and had a particular target audience in mind. This gave Shah the courage to not dumb it (the campaign) down, like many other ad campaigns.

“It's easy for creative people to come up with such ideas, but what you need is a client who will take it forward,” said Ayappa. He credited Shah for trusting and giving the team a lot of freedom, adding, “… there was no micromanagement, from the writing to the direction. We got along with him (Shah) and his team.”

This freedom was important for Ayappa… “When creative people get freedom, they often do good work... With freedom comes the responsibility to make it work... you've only got yourself to blame if it does not turn out well.”

On the celebrities making fun of themselves, Ayappa said that historically, comedy in India hasn't been about self-deprecation so it's very refreshing when big stars do such a campaign… People laughing at themselves is what made the campaign a success.

Another interesting aspect of the campaign, said Ayappa, was that CRED is a financial product and you can't be too irreverent with its communication. And “while all the rules of financial advertising tell you to be serious, this campaign changed all that, and at the end of the day, it's a great idea.”

Ayappa added that people are exposed to far edgier content on Instagram or YouTube… You have to try and compete with it and not depend on decades-old management and advertising logic.

“The teeth of this campaign was the blind trust and creative independence, we just went ahead and had fun.”

We reached out to two experts to talk about the campaign.

Ajay Gahlaut, former CCO and MD, Publicis India

Ajay Gahlaut
Ajay Gahlaut

Gahlaut said, "... using stars in a self-depreciatory manner is fresh and creates a cut-through."

On the cast, Gahlaut remarked that a mix of stars (young and old) would have worked. "Why can't you use a Ranveer Singh and only senior stars? The guys sitting are fresh-faced youngsters saying, 'Let's do a simple voice-over...' It does seem to be a little off in that way... In this day and age, where the smallest remark can turn into a controversy, maybe one younger person could have worked better."

Commenting on the fact that the campaign had no agency behind it, and what it says about creativity and business, Gahlaut said, "It doesn't tell me anything at all. Let's see if they can do it time and again, like an agency does it 100 times a day on 100 things."

"The smallest agency in the country will have enough talent to throw up a million ideas…," said Gahlaut, adding that if anyone is to be congratulated, it is the client, who buys something a little disruptive.

He also said that creativity comes from everywhere and some of the finest campaigns have come from the unlikeliest of places...

"It depends on the client and what they buy, otherwise the agencies and creative people can come up with all kinds of fantastic stuff."

Garima Khandelwal, chief creative officer, Mullen Lintas

Garima Khandelwal
Garima Khandelwal

She said that the campaign breaks through the clutter as using celebrities, who agreed to be made fun of, is fresh. That’s a path seldom explored in celebrity endorsements, where the brand advertised is bigger than the celebrity endorsing it. The campaign pokes fun at popular ways of selling anything against the real reason to buy something, the offering.

On the fact that the campaign didn’t have any agency involvement, and what it says about creativity and business, Khandelwal said, "In-house creative shops, script shops, digital shops, production houses, everyone is competition today to the agency in the creativity business."

"… It’s not about that one campaign or one script, it has to translate to long-term assets and experiences that are differentiated for any real impact. Ads and campaigns in isolation, otherwise, have a limited life span...," she signed off.

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