Aishwarya Ramesh

Surf Excel pushes for socially distant Holi celebrations in new spot

The campaign uses the tagline 'Rang achhe hain' and imagines what a socially distant Holi celebration could look like in 2021.

It’s very possible that Holi this year is going to look very different. The COVID-induced lockdowns have been lifted in most parts of India, but the pandemic is still spreading across the country. So, the government is urging people to continue to wear masks and observe social distancing norms.

Surf Excel’s new campaign borrows from this train of thought. It shows a young boy and his older neighbour celebrate Holi together whilst observing social distancing norms. The neighbour's role is played by Kulbhushan Kharbanda, a veteran actor who has starred in Hindi and Punjabi films.

Commenting on the launch of the campaign, Prabha Narasimhan, executive director and VP – home care, South Asia, Hindustan Unilever (HUL), said in a press release, “Holi is one of the biggest festivals in our country. and we have been attempting to create a strong emotional connect with our audiences through our Holi campaigns in the last two years. This year is a bit different as we are all still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, which has created both physical and emotional distances.”

Narasimhan explains that the ad tries to address the emotional needs of the vulnerable segment of the population, by showing how a young boy endeavours to include the elderly in the festivities through a simple, yet creative way of making colours reach where hands can’t.

“It is a natural extension of our brand philosophy of ‘Daag achhe hain’, in which we have always shown children getting dirty, while doing good deeds."

Carlos Pereira, an independent adman who previously worked with Lowe Lintas, is responsible for ideating and creating the ad, and Vasan Bala has directed it.

Carlos Pereira
Carlos Pereira

Over a call, Pereira explains that Holi is a good fit for Surf Excel because of the aspect of colours and washing clothes. "We wanted to connect with the consumers and take the whole 'Daag acche hain' philosophy forward. We wanted to take Holi as an occasion to bring people together, but because of the pandemic, that may not be possible right now. We wanted to show a socially responsible portrayal of the festival."

Pereira adds that they didn't want to ignore the times we live in while making an ad. He acknowledges that there is a responsibility they had while making the ad. They wanted to show the right way of playing Holi at this point. He also explains that because both the protagonists were very young and very old, the crew had to take precautions and get COVID tests before proceeding with the shoot.

"When we started off, the brief was quite clear. How do we do something which is in tune with the current times, but also shows a festival in which people typically come together? That was the starting point for this ad."

Togetherness has been a slightly tricky theme for Surf Excel to use in its ads. In 2019, Surf Excel's Holi ad attempted to promote Hindu-Muslim harmony, but social media reacted adversely and soon, the hashtags #BoycottSurfExcel started trending.

Also Read: Surf Excel's new ad takes its 'Daag Acche Hai' proposition ahead

In the beginning of 2020 (before the COVID pandemic started spreading), Surf Excel's Holi spot steered clear of religion, even though the theme did address conflict in the context of togetherness. There is no mention of religion in this ad, nor are there any visual cues that indicate people's religions.

Mixed opinions...

“When an iconic detergent picks on a festival like Holi and manages a casting coup with Kulbhushan Kharbanda, the expectations are unfortunately rather high. For me, the film was just stilted and lacked any sense of verisimilitude," says Rohit Malkani, national executive creative director, ‎L&K Saatchi & Saatchi.

"I get the ‘how to celebrate Holi responsibly’ and ‘colours fostering togetherness even with social distancing’, etc. But using a toy helicopter to drop colour and fans to spray the place liberally with gulal…seriously?"

Rohit Malkani
Rohit Malkani

‘Popo’, as Malkani is more popularly known, adds that just when he started to feel a little fuzzy about the film, it became way too corny. "I can’t help compare it with the Surf Pakistan Ramzan film, which was just a super genuine tug at the heartstrings. It’s tough to find a fresh slice of the festival space, but compromising on authenticity just doesn’t work for me."

The ad that Popo was referring to was also created by Pereira and his team for Surf Excel Pakistan and had a lockdown theme – paying tribute to the essential workers.

Also Read: Surf Excel Pakistan's Ramadan spot takes idea of 'Neki' forward, in lockdown

KV ‘Pops’ Sridhar, chief creative officer at Hypercollective, however, believes that it is a well made ad. Pops calls it a good way to take the ‘Daag achhe hain’ proposition forward, while staying relevant to the era of social distancing.

"Every frame of the ad stayed in my mind long after I'd stopped watching the video. It successfully worked in creating an impact and striking an emotional chord with me. The way the colour is found in the gloves and the celebration happens with social distancing, is a lovely thought."

'Pops' KV Sridhar
'Pops' KV Sridhar

Pops adds that the choice of Kharbanda as the protagonist may have set a high level of expectations and could detract focus from the message. He says that employing a lesser-known actor may have been more effective for the overall communication.

Pops acknowledges that in today's day and age, there are a lot of filters that a creative person has to use before creating an ad. "The hardest thing to do in the world is to sit in front of a blank piece of paper and create something. That becomes all the more difficult when there are so many restrictions in place. In our time, we had the opportunity to do so many bold ads. I don't see that freedom anymore."

Pops has spent around 36 years in the advertising industry, of which 17 were at Burnett.

Agency credits:

Agency: Carlos Pereira

Creative director: Carlos Pereira

Account management: Megha Bansal

Production house: Absolute Productions

Director: Vasan Bala

Executive producer: Prafull Sharma

Producer: Sadhya Vyas

Brand team:

Executive director & VP – home care, South Asia, HUL: Prabha Narasimhan

VP – fabric care: Vipul Mathur

Brand manager Surf Excel: Aarthy Sridhar

Brand executive, Surf Excel: Ayush Sachdeva

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