We spotted Tata Motors' West Asia advert online.
A three-minute-long film, created by Ogilvy Mumbai and directed by adman Vasan Bala for homegrown carmaker Tata Motors, as part of its 'Connecting Aspirations' campaign (launched two years ago), caught our attention for more than one reason. The brand's choice of setting was Credence High School, Dubai (the global cosmopolitan city with foreign-born residents making up 83 per cent of its population), a school providing education to children of Indian expats. From the get-go, we can't help noting the amount of emphasis the brand put in portraying the diversity and cultural ethnicity the children belong to. The brand's intentions seem quite obvious as they go on to show an African face (symbolic given the brand's expanding footprint in the South African market maybe) to a hijab-clad Iranian child. The brand has left no stone unturned in trying to capture its West Asian market.
The last time we encountered the word 'neki' in a powerful ad was Surf Excel's 2017 Ramadan film. Of course, Surf hasn't patented the word, but the ad is readily recalled when one hears the word in an advertising context.
We asked communications consultant Karthik Srinivasan if Tata Motors, as a brand, should be concerned about potential dilution. Although the brand, in a recent Twitter post, claims that the ad is designed for the West-Asian market, with digital, everything is practically border-less.
Srinivasan explains, "Surf Excel's ads (Neki Ek Ibadat, 2017 and Ek Neki Rozana, 2018) were not Indian per se, though created by an Indian agency (Lowe India). They were merely shared on social media which makes their spread much smaller compared to a mainstream TV push. Given that and otherwise, 'neki' as a word, is hardly tied to any single brand."
As far as the product plug is concerned, the insertion is subtle but omnipresent and yet, one can't miss the close-up shots of the logo when the camera zooms in on the front of the bus. But it is not the typical 'watch till the end to see the product' format either.
He shares his take, "I loved the diversity of the people in the ad, despite the fact that the school (Credence School) in Dubai is predominantly meant for the children of Indian expats (although it has children from other nationalities too). But because of multiple cues, similar in nature (children saving money and the relentless focus on the saving-jar/bag/kitty), it easily felt that they were pooling their money for some cause. But the obvious goodness of the ending makes it reasonably (and predictably) heart-warming."
Last year, every other festival-centric ad campaign hinged on some cause or another. But could brands be over-doing the whole 'purpose' push, especially around festivals or is there always room for it? Sharing his view on the trend - which now seems to be pan-Asian - Srinivasan replies, "I think there is more than enough imagination left around festivals and purpose. It's just that the narrative seems to be on predictable tropes so far. I'm sure some agency will innovate with other narrative angles and make a difference once they see the familiar lines everyone's working on."
Prabhakar Mundkur, a brand strategy advisor, doesn't seem too convinced about the idea of how festival campaigns help brands as they are there for just a day. But most brands end up showing how they connect with their customers during festivals.
"The brand then becomes an essential part of the festival. And I think Tata Motors has followed this formula. I am glad that they show the brand early on in the film. A lot of digital advertising, especially on YouTube, is a story without integrating the brand at all, except as a pack shot. You can't create strong connections with consumers by throwing your brand name in casually at the end," he explains.
Mundkur refuses to pay much attention to the usage of the term neki or the fact that it was previously used by Surf Excel, especially since commercial vehicles and detergents are segments worlds apart. He shares, "I think brands do not arrogate words, only whole phrases are."
He adds, "Tata Motors is using an old advertising ploy of tugging at the heartstrings through this film. It is emotional rather than rational."
According to Mundkur, it almost seemed as if the tagline had been surgically placed in the film. "Somehow I felt there was a disconnect with the baseline. The film doesn't have anything to do with connecting aspirations," he views.
On the other hand, Samar Singh Sheikhawat, former CMO of United Breweries, says that it's a feel-good film but does nothing for the brand with little or no relevance to the product category. For him, the word neki is neither remembered in the Unilever ad nor does it stand out here.
As far as this kind of communication is concerned, he opines that one-off, occasion-related ads are not going to have any impact on brand metrics, unless a brand has been doing it for years and is associated with a particular festival, event or occasion.
The intent of giving is integral in most religions, even more so during times of prayers and festivals. Taking a cue from there, Rajesh Lalwani, CEO, Scenario Consulting cites a rather literary reference, i.e. Munshi Premchand's story - Idgaah. The storyline that still touches a chord with readers revolves around how Hamid's selfless sacrifice of spending his entire Eid allowance to buy a pair of tongs for his old grandmother wins him countless blessings from her.
"Going beyond one's self is indeed the true spirit of neki and as important as it is for us to share this learning with our children, who better than our children to teach it to us," he shares.
"Neki is a universal concept; Surf Excel's body of work around this term is fairly limited and the association is quite distant," he states. He adds that although he is a fan of subtle brand integration, the recall with Tata, in this particular film, is a bit weak.
Lalwani also feels that it's never about which format works better for cause-led films versus any other storytelling type, but how the brand wants to tell the story. He appreciates the fact that the film is set to default play closer towards the end and the engaging climax prompts the audience to go back and see it from the beginning, to gain context. He also thinks that with digital being the lead medium today, brands find 'stories' have a better chance to be seen and shared.
"However, categories where product innovation is cutting edge, brands have great product stories to tell and in some highly engaged categories, product stories are also shared," he adds.
On the much-debated topic of whether brands are over-doing the whole 'purpose' led push around festivals, Vishal Mittal, group creative director, Dentsu One, has this to say, "Everybody is on this 'goodness trip' and most sound fake and shallow, lacking honesty. As an advertising person, I am definitely getting tired of them," he signs off.