L Suresh
Guest Article

Guest Article: L Suresh: This festive season

How the craft of working on Diwali ads was transformed from an art into a science

Last Diwali, 1893 print ads were released that began with the headline, 'This festive season...'. Of these, 32 offered freebies; 119 were for apparel; 83 for sweets; 75 for crackers; and 91 for other products that added to the celebrations. The remaining 1493 ads were for brands that had no relevance to Diwali or any other occasion, festive or otherwise.

What does a shoe polish have to do with Diwali ('This festive season, let the happiness on your face reflect on your shoes')? Or, for that matter, locks ('When prosperity visits you this Diwali, make sure it never leaves you')? Or, raincoats and umbrellas ('It's that time of the year when it rains discounts, offers and gifts. Be prepared.')?

Guest Article: L Suresh: This festive season
However, little facts like these did not stop clients from riding the festival bandwagon. A decade ago, when agencies were working on the supposed 15 per cent commission, this meant added billing. But agencies continued to work on these ads even after the retainer system came into effect, presumably to retain the client.

Client to servicing: But what does a tummy trimmer have to do with Diwali?

Servicing to client: Leave that to us, Rajiv! Our creative team loves to be challenged.

Creative team to servicing: But what the $%#@ does a tummy trimmer have to do with Diwali?

Servicing to creative team: (pause) That's the creative challenge!

And so, over the years, the one line brief of 'Link brand to Diwali' became the scourge of creative teams across the country. Come September, copywriters and art directors began calling in sick. By October, they would close the door, draw the blinds, hide under the cot and hope to hell that their mobile was on silent, their Facebook status said offline and their Gmail status was in the invisible mode.

It was all in vain. While the rest of the country became radiant with the festival of lights fast approaching, creative teams plunged into absolute darkness. There had to be another way out!

That was when a copywriter came up with an out-of-the-box solution - a headline template that could be used forever and ever.

"This festive season, ............... the/your ................. with ........................"

To fill in the blanks, he created a little table with three rows, each of which applied to one blank.

Guest Article: L Suresh: This festive season
Now, a mix-n-match of a random word from each of the rows could result in an option. For instance, a line for a retail brand could be: "This festive season, celebrate your style with the perfect wardrobe", or, "This festive season, brighten up your life with Brand X".

Art directors had a much simpler exercise. They had to find a way of distorting the client's product or his logo until it looked like a 'diya'. Thus, sewage pumps and wet grinders were mangled beyond recognition until they took on a flat circular shape, over which a graphic flame would be added. Mattresses were folded until they reached the rounded boat shape. Headache tablets were broken in half to resemble a Diwali lamp. Air conditioners leaked water that took on the shape of a lamp. (The option to this was a frosted window pane, where a child's hand draws the outline of the 'diya', but the ad was bombed because the marketing manager didn't want the target audience to think that the brand of AC came without a thermostat and was hence freezing the room).

The only time when the 'diya' was given a rest was when a brand of contraceptives got into the festive mood and the servicing executive, having a clear idea as to what the art director would do, reworked his brief to a typo ad.

But all that was last year.

The big idea that is being planned this year is an interactive full page ad that will have a car shaped like a diya. As soon as the paper is opened, the coating of phosphorus in the ad will catch fire when it comes in contact with air. There will be a 'This festive season, light up your life with the hottest car on the road' message that will be played out as the newspaper goes up in flames.

(The author is a creative consultant).