Manish Kinger
Guest Article

Festive advertising has a spark problem

Our guest author talks about why there is fatigue surrounding such advertising.

Festive advertising is short for advertising + brand purpose + festive context. It’s the Diwali ad you share in your family WhatsApp group after receiving it in your office-friends group. You don’t look for a good festive ad. It drops like an ad, but becomes a conversation soon after. And, if you are not on a dopamine cleanse or a social media fast or living under a rock, chances are this conversation will find you.

Agencies need it because it makes for great storytelling/profiling/award-winning opportunities. Brands need it because it is a cost-effective (relatively) way to introduce/re-introduce their purpose, own a relevant marketing moment, earn social currency, stay top of the mind (for festive season). And, the audience needs it because who doesn't need a beautifully-crafted, socially-relevant, my-kind-of-content break from advertising.

In the big bright world of festive advertising, Diwali, without a doubt, has the Super Bowl status. The stakes are so high that most brands put all their festive advertising eggs in this one basket. Everyone wants a piece of this 'kaju katli'. And, in this pursuit of presence, if we are not consciously course-correcting, the needle can easily shift, from staying relevant to being visible. Which is the point where making a Diwali ad becomes more important than telling a brand purpose story that is relevant in the context of Diwali.

Have we reached that point?

I sincerely hope not. But I do feel there is merit in asking this question. And, if asking seems like a lot, then let’s just hold this thought and take a moment to reflect on the festive work we have put out this year. Make an observation or three. For there will be a festive brief coming our way, and when it does, we do better because we have learnt something from the great, good and average-ish.

I’ll go first

1.  Action is the new conversation

Some brands took an 'act not' ad approach to festive advertising and gave their purpose narrative a real, physical social change extension. Cadbury, in my opinion, is leading this flag of festive 'actvertising' for two reasons:

A.  Low-effort problem-solving nudges (high probability of behaviour change)

B. A seamlessly-integrated, easy-to-adopt tech play

#ShopsForShopless talks to the already emotionally-primed consumer. Through a simple story and easy product-purpose integration, it nudges them to be a part of the street hawkers support group.

HP too joined the actvertising bandwagon, with #ThodiSiJagahBanaLo. Turning HP stores into galleries for Indian artisans during Diwali is the lead by example purpose talk that is authentic and true to the cause of #ThodiSiJagahBanaLo.

The eventual finish line of a solid brand-purpose story is when purpose becomes bigger than the brand. And, investing in actvertising as a long-term festive strategy, to me, seems like the right way to get there.  

2. Festive fatigue is real

Most Diwali ads felt like most Diwali ads. They seemed tired of being Diwali ads. If it were up to them, they would rather be a poster or a meme or three minutes short or maybe a better plot. Off the cuff, these looked like results of less effort and more fatigue.

2-A) Fatigue in the form of clichés

A 40-minute-long story of a father travelling to his son’s place to celebrate Diwali, for a change. Or, a family rivalry coming to an end with a not-so-random act of kindness, coincidentally on the occasion of Diwali. Or more-than-many linear and literal cousins of ‘This Diwali, step out and celebrate with the people you love’. Or, a pregnant jobseeker has a heart-to-heart with a motherly figure, without realising she is being interviewed by her.

One of the stories that stood out in this sea of seen was Sabhyata’s Diwali ad. Every frame in this story felt carefully nurtured with effort and love for storytelling. Having seen a decent amount of festive communication in my career and written a few myself, this one ad still managed to surprise me.  

The second story that resisted the festive fatigue, in my opinion, was Reliance Digital’s 'Dil Se Baatein Karte Hain'. A story of grandparents learning English to wish their NRI granddaughter on Diwali is predictable from minute one. But the way this story was told is a masterclass in nuanced screenwriting. Even though every molecule in your body knows where this is going, you still want to go along, play along, follow it to its penny drop and let it overwhelm your aware-beyond-repair self.  

2-B) Fatigue in the name of purpose

Celebrate the joy of togetherness, celebrate the spirit of togetherness, celebrate those who light up your lives, be the light that inspires, celebrate Diwali your way. When purpose is treated with intent and effort, it glows and when it is not, it shows. Applying intent in identifying an own-able purpose, and through strong, unique and relevant narrative taking it to the finish line, was clearly not the ritual we brought back this Diwali.   

Ghadi’s ‘Saare Mael Dho Daalo’, with its last few festive iterations, seems to be struggling to find new-age, relevant conversations to take the purpose story forward. The Diwali ad too felt contrived and reproduced from the shreds of old SMDD stories. Which could be a sunk cost fallacy situation, where the purpose and the investment in its current narrative have become a difficult-to-acknowledge burden on the brand and everyone involved. 

This year is the first time, in the last three years, when there is no reason to look at a creative product with an empathetic lens of having survived a difficult year. There is no cushioning of the COVID context. There are no points for trying. Which is why, when you zoom in on these more-than-many optically-festive pieces, you can clearly see that effort and intent are still the most relevant and significant deciding factor between good and not-so-good festive advertising.

On that note, happy knocking-the-next-festive-ad-out-of-the-park to (me and) you.

(Manish Kinger, our guest author, works as executive creative director at Schbang, a holistic marketing solutions agency)

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