Ayyappan Raj
Guest Article

"For long, agencies used to see the concept of celebrities in ads as some sort of impurity"

Senior adman Ayyappan Raj (founder of The Script Room) on the hazards of treating a famous face as a replacement for a big idea.

It’s a crutch. It’s a shortcut.

It’s lazy writing. It’s mindless. It’s stupid.

When you don’t have an idea, use a celebrity.

- often heard in the corridors of creative agencies when it comes to using celebrities in advertising.

It’s a fair crib because many a time the agency is not asked but told of the celeb being signed. This itself puts the agency team in a bit of a backfoot. It’s also understandable that the clients reach out to talent agencies and they share dockets on who’s the right celeb for what target audience, what market, what social class and at what price, contracts and, so on. Sometimes it’s not even decided by the marketing team at the client-side.

But still, it’s a very valid argument. More than half the campaigns that use a celebrity, use as an endorsement. Like some sort of a recommendation letter for the brand to the consumer. Nothing great really comes out of it.

Ayyappan Raj
Ayyappan Raj

For long agencies used to see the concept of celebrities in ads as some sort of impurity. Something that’s constraining the creative and bastardising the output. While there were many advertising guys who used to be condescending to the idea of using a celebrity in an ad, there were also a good bunch of advertising writers who were nailing it. From Yella Ok Cool Drink Yaake with Upendra, to SRK wearing wig and doing a Sachin, Aamir killing it with multiple avatars for Tanda Matlab Coco-Cola, to all the Makemytrip campaigns with Alia & Ranveer.

And then comes CRED. The last IPL campaign used yesteryear Bollywood superstars and brought the house down. This IPL opened with an angry Rahul Dravid and broke the internet. A million tweets, thousands of memes, Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts, WhatsApp groups… Personally, I think it’s one of the best advertising campaigns in recent times. Best!

Does that mean I don’t care about marketing, effectiveness, role of product, research, logic and so on? Not at all. Having factored in all that, I would still say it’s fantastic. It’s bold. It’s fresh. It’s outrageous and damn entertaining!

Also, it might sound counterintuitive, but I strongly feel that these CRED ads are the much-needed shot in the arm for the agencies. It’s like what’s going on in the film industry - regional movies (Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada) are challenging the mainstream, much researched, proven success formulas and are pushing the boundaries of screenwriting. Similarly, the CRED ads will enable, empower young advertising writers. Will give them the confidence to walk into client offices and say, “why can’t we do that?”

CRED ads are the best thing to happen to the industry. It would surely help bring back the madness. And it proves the fact that celebrity advertising isn’t bad, it’s just bad script writing that’s bad.

On a lighter note, it’s likely to result in a flurry of briefs coming to the agency, wanting to do the same thing. Brace yourselves, “How do we disrupt the market like how CRED did” is going to be the topic of many many many meetings...

(The author is a veteran adman and co-founder of the agency The Script Room.)