Aditya Jaishankar
Guest Article

Narsimha Avatar and the bizarre world of marketing

What is the similarity between the Narsimha Avatar and advertising and marketing?

From time immemorial, the avatars of Vishnu have spawned popular stories. While the Mahabharat and the Ramayan are stories that we share very naturally with our kids, what struck me as intriguing was that the first few avatars always take different shapes and forms to solve a specific problem.

To save mankind from flooding, to save the gods and humans alike from a cruel demon are just some of the tales that bring alive the sheer diversity of the issues and the divine solutions that were brought about to solve the problem.

Some specific examples we all have grown up with are -

Matsya, the fish. Vishnu takes the form of a fish to save Manu from the floods, after which he takes his boat to the new world along with one of every species of plant and animal, gathered in a massive cyclone.

Kurma, the giant tortoise. When the devas and asuras were churning the ocean of milk in order to get Amrita, the nectar of immortality, the mount Mandara they were using as the churning staff started to sink and Vishnu takes the form of a tortoise to bear the weight of the mountain.

But one of the avatars that has always caught my attention is the Narsimha avatar. This avatar has constantly piqued my curiosity and I always looked at it as a metaphor for something deeper that can relate to the world today.

The story of Narsimha avatar goes like this. Hiranyakashipu gained special powers by which he could not be killed during the day or night, indoors or outdoors, by any weapon, and by man or animal.

Endowed with new powers, Hiranyakashipu creates chaos, persecutes all devotees of Vishnu, including his own son. Vishnu understands the demon's power, then creatively adapts into a mixed avatar that is neither man nor animal and kills the demon at the junction of day and night, at the threshold of the house, neither inside nor outside. A story that celebrates lateral thinking, and different levels of adaptation within a problem that seems like a complex maze.

A set of impossible hurdles were overcome with a well-crafted strategy that resulted in a super creative output that shocked the enemy. Lateral thinking at its best .

A story that can provide inspiration to be the best of strategic and creative minds, if viewed with an open mind.

It struck me that there are some bizarre similarities between the world of advertising and marketing and Narsimha, the vanquisher of the demon Hiryanakashipu. Finding the sweet spot or the middle ground has also been the holy grail for many marketing and advertising professionals over the years.

One fine day, as I was working on an advertising brief for a client, it struck me that sometimes we strategists and creative folks can look to Narsimha avatar for some inspiration.

The ability to craft a solution that solves a problem and meets and satisfies various criteria can be a daunting task. There are certain boundaries that are drawn and one has to work within these boundaries, either in terms of a target audience or in terms of an imagery that is needed. At the same time, the effectiveness of the solution cannot be restricted by the boundaries.

Like Narsimha found the sweet spot among the myriad challenges posed to him, marketers and advertising professionals are forced to think of a sweet spot within all the boundaries and challenges set for them.

Some typical examples posed to us where we need to wear the Narsimha hat are as illustrated.

Often marketers are greedy enough to say the imagery needs to be premium but does not alienate the masses. We need the younger audience to lap it up but at the same time, not alienate the older audience. For example, let’s target kids in a way that it does not alienate teenagers. Let’s target the family man but let’s not appear uncool to the aspirational young biker.

Wearing the Narshimha hat and finding the sweet spot when multiple challenges are embedded within a problem, seems to be critical to a marketing and advertising professional.

Of course, today’s digital world throws up a whole new set of challenges. The wish list of every marketer includes - 'I want a huge number of views on digital media, but I want those who are genuinely interested to participate in the digital activity and not a wasted audience'. A balance of quantity and quality, both.

While strategy is about making choices, often even within those choices there is a fine line that needs to be drawn in the tone and manner in which a brand appears. Executing a creative piece within a given cost so that it lives up to its conception also includes finding the sweet spot.

The following seem to be the complex maze that marketers today have to grapple with. This maze will become more complicated as more and more start-ups start demanding brand building activities which are cost effective and yet yield quick results in terms of ROI.

To summarise, some of the examples which are doing the rounds for some time now are

  • Aspirational imagery that does not alienate but embraces all

  • Cool and aspirational for the younger audience but not alienating for the older audiences

  • On digital media, a huge number of views are needed, but not at the cost of genuine audience participation. Both quantity and quality of participation need to achieved

  • Cost effective videos, which do not compromise on the power of storytelling

As challenges mount in the marketing and advertising world, one will perhaps have to don the Narsimha thinking hat more often. Thinking at multiple levels with an open mind to perhaps find that sweet spot that strikes gold.

(The author is co-founder and director at MAAD, a user-generated advertising and marketing platform)