Rayomand J. Patell
Guest Article

“Please don’t feed the celebrities…”

We asked our guest writer whether Flipkart's ‘kidults’ might be something of a liability after all these years. He thinks they trump A-listers, hands down.

There they are on the big screen, cavorting around trees, changing costumes faster than Mallya leaving the country, lip syncing to some very dodgy lyrics and on occasion, raising a laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all.

There they are on the small screen, when their big screen careers are over. Hoping to God (or Godfather), that they get a break as the ageing relative, the hot aunty or the gay uncle. Or even, just a cameo in a Cred commercial. Go Govinda!

There they are on the mobile screen, making the jump from Bollywood to Influenzahood. “Many of y’all have been asking about my skincare routine…” they piteously bleat. Er, no. Nobody, literally nobody, asked you.

Celebrities have their natural habitats, some on set, some on grass (no, not you Bollywood, I meant our cricketers) and on occasion for tax purposes, some even claim to be ploughing fields as farmers.

Rayomand J Patell
Rayomand J Patell

Why then, is Indian advertising ever so fond of extracting them from their worlds and dropping them into commercials? You’d think someone who’s on set seven days a week would have better things to do.

But, no.

There they are, hawking everything from cement to soap, though lately some soap makers went to town claiming other soaps cleansed rather like cement. We live, in phabulous times.

Speaking of cement, the only time a celeb in a cement ad was part of the narrative rather than a himbo, was when Ambuja used The Great Khali, in a sweet film reminiscent of the way BPL used The Big B in the late 90s Dhar & Hoon campaign. But two exceptions in decades of mind numbing bombardment, do not a spring make.

“Buy this,” they say into camera. It is the secret of my rather large pay cheque. Perhaps it was even true at one point in the 50s. But it’s 2021. We know you’re there because rather than believe in a great script to make your brand a runaway hit, the powers that be just, believed in your star power rather than their writer’s firepower.

It takes laziness to put a film star into a commercial. It takes sloth on a Biblical scale to add a cricketer into the mix.

Please. Stop feeding the celebrities. Create your own ‘Sellibrities’ instead.

Like the Flipkart kids. They’re back, in a new installment to save you cash on groceries. Sweet, yes, cheesy, perhaps. But do they get the job done? Hell, yes. In an ocean of fungibility, differentiation through your advertising at least, is what creates a preference for your brand. And it’s even harder, when your brand is online, rather than omni-channel. There’s an easy familiarity with them and they don’t ever seem to get old.

I like homegrown characters from Indian Advertising. They’re so much more heartwarming. From the era of the Maharaja of Air India, to Ram & Shyam of Poppins, the indeterminate creature of Lijjat Papad, to the entirely amorphous ZooZoos, I’m big on characters turning into celebrities on their own steam.

On another note, the premise of the Flipkart commercial reminds me of an old Contract commercial, for Franklin Templeton. Set in an Irani cafe, a bloke enjoys his chai and paper. Till the rascal at the next table sips away at his chai, leaving him considerably less chai to his surprise, when he puts his paper down. Having said that, only geriatrics such as I probably even remember such things and it’s not any the less enjoyable for that.

To conclude, celebrities in advertising have passed their sell by date. Build your own characters and put the balance that you’d have poured into hiring the celeb, into media. A prudent action that won’t eat away at you.

(The author is chief creative officer at Idealake.)