Walking into the office get-together, you scan your eyes around the room, wave to a colleague standing by the bar, return a smile to another smoking in a corner. You pick up a beer and walk across to a bunch of people amid an animated conversation. The era of great TV ads is over, you hear someone sputtering as he wipes crumbs of paneer tikka from his mouth. Absolutely, adds another slurring voice who says, did you know Piyush Pandey wrote the Cadbury’s Kuch Khaass Hain script on the back of an airline boarding pass. In between flmmpf flmmpf mmmph, flatf mmmph, blahgggghsfp and wolfing down of cocktail snacks, you hear references to Hamara Bajaj, Har Ghar Kuch Kehta Hain amongst other films. You silently walk away just as the now drunk bunch allege, what can only be politely termed as a lack of gonads in today’s marketers.
Such conversations, we have all heard many. Balding, middle-aged professionals lamenting the end of great television ad films. These conversations can be wildly nostalgic, overly sentimental, maddeningly repetitive and cringingly maudlin.
In his book, The Anatomy Of Humbug, Paul Feldwick describes this as a disempowering ‘Golden Age’ narrative and it coexists other popular narratives. To people espousing this, today’s advertising has irrevocably deteriorated and we can only dream of producing work like the past. They blame dominance of data, purchase departments and a depressing lack of instinct and ideas behind the absence of sexy television ad films.
To them, perhaps, it may be useful to narrate Onoda’s story.
During World War II, Lieutenant Hiro Onoda was amongst the first officers trained as an Intelligence Officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. His orders were to not surrender or take his own life under any circumstance. In 1945, fighting against Americans in Lubang Islands in the Philippines, Onoda was forced to hide in the forested hills on the island from where he launched a guerilla campaign against his enemies. Even as WWII wound down, Onoda kept fighting. When leaflets announcing that the war was over were dropped on the hills, to Onoda, it was Allied propaganda. In 1952, when letters from his family members were airdropped, to Onoda and his motley bunch, it was just another example of the trickery they were warned about in their Intelligence training. Hiro Onoda refused to believe that the war was over, he continued shooting at Filipino Police and officials until 1974; almost thirty years after the end of World War II. He surrendered only when his Commanding Officer, Major Taniguchi, flew to the island and issued orders relieving him of his duties.
Like Onoda, the people lamenting the death of the great television ad films are trapped inside their own lonesome dark forest. In talking only of TV adverts as the hallmark of great marketing communications, they are perhaps fighting a war that’s already over.
Today, in many of our lean-back moments; like watching TV, we are easily distracted by lean-in mediums; like a newsfeed on our phones. We are deluged by advertising messages, probably, every waking moment of our lives. While the media landscape and the environment around us may have changed, the fundamentals of what marketing communications needs to achieve hasn’t really changed and only the most evocative and insightful ideas still cut through clutter.
What’s described as ‘fame’ by Les Binet/Peter Field was probably delivered by an evocative 45 seconder television commercial at one time. With changing media habits and new opportunities, this can also be achieved through other media vehicles and technologies available to us.
Nike for instance, leveraged social media, out-of-home, PR amongst others to weaponise a sportsman as a beacon of what the brand stands for and generated 'fame'. Burger King ambushed McDonald's using their retail stores and clever location-based technology and also cleverly ‘hacked’ Google Home in 'Google Home of The Whopper campaign'. The Times used the power of data and AI to get JFK to speak in ‘JFK Unsilenced’; a Cannes winning effort.
Brands are being built in the intersection of insight, technology and experience. Great advertising still touches the human heart and does not straight try to dip it’s hands into the consumer’s pocket for his/her wallet. Great creative ideas are still being executed; just that they may or may not all result in that 30 second television commercial.
However, if you continue to apply the grammar of yesterday’s TV commercials, you are on a Lubang island of your own making. Come back, that war is long over.
The author is general manager - consumer marketing, Ford India. "Opinions expressed are my own and apart from giving me the weekend off my employer has nothing do with what I write," he says.