Devina Joshi

Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter

Airtel’s new thematic ad explores a thought away from the usual ‘Express Yourself’ platform, making the breaking of communication barriers its focal point

Telecom major Airtel has decided to ‘express’ itself in a different way.

In an ad that broke last month, Airtel has shifted away from its usual ‘Express Yourself’ brand premise, which has been a part of it for a couple of years now. Instead, the brand has dug a bit deeper and questioned the whole process and the need for communication itself, and the resultant thought, ‘Barriers Break When People Talk, has become Airtel’s new mantra.

Airtel’s latest thematic ad comes after two years; the last thematic campaign focused on the various ways in which people express different emotions. After that ad, there were various ads from time to time (including the very emotional ‘Dadu’ ads), but those were mostly on the network proposition or some other service benefit.

KS Chakravarthy (Chax), ex-national creative director at Rediffusion DY&R, who was with the agency when the TVC was conceptualised, says, “The brand will take a completely new direction from now onwards. ‘Express Yourself’ is passé.”

Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter
The call of a football
Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter
'Join the game'
Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter
Breaking the barrier
Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter
Playing together
Airtel breaks barriers to break the clutter
Barriers break when
people talk -- Airtel
begins on the shot of a Moroccan boy eating at home, when he sees a football land on his balcony. He steps out to find another boy on the opposite side of the fence (presumably the border of a neighbouring country) asking him to pass the ball back. Hesitating to talk with a person who’s presumably an enemy, he looks back to see if his parents are watching.

After thinking for a while, the Moroccan boy kicks the ball towards the other who, in turn, invites him over to join the game. Not minding the restrictions any more, our boy crosses the boundary and joins his new friend. They start playing together and the voiceover concludes, “Deewarein gir jaati hain, faasle mit jaate hain, jahan do baatein ho jaati hain (Barriers break when people talk).” The ad ends with Airtel’s signature tune. (Submit your opinion on this ad.)

The ad was conceptualised by Chax, Ajay Gahlaut, Abhinav Pratiman and Daniel Upputuru of Rediffusion DY&R. The team was briefed with the task of portraying the thought that the very definition of communication implies the dissolution of barriers.

The original idea was to set the ad at the Wagah Border, and get Indian and Pakistani soldiers to start a football game together, quite spontaneously. But that, as Chax says, would have been the predictable thing to do. “We wanted to make our idea more universal, more human,” he says. “After all, the brand is about regular people.”

The war-torn territory idea was decided as the best basis to bring forth this thought, as barriers of two kinds are broken – communication barriers and, subsequently, the borders of the two warring countries.

The ad was shot by Prakash Varma of Nirvana Films in Morocco. Local boys (who had never faced the camera before) were selected for authenticity. The pre-production work took about four weeks, and the ad was shot in four days. A barbed wire fence was set up over acres of barren land, while the two houses were sets. That whole process took about a week.

To make the children act more naturally, Varma and his team often didn’t tell them when the camera was rolling, so as to capture their natural expressions.

The campaign uses children as symbols of minds free of prejudice, with their innocence depicted in stark contrast to the desolate landscape around them. Airtel’s point of view has clearly become this: The world would be a better place if only we all talked to each other.

Print, outdoor and radio ads have been released to support the TVC. If competitor Vodafone is associating itself with theatre festivals (including the Ranga Shankara Festival and the Prithvi Festival), Airtel will align itself with various street plays from time to time, reveal sources.

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