Recently, Havells released - then withdrew - an ad film that drew on the Jat reservation issue.
After Pepsi got a bashing for its 'Bhook hartal' ad and Havells had to withdraw the anti-reservation spot post a virtual backlash, it is now Yatra.com's turn to be in the spotlight. The online travel agent has released a digital ad for the Yatra Web Check-in App that cashes in on the agitation at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) using the much-debated 'azaadi' theme.
So, in the current scenario, where brands are often wary of highlighting political issues in their campaigns, why did Yatra choose to parody Kanhaiya Kumar? The damage or the backlash from such a campaign is instant for a digital company, as it translates into app uninstalls and down-rating. Did that bother the brand?
Explains Vikrant Mudaliar, chief marketing officer, Yatra.com, "We were looking at a digital ad and the idea was to go ahead with something topical, which is where the concept of 'Azaadi' fit in. We are, in no way, advocating any particular issue or a person through the advertisement. Yatra always believes in "Creating Happy Travellers", and one of the methods we follow is the freedom to plan your travel and customise it in the way it suits a particular person. Our focus is to showcase the new product in a humorous manner through the ad."
The campaign began as a Facebook post that went viral almost instantly given its topicality and the controversy it generated. Commenting on its success, Raghu Bhat, founder, Scarecrow Communications, says, "Since the release of the ad, there has been a lot of positive feedback. There are people who want to install the Yatra app just because they loved the creative. This, and the fact that the reach has been purely organic are quite flattering for me as a creative person."
Bhat, however, clarifies that 'app download' was not the metric on which the campaign was to be evaluated. The brief was to create awareness about the brand with a viral ad. The rest was left to the agency. Talking about the 'Azaadi' concept, Bhat shares, "Amul, as a brand, inspires me a lot. It is the most successful example of communication in India as the Amul topicals have managed to keep the brand fresh throughout. I wanted to do something on those lines and Yatra was very supportive."
It is interesting to note that this is the agency's second 'viral feat' after the '11 Minutes' anti-smoking campaign featuring Alok Nath, Sunny Leone and Deepak Dobriyal which went off the charts with over five million views in February. Scarecrow is not the AoR for Yatra. It was tasked to come up with just this ad.
Speaking on the possibility that brands may approach Scarecrow as the 'viral specialist' now, Bhat says, "While studying the target group and the national mood does provide some indicators, no one can predict a viral. We are happy that brands recognise us for edgy work. They come to us when they want to create a big impact or talk to the youth or when there are no huge ATL budgets."
Bhat says that it is an unintentional positioning that has been created for the agency. "Since we are still a challenger agency, we also take it as an opportunity to prove ourselves each time. The key is to be humble and not have a know-it-all attitude," he says.
A free run to this one?
Brand guru and co-founder of Pinkshastra (a natural wellness solutions service, for women) Shubho Sengupta, finds the ad brilliant. "It's perfectly balanced -- the message and the medium. One of those rare times it is so. Kanhaiya Kumar is a favourite whipping boy amongst the target audience and people are laughing at his capers, so I don't see any problem there. Suddenly, everyone's talking about the Yatra ad, after years. I think it's working," he says, suggesting that the "real Kanhaiya should play himself and make some moolah".
According to Suresh Eriyat, founder and creative director, Eeksaurus, the ad makes fun of Kanhaiya Kumar's spirit. "It is distasteful and quite regressive. I am not a supporter of any political ideology, but would you dare to that with Amitabh Bachchan? No. Brands should not side with an ideology just because there has been national talk and it has created conversations," asserts Eriyat who doesn't appreciate the film-making either.