A look at the journey of ad-land's quintessential germ.
Who wouldn't be familiar with the tiny little grain like musty creatures – 'germs', more popular as 'Kitanu' in the Indian ad world – seen mostly in zoomed-in shots of floor disinfectant liquids and '...maare 99.9% kitanu' ads? These tiny 'villains' have, for different brands, taken the shape of ugly looking greenish (mostly) creatures with shady voices and shadier roles against the heroic product(s) of the advertiser.
While P&G's Vicks portrayed the thorny yet cute looking animation as the 'gale ki khichkhich' devil, HUL's toilet cleaner Domex Zero Stain pictured it as a relatively daunting 'daag'.
R&B's Lizol, in its communication, stuck to the age old format of these germs – the capsule shape.
On the other hand, the 'kitanu' in the ads of Colgate Total, from the house of oral hygiene brand Colgate-Palmolive, is seen in the role of tooth bacteria, that the use of the toothpaste can provide protection against.
The infectious throat virus in Strepsils' 'Gale ka Doctor' film is flushed away as the pill slips down the throat of the auditioning singer.
That's not all. Many other brands, from many other categories have illustrated the 'kitanu' in many other shapes, sizes and roles.
Suresh Eriyat, director, Studio Eeksaurus, says Kitanu is the quintessential bad germ character in our ads. “I think around 36 years ago while watching 'Buniyaad' when I was 10, is when I saw this guy for the first time. Animated in the traditional hand drawn cell animation style, it was a great character,” he shares.
He mentions that today the medium of animation has become CGI but the characteristic/personality of the 'Kitanu' has remained quite the same. “There are some cosmetic changes that have happened to his physical make up. He has become a bit more polished/sophisticated with shorter haircut and being slightly less grotesque. Also they reflect a very male characteristic somehow.”
He adds, “Maybe we attribute a bug or annoying/aggressive personality as more masculine than female. And that hasn’t changed through the years. I would think since 'Kitanus' are not seen by people ever, one could run the imagination wild to explore madder forms than the one that we have been following for years. I don’t think viewers would mind seeing their favourite 'kitanu' in a brand new avatar.”
Sunila Karir, founder and creative partner, Boing!, opines consumers need to see the enemy to realize that they have to fight it. This is the simplest reason for the evolution of ‘Kitanu’ aka germs. Advertising has made use of the animated ‘kitanu’ character quite effectively to sell cough drops to toilet cleaners to soaps and toothpastes.
"The 'Kitanu' has evolved from 2D animation to 3D and has become sleeker with passage of time. But it is still a scary little monster and represents the problem which the product has to solve," she points out.
She adds, "There is no denying that without the ‘Kitanu’, which is a mandate for a lot of products, it will be a difficult task for mothers to get their kids to brush twice or people to wash their hands frequently, to avoid infection. The 'kitanu' is here and it is here to stay. Literally and otherwise."
Rajiv Chilaka, founder and CEO, Green Gold Animation, feels animation has been the most visited visualisation tool for germs or ‘Kitanu’ since almost half a century. Right from the revolutionary Louie - the Fly who was introduced in an advertisement for Mortein with an animated musical number back in the 60s and the unforgettable ‘ Vicks ki goli lo, khichkhich door karo’ ad from the early 80s to Domex personifying the illness that can be caused such as fever, diarrhea, etc. by the germs; Kitanu has never been better visualized.
“It’s interesting to note that Louie is still very much a go to character and has evolved into a 3D character from the 2D version. Kitanu, a term which encompasses everything from bacteria, virus and even plaque, animation is one of the best tools to show differentiation and bring the invisible-to-the-naked-eye germs to life. In fact, with the animated Kitanu Nashaks, such as Mr. Clean and Mr Muscle , animation has provided a face to the ‘Good’, the ‘Bad’ and the ‘Ugly’,” he says.