Published : March 06, 2006
It was a clash
between the ad gurus of two generations. At Provocations, the new series of events organised by the Subhas Ghosal Foundation, ad veteran Alyque Padamsee made sure he didn't leave anything out. Lalitaji, 'Thanda Matlab Coca-Cola', Fevicol, M-Seal and 'Daag Achhe Hain' were only some of the topics he raised in order to 'provoke' O&M's chairman and national creative director, Piyush Pandey.
The event was sponsored by 'News Today', the evening newspaper from 'Rajasthan Patrika' and partnered by agencyfaqs!.
Padamsee began by showcasing Pandey's work on Fevicol (the 'Egg' and 'Truck' ads), Fevikwik's 'Fish', M-Seal's 'Father's Will', SBI Life Insurance's 'Sister Act', Tata Safari Dicor's 'Reclaim Your Life' and Sumo Victa's 'Aapki Pehchaan'.
Padamsee threw a biggie at Pandey, telling him that while the Fevicol ads were memorable, they were becoming rather generic. "Ads are focusing so much on entertainment, I don't know when the programme on television ends and the ad begins," said Padamsee. "Are we advertisers moving from competitive advertising to advertainment?"
"People are not idiots, they have a way of making things out," Pandey responded. "In fact, entertaining ads do great things for brand building."
To prove his point, Pandey talked about an incident when a retailer in Jaipur told Pandey that he was stuck in Jaipur in the Fevicol manner.
Padamsee then conceded that it was important to break the clutter. But why was it that only funny or unusual ads won awards, and not hard-hitting ones?
Disagreeing on this, Pandey said that meaningful advertising was also getting its share of glory. "One example is the Surf Excel 'Daag Achhe Hain' ad," Pandey said. "The ad is excellent and doesn't have any forced funny implications. It involves an interesting positioning with a story woven around two kids. This is a sign of maturity in advertising and maturity in the way Indian people think and accept advertising."
Padamsee then questioned Pandey about the power of Hinglish in advertising.
"I have never used Hinglish," Pandey revealed. "For instance, the words, 'Thodi Si Pet Pooja', are very much Hindi. They are only written in the English language, which doesn't make them Hinglish."
According to Pandey, there is no such thing as Hinglish. He said, "The important factor is using the language of the people, which has also been seen in our movies lately, such as in 'Dil Chahta Hai', where formally written dialogues were replaced by everyday language."
Padamsee then came to an issue close to his heart - his own creation all those years ago for Surf, Lalitaji. "What has happened to iconic advertising now?" Padamsee asked. "Where has that kind of advertising disappeared, which used to give a good reason for buying?"
"The USP is dead," Pandey answered. "It all boils down to the level of creativity in a particular category, which makes a difference. It's not simply about sales, it's about pure craftsmanship."
On the subject of international awards, Padamsee threw a tough one at Pandey, who was a judge at the Cannes Festival: "How do international juries judge an ad that is completely dependent on the language in which it has been made?"
Pandey conceded, "Yes, it is a very difficult job. For instance, an idea like 'Thanda' for Coca-Cola depends largely on the language. But I guess, at the end of the day, the ad must have an idea that can travel beyond the language barriers. There are ads from Bangkok that are subtitled, and they do end up winning."
Padamsee then raised a more hushed up issue: Do ad agencies, in a bid to win awards, find 'bakra' or scapegoat clients, for whom they can make ads?
Pandey admitted that this was true. "But I won't say this is some sort of a scam," he asserted. "It should be done in a correct fashion. A lot depends on the initiative of the agency." He returned to the O&M and Fevicol example, saying that the iconic campaign would not have happened had he not thought up the idea, 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha', for a radio spot.
Padamsee then told Pandey that the media was of the opinion that Indian advertising treated women without dignity and showed 'grinning housewives' all the time. Pandey agreed that such a portrayal of stereotypical women was despicable. But he cited the Cadbury's Dairy Milk girl dancing on the cricket field in an ad conceived years ago by him as a fine example of breaking stereotypes.
Another example, for which Pandey also received warnings from the ASCI, was the VIP Frenchie ad, which only showed the product and no person in the ad. "I got a call from the ASCI telling me that it was obscene. I sent them a few copies of ads that were running on television, which had vulgar connotations."
Ultimately, Pandey was given the go ahead for the VIP Frenchie ad. Padamsee then raised a related query. "How does one sell a bold ad to a conservative client?" he asked.
Pandey answered that a lot of it had to do with showcasing the agency's past 'bold' work, which could convince the client about the agency's success with such ads.
"In fact," Padamsee added, "I, too, faced a problem with 'Lalitaji' initially. The marketing manager rejected it, telling me that I was creating a monster of some sort."
Ultimately, Padamsee showed the film to the managing director of Surf, Shunu Sen, who loved the film. To the great reluctance of his marketing manager, and due to the lack of something better, Sen ran the ad for 4-6 weeks during the telecast of the Olympics. Padamsee and Sen's efforts paid off, and the marketing manager, too, finally saw the conviction behind the ad.
Padamsee then got back to the present and asked Pandey, "Why are so many ads using celebrities? What is happening to creativity in advertising?"
Pandey agreed that indiscriminate use of celebrities was disgusting. "Once it has been decided by the client that a celebrity must be used, the creative guys get lazy," he said. "We must put pressure on ourselves to weave an effective story around the celeb. For instance, Aamir Khan was used very well in the 'Thanda' campaign, or even the Titan ads."
Satisfied with the answer, Padamsee promptly changed the topic, "What about the Incredible India campaign? Isn't it clichéd in nature?"
Pandey gave his own views on how the campaign could be done. "Foreigners remember the dirty streets of Agra as much as the Taj Mahal. Maybe there's an idea in all that diversity," he said. But even variety is clichéd, Padamsee countered. Pandey clarified, "The cliché is not in the positioning. It is with the creative execution."
Padamsee concluded the debate with an out-of-the-box question: "Is there a casting couch in the advertising world? Are models exploited by Indian ad men for roles in ad films?"
Pat came the reply, "You tell me! You've been around longer." If not an answer from Padamsee, that surely evoked roaring laughter from the audience.
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