Surf Excel Pakistan's #MadadEkIbadat ad film: The Full Story

By Anirban Roy Choudhury , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising
Published : June 15, 2016
Lowe Lintas Mumbai has created this film. We interviewed the ad film director Vasan Bala to understand what went into creating a film that has appealed to Indian and Pakistani netizens in equal measure.

Over the past few days, the social media has been abuzz with talk of 'that new Ramadan ad by Surf Excel'. As far as brand promise goes, the ad per se is unremarkable - a little boy helps an old 'samosa-wala' sell his Iftar savories, doing his good deed for the day. He stains his clothes in the process, but of course, the mother doesn't get angry. "Daag, after all, Achhe Hai". Hence, the campaign title #MadadEkIbadat (Helping is an act of faith).

What's remarkable about this two-minute-twenty-second-long film, however, is that the 'client' is Surf Excel Pakistan, and the creative agency and production crew is Indian. That's a powerful message of peace, indeed.

The ad has been created by Arun Iyer's team at Lowe Lintas, produced by Absolute Productions and directed by Vasan Bala (writer of 'The Lunchbox' 2013, 'Bombay Velvet', 2015, and 'Peddler', 2013).

Surf Excel's #MadadEkIbadat campaign

The ad film has been shot in old Delhi. The cast includes Dev (the little boy and hero of the film), Garima (the mother), and Robin Das (the samosa-wala, who we last saw in the Bollywood movie 'Mary Kom').

Surf Excel's #MadadEkIbadat campaign

In less than a week, the film has fetched over a million views on YouTube. It has pulled in shares and comments across Indian and Pakistani social media. (Vasan) Bala, who is the director of the ad, tells afaqs!, "The difference between the two countries is subtle. Unless we politicise it, talk about something 'big', no one can really guess the origin of the ad."

Surf Excel's #MadadEkIbadat campaign

While crafting the film, did Bala know he was onto potentially viral content? Turns out, the overwhelming response has come as a surprise to him. "While making the film, we were just thinking about the film - how to shoot it, how to keep the kids happy... the charm of the ad lies in their innocence and energy. Once we saw the cuts we realised something good is happening, but a response like this was not thought about," admits Bala.

A source at the creative agency tells afaqs!, "It is quite possible that this ad will become a Surf Excel India campaign in the days ahead. It is likely to find a place in some of the Gulf countries as well."

Vasan Bala

There's no nation-specific marker in the film. Outside of the Urdu super that appears on the screen towards the end, there's nothing in the ad that gives away the nationality of the brand team. Explains Bala, "That's because there is no difference at all - that's how the celebrations are here, too. The vast difference is in our heads. We did extensive research to match the look and feel of the lanes of Pakistan (with the gullies of India) and found that both look very similar. Neither the client, nor the ad agency demanded the presence of a green flag or any such clichés in the film."

Interestingly, a source at the agency shares, "Making the ad look country-neutral wasn't part of the brief given to us. The brief was around Ramadan and helping hands. Little kids don't have any baggage, they don't understand any diversities, they are always neutral... that is why this film emerged looking so country-neutral."

A film that involves children selling samosas and jalebis on the street can easily be construed as one that promotes child labour, an evil that plagues both India and Pakistan. Were the agency and production teams mindful of this risk?

"Yes it came up. But somehow, it's the broader message around the act of helping - something that's embedded in the nature of every child - that got communicated and this (risky) thought stayed suppressed. That's a win for the film," says Bala.

Srinivasan Swamy

Should this digital ad film evolve into a TV spot on Indian television? S K Swamy, chairman, R K Swamy Hansa Group, doesn't think so. "To appeal to a wider audience in India, the characters should have been a mix of Hindus and Muslims. Rather than beaming it to a TV audience, this ad is best seen on online media where the audience actively seeks to view it," he opines.

Vineet Bajpai

Vineet Bajpai, chairman, Magnon/TBWA, adds, "First-up, the ad has been made beautifully. My congratulations to the creative team of Lowe! However, I feel the ad is better suited for digital media for the simple reason that like many fantastic ad films made before it, the length of the film is a little too long for a sustained TV campaign. However, I do not see that as a disadvantage at all. The ad has gone heavily viral and is witnessing spectacular reach. So, in today's context when digital content is set to grow exponentially over the next five-to-ten years, ad films made specifically for digital viewership will create a niche of their own."

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