Ads for healthcare products like ointments, analgesics, sanitary napkins and even nicotine gum, are little more than extended prescriptions. And nasal sprays are no exception. With little exploration or perhaps, experimentation, the ads end up becoming user manuals aimed at educating consumers about product benefits, how to use it, when to use it and also, at times, how not to use it.
The latest digital ad for nasal spray brand Nasivion, titled 'Naak ka Lagaan', pretty much does all of that... with a slight difference. The ad, a parody-like animated video clip, tries to cash in on the recall of Bollywood star Aamir Khan's hit movie 'Lagaan' and even includes the famous 'duugna lagaan' reference while driving home the brand message. Khan's movies appear to be the inspiration for the new ad as there's also a glimpse of his amnesiac Ghajini (2008) character.
Nasivion, originally owned by pharmaceutical company Merck, was acquired by Procter & Gamble last November. The ad was co-conceptualised by the brand's in-house team and its digital agency WATConsult.
While the ad still carries the sick-turned-hero touch, it completely lacks the 'emotional soothing' of a mother or spouse. In his 1984 novel about the pharmaceutical industry - Strong Medicine, author Arthur Hailey's protagonist talks about the real purpose of vaporub-like products - not to cure a cold, but to appease the anxious mother keen to help her child get rid of a cold. This insight helped shape category codes for advertising in this space, i.e. the warmth and care angle. Any pharma ad in the cold-and-cough segment that doesn't dip into this space is worth making a note of; even more so, is an ad with humour.
To clarify, a quick look at a couple of old ads (videos above) from competing brands - Nasivion (P&G) and Otrivin (GSK) - will help make things clear. The brands can easily be swapped without the characters batting an eye. It's the same segment, same format, similar proposition, same narrative, and many more such similarities.
What's intriguing is the Nasivion ad's selection of the narrative. It is quite unlike the popular opportunistic way of riding on contemporary or in-vogue themes (new blockbusters/viral internet sensations) which, although a pop thing now, might be obscure in the near future. Also, not too many movies manage to seep into a populous' collective memory. Nonetheless, the brand took a risk with the 'Lagaan' narrative, considering the possibility that not everyone might have seen the film and would get the reference.
One of Otrivin's ads from 2012 also chose to look different but ended up with the same narrative.
We spoke with the experts to find out how well the Nasivion ad fared.
Suresh Eriyat, director, Studio Eeksaurus, is of the opinion that healthcare ads can be done without being prescriptive and the Nasivion ad is just such an example. However, he maintains that the ad is far from well-done.
"The humour is stretched and so dumbed down that it ridicules the intelligence of an average Indian consumer. This is a callously done communication despite the research for making it bang on. I cannot see any sensible animation either. If the idea stemmed from popular international series like South Park or BoJack Horseman, this is a poor emulation," Eriyat says.
Eriyat adds that an original idea and a premise would have worked much better.
"Also, we have always seen a protagonist failing with a cold/cough and post using the med they excel in whatever they're doing. This is the formula for such products. Isn't there an escape from this age-old, clichéd structure? If one can break it, that would be innovation," he states.
"To me, this adds to the clutter we are exposed to without any worthwhile take-home both creatively as well as brand communication-wise. If one takes such a film and splashes it all over, annoying the target audience and they remember the product out of that sheer annoyance, and we claim success from disruptive communication, then we are in for more of this," Eriyat adds.
Divya Bahirwani, senior director, Consumer Healthcare and Planning, Medulla Communications is of the opinion that humour helps in breaking through the clutter and garners mass appeal, irrespective of categories.
"The ad does a good job of landing a clear, performance-driven message (prolonged relief) in a somewhat different manner than we're used to seeing. Is it the most entertaining or refreshed way of showcasing it? Probably not," she says.
Bahirwani considers the ad a start, adding that with the added complexity involved in healthcare advertising, it is refreshing to see brands trying to boost creativity to help stand out in the growing clutter.
She states that topical campaigns are typically designed to be high impact-low shelf life. "To top that, you have to find the right issue to tap into - one that fits with the brand and is well known. Nasivion tapped into an iconic movie, easily recognisable, giving them the advantage of familiarity and interest right up front. That context itself would drive curiosity to see how a brand like Nasivion would fit in the Lagaan context," she adds.
"The change in the brand's tone reflects the shift (Merck to P&G). I think the treatment/story format/tone helps the brand look more accessible and relatable - maybe even younger. But I don't think that it makes a dent in the brand's imagery yet," Bahirwani says signing off.
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