The latest ad for VH1's music festival - Supersonic - connects music with liberation and expression. While the ad, an almost-two-minute-long digital film, stitches together a host of images about breaking stereotypes and talking back to social taboos, it also highlights VH1's long-time association with the music scene - since the internet was but a luxury. The film has been ideated and produced by Supari Studios, a 'digital content studio'.
While it features images of dial-up internet connections, a disabled biker, a corporate person with tattoos and men in high heels, it also sticks with visuals of athletic women, women with hairy armpits, a gay man and much more. The latter group does seem a bit not-so-new when it comes to advertising. Several brands have explored the 'be yourself' narrative in their ad communications. The 'hairy armpit' has been explored in ads on multiple counts, both globally and in India. Not so long ago, Titan's Fastrack coupled the image of a woman's hairy armpit with ad copy reading "Sorry for what?"
However, visuals of downloading content with a sluggish internet connection, stacked audio cassettes (The Who, Gorillaz etc.), wannabe rockstars, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it "Jimmy quit and Jody got married" line in the ad's copy (from Bryan Adams' famous Summer of 69 track), and cut out jeans try to connect with music fans from a particular time, with particular taste.
Also worth noticing is the advertiser, i.e. Supersonic and its creative partner - Supari Studios. On one hand, the agency identifies itself as a 'digital content studio' with a focus on generating content via live-action coverage and animated films; the advertiser is an event, unlike the rather commonplace 'brand'.
With this ad, VH1 Supersonic also took a step away from flaunting its lineup of artists and audience crowds, the brand's usual route for advertising.
In a press release, Manoti Jain, executive producer, Supari Studios states, "The team went down a slightly different route from the usual festival videos, conceptualising a spoken word piece that was both nostalgic, as well as hard-hitting, with the aim to immerse viewers into a time and space that they could truly resonate with."
Turning to experts:
Nima Namchu, (ex-CCO, Havas Worldwide India), likes the overall intent and the message of the ad but finds the "manifesto" format (a voiceover running over a montage of images) a bit too common.
"The reference to the relics of the past like dial-up Internet connections and lyrics of a Bryan Adams song from the late '80s left me a little confused regarding the audience they are trying to connect with. It distracts the viewer from the main message the film, of being a non-judgmental, inclusive brand," Namchu says.
"While 'being different' works with the young and the restless, I think the team has missed an opportunity to create and own a more differentiated image for Vh1 Supersonic in a marketplace that's increasingly getting crowded with every second brand advocating inclusiveness. I found 'Be There Be Free' too broad to be a strong and memorable tagline which required a sharper articulation to assert the brand's POV," he adds.
"With newer media emerging every second day, there will continue to be a demand for partners with domain expertise and you can be sure we will see many such content studios being set up in the future. With media and technology dictating whether they are digital, metaphysical or celestial. Things will only start becoming really exciting when marketers get serious and start getting into long-term partnerships with content studios, instead of using them for one-off projects," Namchu with regard to a digital content studio executing an ad for the event brand.
Shobhit Mathur, national creative director, Hakuhodo India says, "I am confused! Which today's 20-year-old experienced the lethargy of Internet back then? Or cassettes for that matter? I really don't know whom this ad is trying to speak to or what it is trying to say?"
He continues, "Commercials depicting rebellious dressing and tattooed executives made sense 15 years ago because the churn was beginning at that time. But do they cut ice today? I am not sure. 'Where words fail, music speaks' is interesting and true. But I wish I could say the same for the ad. Nostalgia works, Paper Boat has proven this beyond a doubt. But it works if executed keeping a human 'insight' and relevance at the core. Nostalgia for the sake of it doesn't. Unfortunately, there's no insight here and hence, there's nothing 'supersonic' about this commercial.
"The advent of the digital age has spread this power evenly across many platforms. Sometimes even to individuals. So I am not surprised that the lead on this was not a typical advertising agency, but a digital content studio," he adds.
Aalap Desai, senior creative director, Dentsu Webchutney shares his opinion, "While the ad starts with nostalgia, it fails to hold on to it because of the long-drawn narrative. It leaves me with a feeling that the insight could have been done in a shorter film. The spirit of inclusion is great, but the attempt to feature every personality type has taken a toll on the film. The edit and fast-paced visuals help cover more ground, but considering the attention span on digital, I feel it will fail to hold on to it."
He adds, "To portray that everyone is invited does not mean that everyone needs to be featured in the film. A big chunk of the profiles in the video are clichés and have been explored numerous times in the same imagery. There are a few great and unseen visuals in the film. I feel they should have just stuck to them and they would have had a much fresher piece of communication."
Gayatri Sriram, digital creative head - Delhi, FCB Ulka, says, "I love the sentiment behind 'be there be free'. I love the throwback to dial-up downloads. There is something authentic and real about the way it's been shot. The thought that there is a place waiting for you where music will be your liberation, is wonderful.
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"I just wish that some of the shots didn't feel so formulaic; woman who won't shave, the woman in a wheelchair, the gay man... Because those moments are not given their due, it feels formulaic. But the thinking on this is very strong and the use of nostalgic elements is very effective. I also wish there were more shots of the festival itself," Sriram concludes.
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