Oped

Lost in the cliché

  • The Nepali advertising industry must learn from the greats
- Raghav Gautam, Kathmandu

Feb 19, 2019-

Since it first appeared on television, Samsung India’s ‘We will take care of you, wherever you are’ advertisement has ballooned into a social phenomenon.  The advertisement’s profoundly moving story, which it manages to unfold within a few minutes, evoked emotion across communities in South Asia.  As of today, the advertisement has become the most watched advertisement on Youtube, reaching a total view count of 209 million. Not even famous Super Bowl’s commercial spots could come as close to these viewership figures. The widespread popularity of the video, its lasting emotional impact on viewers, and its reliability warrants conversation. What can Nepal learn from these art forms?

Key storytelling

Since the beginning of the advertising industry, people have developed a love and hate relationship with this commercial art form. Most of the times, the general public, especially in Nepal, hates advertising; its interruptions to serial sequences, news or sports can cultivate these feelings. But other times they just can’t get enough of it. And these ‘anomaly advertisements’—those that don’t cause viewers to cringe at the screen but rather, leave people thinking—deserve discussion. Amidst a sea of competing adverts, this Samsung brand video was successful to leave an imprint. What made it so exceptional: A compelling approach to storytelling, coupled with a soulful soundtrack, as good as any song in our personal playlists.

Watching a lot of cricket was part-and-parcel of growing g up in the ’90s; Adverts would run as soon as overs were bowled. And in a painful test of our patience, sometimes adverts would even play before the last ball was bowled. It was irritating at times for those at the edge of our seats in eager anticipation of the outcome of the game.  For us, Indian advertising was force fed. But in the process of these routines, we ended up deeply loving many Indian commercials.  I can still recall several ad jingles with pristine clarity. The fact that some adverts had such long-lasting imprints on many lives highlights the Indian ad industry’s thriving approach to creativity. They are still one of the leaders in advertising around the world.

The advertisements for the adhesive brand Fevicol, for example, have fostered a virtual cult. If an eggshell is too hard to break, we recall that Fevicol ad where a curious cook is trying to break an eggshell with a hammer in his hand. The brand strategists behind the advertisement knew the exact ingredients that make a TV commercial stick to become part of the larger fabric of our lives. Fevicol came to Ogilvy and Mather in the 70s, and now they celebrate a bond nearing five decades. The journey was quite the rollercoaster ride; from turning into a relatively unknown brand to becoming the number one brand of Asia in its category. The mastermind behind the campaign was Piyush Pandey, a former cricketer who was tasked with the challenge of turning a seemingly irrelevant client into a household name. He gave the brand its own personality. It was treated like a person. Fevicol had its own language and humour. Brand personality is a common rhetoric in the Nepali ad industry. But when it comes to giving the brand its own voice, other voices become more dominant. The brand is merely limited to its outlook and aesthetic appeal. A good looking person talking about mundane topics stuff can’t garner sustained excitement. Fevicol is an outstanding example of how a brand found its true voice.

Digital disruption

People working in advertising have a difficult time convincing people to sit through the entirety of a commercial—even if they are less than 30 seconds. The situation is even worse as advertising adapts to the digital context. Online campaigns are often hardly noticed by the end user. People tend to simply scroll to the content they are looking for and ignore the adverts. According to Red Crow Marketing, most Americans are fed about 4,000 to 10,000 ads each day. With the proliferation of digital platforms, people are unaware of how many advertisements they encounter on a daily basis.

Given this ongoing fight over peoples’ short attention spans, people are redefining approaches to advertisement around the world. When reflecting on these new approaches, Ranjivjit Singh, CMO of Samsung India thinks, ‘It’s no more about advertising; it is about telling real-life stories where people appreciate the authenticity.’

And in the effort to tell better stories, advertising agencies are committing themselves to addressing social issues and allowing their brand to speak for certain social values. For example, Times of India launched the ‘No Conditions Apply’ campaign, which was aimed to fight the long-held tradition of discriminating widows, the LGBT community, people who are separated, divorcees and single mothers during the ritual observation of Durga Puja. Times of India urged all women to smear two dots of shindoor, one for them and one for those who couldn’t participate. Thousands of women participated and instantly, the message became a game-changer. For some, this campaign was able to break a 400-year-old tradition. This is the power of carefully crafted approach to advertisement.

What made those ideas, even if they were selfishly promoting the goods of their clients, become stories that we tell during family gatherings, become something that evoked immense emotion from a cross-section of society, and become so powerful that it could bring justice to a marginalised community? These are some questions that the Nepali advertising industry should start asking already. Maybe then, we will see this industry steer in a completely different direction and not get lost in the clichés.

Gautam is an assistant creative supervisor at ANS Creation.

Published: 19-02-2019 08:48

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