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These ads also sell products

By Shamni Pande     October 30, 2007

 Surf excel
Surf Excel ad: Speaks about water conservation

They are hardly supposed to be the moral guardians of the nation. But ads for the Idea GSM network and Tata Tea are actually becoming torch-bearers of a trend that’s worthy of emulation. Interestingly both ads, from the Lowe India stable, hit unerringly at socio-political subjects like denominational identities and ill-qualified politicians.

“It’s always good for brands to own a space that stands for a higher cause,” says K.S. Chakravarthy, former National Creative Director, Rediffusion DYR. He highlights the instance of Surf Excel that sought to conserve water, and Lifebuoy that captured kids cleaning up dirty streets— again the work of Lowe India.

These ads stand out, as it’s a little uncharacteristic for out and out consumer brands to become agents of social change. But the trend has been there in some other categories of products. “Many media brands, like Aaj Tak and Tehelka, have raised these issues in the past through their brand communications. But that goes with the product proposition. It becomes news when, say, FMCG brands start to talk about such issues,” says Manish Bhatt, VP & Executive Creative Director, Contract.

 Idea
 Idea ad: A humorous solution to communal tension

Variations abound, of course. Tongue-in-cheek Amul outdoor ads have often leveraged burning topical issues. At another level, there have been ads in the past that have also broken the mould by taking up socially relevant issues. “I found the Kwality Walls Big F series, that took on issues like letching at girls, very relevant,” says Prathap Suthan, National Creative Director for South-West Asia, Cheil.

Suthan feels that this is a “rich space” for brands to latch on to “considering that we as a nation have many taboos, ads that take digs at customs and rituals that perpetuate caste inequalities, colour biases, bribery and corruption can connect with consumers, while at the same time sending out a social message,” he says.

 Tata tea
Tata Tea ad: ‘Jago Re’ shows a young man questioning a politician
However, not everyone agrees that it’s as simple as that. “There haven’t been many ads that really take on the system or are ‘anti-establishment’ in the real sense. Also, most consumers see through a thin, one-off plot. A brand that sets its strategy on social messages, must be consistent. You cannot talk of a socially relevant issue once, and then move on,” says Sunil V, Creative Director, ‘A’, an independent communications agency.

R. Balakrishnan, (better known as Balki), National Creative Director, Lowe, injects a more matter-of-fact logic to the debate: “We know that young people question things around them. That is what we show in the Tata Tea ad, and in the other, there’s a comment on communal riots and how an idea can change that. There’s no big trend towards antiestablishment communication,” he says. While that may be true, we only hope that more brands get inspired to speak out.


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