The Heart Stuff!  Indian Creativity in Advertising

Sushil Bahl
Faculty, Marketing area, Nirma Institute of Management
Nirma University

Advertising as defined by Stephen Leacock, is a science and art of arresting the human intelligence and emotions long enough to get money from it (profit in marketing).

Advertising has a dual role.

It is sometime publicity (editorial and free) that has no commercial angle. This is publicity as we practice to inform people of dangers of health, the precautions to take to avoid them, how to plan families, to save and invest for your and the national good, and the more we do this the better we shall be. The second aspect of advertising is what we in this audience are directly concerned with, namely commercial advertising (advertising for mind share and market share and profit and growth). Advertising which is a must now in business. As some one described that business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does. Therefore, you have to talk of your wares (products and services) and convince the buyer (target group) that your soap washes whiter than any other soap (RIN), and that centuries are scored after shaving with your shave cream. (Kapil’s line “Palmolive da jawab nai!”).  And other such campaigns so that consumers buy and use the product. In Persian this is called “jungle zargari” – the fight between goldsmiths who all claim that their pure gold is purer than the pure gold of others!

Today, it is generally believed, nothing can be sold unless it is advertised. Photographs of models modeling jeans and outfits are everywhere. Those jeans look good on the models, but not always so on others not so generously endowed by nature. Ads appear in newspapers, magazines, TV and even lamp-posts and walls. We are told of the name of street or the way to the airport or hospital with advertising signposts. It seems nothing from a pencil (Camlin) to a jet plane (the Concorde aircraft) can be sold without advertising. Those who buy jet planes make their own inquiries, but people like us only read the ads.

There is no limit to the art of advertising.

One of the most popular advertising slogan has always been “Try it, you will like it.” (Shombit Sengupta has the slogan “Eat healthy and think better” for Britannia)  These must have been the very words with witch Eve offered the apple to Adam (the shine on it possibly being the 5th P -- packaging). Advertising could then well claim to be the world’s oldest profession. It is certainly a hoary one!

Now let me coming down to the theme of my article. Advertising in its perspective, form and shape i.e. creativity, especially in India, in comparison with the West where advertising originated ( with J. Walter Thompson and Rosser Reeves).

David Ogilvy – icon of modern creativity

When David Ogilvy started his career, some 65 years ago, it seems, his first job was to check ads in the Indian newspapers. All he would do was make sure that the ads appeared, and measure them for the shrinkage!  (Mats for blocks for reproduction versus positives and computer image roller plates today). He could not read them as they were translated in Indian languages. He was perplexed why an ad agency in London was creating campaigns to appear in Indian newspapers?

Today times have changed. The same David Ogilvy, today, as Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, once stated he had offered a prize of $10,000 to the O&M office that created the most brilliant ad campaign in their worldwide network. Which office won the prize do you suppose? New York, Chicago, London Paris?? None of these! The prize went to the Bangkok office! The tortoise had beaten the Hares. Not surprisingly. The quality of advertising in India has improved leaps and bounds. Advertising agencies are now creating campaigns that run in the Western world. Indian advertising campaigns as you know are now entered in the Cannes and Clio awards, and have begun winning these awards. (Pyush Pande – the Cannes lion!).

In this context, advertising is not about products and services. It is not about acquiring new clients or merchandising at retail outlets. All that is certainly the mechanics of advertising. But in India it is all about people and ideas. People as creators, consumers, and talent (human beings with a mind and a heart). And we need to take advantage of this. We have our own culture, deep traditions and perceptions. And only now after a long hiatus are we beginning to use them well  (motivatingly and uniquely) in our advertising and as communications tools effectively, and different from the West.

Image of Indian creativity

If you asked an expatriate Creative Director you will probably hear that Asians are reticent, formal and unready to show our emotions. Or if we did show our feeling, we might be embarrassed. This was certainly the image expatriate Creative people had who came to India and Asia (in large number – HTA, O&M, Leo Burnett and even Madison!) to show us the “what” and “how to do” in advertising in the 60s and 70s. Carrying their Clio and Cannes showreels, and grafting their ideas of clever advertising here in India (adapting ideas to local conditions – basically, language translations, models, locations etc.).

They really did teach us something. The mechanics and techniques of the creative process. About words, slogans, photographs and production. And the possibilities therein. But in all this, something was missing. The personality and the heart of Indian advertising. For a long while there was plenty of “Monkey see, Monkey do” in creativity and advertising. All the same, we were aware there was something wrong. The western attitudes were not those that we knew (in terms of target reactions to the mind, heart and senses!).

They might have thought of us as passive people. But as you know, that in the world of art, and in that communications, India is enriched by gems.  With our own emotions and culture. This is the more potential grist for advertising than the slick products and communication of the West that Creative Directors brought to us in their suitcases.

Reaching the mind through the heart

In advertising the Indian style is intriguing, magical, curious, unexpected. And the messages creative and unmistakable. It is a case of reaching the mind through the heart (what is called emotional marketing). Take our Indian films for instance. Bollywood is comparable to Hollywood you will agree.

In the movie halls, our audiences are paying money to see movies. They are paying money to cry as much as to laugh, to feel a vicarious sadness as much as vicarious happiness. So I ask why we cannot employ these same feelings in the advertising creativity for these commercials for products and services also being shown in the cinemas (and television)?

Being people oriented, and emotionally oriented, in advertising applies to  government, banks, and IT companies and the like corporations. But it also applies equally to advertising for personal products (shampoos, soaps, perfumes, hair colours), public service (cancer, AIDS, family planning) and cultural events (Indian art and cultural road shows abroad). We have now started this kind of advertising. And it works.

That’s the sort of stuff we have in our part of the world. Heart stuff. Sometimes soft sell, and sometimes hard sell, but always selling emotional benefits, person to person and not just concept to consumer. Incorporating motivation with a sense of satisfaction, and not patronizing concepts.

We are today selling convenience, beauty, heath and happiness -- a better life altogether.  We are selling to our people. We are selling local first and then global.

We may classify advertising as corporate, or theme, or reminder. These are right mechanism. But I firmly believe this can be achieved through the more potent mechanism of brands exploiting our own experiences (Indian – personal and business). Corporations don’t exist in a vacuum. They produce goods which people need and want and which can enrich people’s lives. Foodstuff by itself does not sound very warm and appealing, but (MacDonald’s) pizzas and hamburgers, (Maggie) two minute noodles, certainly sound appetizing.

Banking and insurance corporations (HDFC, Kotak, ICICI Prudential) don’t sound very appealing, but when we can translate to money, and that into joy of what money can do for our child’s study, marriage, and the future (schemes they offer) then we have an emotional situation which appeals strongly to our people.

A New role

We have now reached a point in India where we have an obvious new role for consumer, marketers and creative people. Our consumers are more educated, more aware, and skeptical of empty promises (housewives, B2B, NGOs). Yet they are eager and economically ready for their lives to be enriched and made comfortable and happier with the right products and services (Ambassador car versus Maruti and Santro cars. Indian Airlines versus Jet Airways and Sahara).

On the professional side in advertising we have today creative people who are brilliant. They are qualified, knowledgeable and experienced (MBAs and more technically qualified). They have often developed a singular style by themselves (Prasoon Joshi, Alyque Padamsee, Mohammed Khan, Bharat Dabolkar, and many more among the younger breed today) which stands out significantly.

Plus, they are armed with better communication technology which offers them great scope for creativity and reach (software and hardware -- from Maya software to high-end computers).

They are Indian! And they understand about the emotions of our people. That they are creative and create effective advertising makes one very happy. Because they are creating on the most important product of all – our own experiences.

This is what Indian advertising is all about. Mastering our craft on our own terms, today and tomorrow.