Mumbai: Tapping the huge media and consumer attention the Rs7,136 crore accounting scam at Satyam Computer Services Ltd has generated, some brands are making subtle references to the corporate scandal or lampooning it in advertisements.
CareerBuilder India, an online job website, put up advertisements on Facebook—a popular social networking site—asking users if they “need a new job”. In bolder font is the ad hook: “Outsourcing Giant Admits Fraud!” Another version reads: “Banking collapse, automotive bailout, Sensex slips, outsourcing giant fraud. We understand your reasons. Post your resume confidentially.”
Similarly, ads for short-term finance courses at NIIT Imperia Centre for Advanced Learning often show up on Google and Yahoo!, alongside searches for words such as “Satyam”, and “Raju” and other actors in the scandal. The ads were posted online within 24 hours of the news breaking and read: “Satyam Givum Thunderam—Get the basics of finance right in just three months. Apply now.” Other variants of the ad say: “Don’t Wait For A Crisis”, “Stop Financial Blunders” and “Errors In Your Books?”
Brand proposition: Brands are making subtle references to big news, positive or negative, to draw consumers keenly following these events.
The Amul brand, known for its witty takes on news events, put up a cheeky hoarding overnight: “Satyam, Sharam, Scandalam!”, while a mere coincidence gave new meaning to an ad for Cadbury India Ltd’s dark chocolate brand, Bournville. It read: “The food of the gods and other top management… You don’t buy a Bournville, you earn it.” The ad appeared on the front page of The Times of India on 8 January, the day it and other newspapers carried reports of Satyam founder B. Ramalinga Raju’s sensational admission to fraud. The company and its creative and media buying agencies, however, maintain that it was a “fantastic coincidence”.
Brands are increasingly using big news, positive or negative, as ad hooks to draw consumers keenly following these events. News triggers in recent times ranged from terrorist strikes to the economic slowdown, the US presidential election to the Satyam scandal. “A message that is highly relevant hits home better than just a message,” says Scott Goodson, founder and chief executive of StrawberryFrog, an independent creative agency.
The online world particularly thrives on such strategies. Pinstorm, a digital marketing firm, quotes a Google trend showing search volumes on “Satyam” rose 12 times over normal in the last week, peaking on 7 January, the day Raju sent out his letter admitting the books had been cooked. “We put out our ads for NIIT Imperia at 9pm that very night. Since then, the ad has been viewed 60,000 times, of which 30,000 views were within the first 24 hours,” says Mahesh Murthy, founder and chief executive officer, Pinstorm, which created the Imperia ads. “We didn’t want to mock anyone, but it was the perfect opportunity to say there is a need for financial education.”
The upcoming inauguration of US President-elect Barack Obama promises to be a brand magnet worldwide. An ad for English news channel Times Now, which is part of a series related to big current affairs, has a picture of Obama and the line: “When a nation voted for change, a new leader emerged.”
The idea was to communicate the channel’s new position as a leader in that space. “It was about contexting it to a big event,” says Sandeep Sharma, senior vice-president, marketing and sales, Times Global Broadcasting Co. Ltd, which didn’t want to use viewership data or figures in its ad, as it had become a blind spot of sorts for advertising in the category. “You can’t get more live, dynamic and contextual than a news channel. More recent the ads, more relevant they are.”
Experts, however, caution that such messages work only if the context meshes with a brand’s proposition. “For tactical advertising to work, there has to be a context. ‘Satyam’ may now stand for loss of trust in people, in a company, in a brand. If your company’s proposition is about trust, then it could be woven creatively and effectively into the communication,” says Alan D’Souza, co-author of Advertising and Promotions: An IMC approach. “But if the product is, for example, a soap... I find it difficult to relate it (Satyam) to freshness.”
It works better if such hooks are part of brand strategy. Says Rahul da Cunha, creative director of da Cunha Communications Pvt. Ltd, which creates the popular Amul hoardings: “It would only help if the brand has been doing this for a long time. If you suddenly shift gears, it’s certainly short-sighted.” A straightforward stand from Amul may not go down well with consumers who are now used to seeing the tongue-in-cheek communication.
Some news triggers are safer than others. Most senior management know each other socially or professionally and hence most Indian companies would be wary of taking potshots at Satyam, says Sumanto Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy and Mather India Pvt. Ltd. “That sort of communication could also backfire some day.”