For someone who has got a lot of flak on social media for being a chatterbox in her television advertisements for Airtel 4G, actor Sasha Chettri hasn’t done too badly. The firm’s recent ad campaign, where she takes a vacation and swears that she won’t bore people with her endless chatter, has topped the Mint-Ipsos-TVAdIndx survey for the month of April. This is the second month in a row that the Airtel 4G campaign has topped the survey.
This time, however, it’s an ad that has been shot atop a bullock-cart. Chettri and her friend are riding on the cart as it navigates the narrow, uneven trail through a forest in Ettimadai, near Coimbatore, on the Tamil Nadu–Kerala border. They arrive at a crossroads. The driver is not sure of the way, so his wife switches on the Google Maps application on her phone. This helps them navigate the densely forested area effortlessly, with the help of Airtel 4G.
The campaign, which went on air during the International Cricket Council World Twenty20 Cricket Cup, in March, was launched with five films, each different in its visual beauty and location. Created by Taproot Dentsu India Communication Pvt. Ltd and shot by Equinox Films Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based film production house, the idea was to showcase Bharti Airtel as having the widest 4G network in the country, with unmatched coverage.
The production house was considering other locations, such as the Jim Corbett National Park, but it had to pass up that option. “We had to pick a forest that was bullock-friendly,” says Ram Madhvani, director, Equinox Films, who shot the ad. While the Ettimadai forest was comparatively safe, the team did encounter its share of wild creatures. When they sent up a drone to capture an aerial view, the wind resulting from the drone’s propeller blades sent a cascade of creepy-crawlies down on to the crew. “It was literally raining bugs!” laughs Madhvani.
For the ad agency and the film production house, the experience was memorable for more than one reason. “This is the only advertisement in the series where the film is in motion. While it may look fairly laid-back, sitting atop a bale of hay on a moving bullock-cart is not easy. In fact, it’s more like being part of an extreme adventure,” says Agnello Dias, chief creative officer and co-founder of Taproot Dentsu, who narrated how the team shooting the film had to be strapped on to the bullock-cart to ensure that they didn’t fall off.
The bullocks, which understood commands in Tamil, were fairly placid, cooperative creatures, and didn’t seem to mind the retakes. Of course, the team tried its level best to shoot as much as possible in one go; turning the cart around repeatedly in the forest was quite difficult. “We would unhook the cart and push it back all the way, and then harness it on to the bullocks again. This went on for a while, before we had all the shots in place,” says Madhvani.
The highlight of the shoot, however, was undoubtedly the traditional Kerala food. “I think everyone enjoyed the Kerala beef chilli fry!” laughs Dias.
Prathap Suthan, chief creative officer and managing partner, Bang In The Middle, says: “The gulch between the advertised promise and eventual customer delivery has always been the biggest black hole in our business. The Airtel 4G campaign is no exception.”
He adds: “I know I could be terribly wide off the truth, but I really haven’t gone down to that exact geographical location to disprove the veracity of the claim. However, I do know the interiors of the south a little better. It happens to be home. The bullock-cart ad is quite a plastic take on reality. And unless there are additional signal boosters in that area, I am not sure if the network penetrates so deep. Then again, perhaps there is 4G network available there. And since heavy-duty broadband-consuming smartphones aren’t aplenty on oxen roads, maybe there is plenty of spare capacity there. Unlike the Delhi-Gurgaon highway.”