Vikram Chatwal, step aside. Sikh model and businessman, Sonny Caberwal, is stepping out on Madison Avenue as the new poster boy for Kenneth Cole’s retail ads which sport the caption: “We all walk in different shoes”—a smart way to educate people there that wearing a turban doesn’t make one a terrorist. While we marvel at an Indian face in a New York ad, The Washington Post has noticed the increasing use of Caucasian models—many from eastern Europe—in our ads.
Under the skin, both ad strategies are actually striving for a look considered exotic in their market. Creative directors such as Leo Burnett India’s K.V. Sridhar call this the cut-through factor. It’s all part of good casting strategy to choose models that help brands stand out in the crowd. That may explain why international glass brand Saint-Gobain used Chinese and African-American models in its spots here. And why fashion brand Diesel made news with its Bollywood ad featuring Indian models, a decade back.
In parallel, though, multinational brands such as Nike, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola have been showcased in some spectacular India-relevant ads, here. The India version of McDonald’s global “I’m Loving It” campaign was set in Indian tableaux and Nike had a wonderful cricket ad.
Brown or white, the model’s colour is secondary. What’s key is the relevance of the idea and its execution (casting included) to Indian insight and our way of life. Yes, foreign faces do help establish aura for lifestyle and luxury products, a la Wills Lifestyle. But today, the flag of India pride is flying high and technology is merely a commodity. Some automobile brands which use foreign models should remember this. For stronger consumer connect, they could use more India contexts and settings in locally modified ads—especially if they are driving on green-car credentials. There are also ads that stand out due to their casting and characterization, more than their scripts. Orbit’s goofy spokesperson and Hari Sadu of Naukri.com come to mind. As does the male protagonist in the old spot, Sony Ericsson’s “One Black Coffee, Please?”
Models are not ad furniture. The sooner creative directors realize this, the faster they’ll stop picking up every wooden-faced tourist at Mumbai’s Leopold restaurant to give that exotic touch to their ads. Ultimately, you can’t teach everyone to act.
Marion Arathoon is Mint’s advertising editor.
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