Reviewer: Santosh Desai
Santosh Desai is the managing director and chief executive of Future Brands, a brand consulting firm. As president, McCann Erickson, Desai was responsible for the early mass-market ads for Tata Indicom featuring Kajol and Ajay Devgan.
Expertspeak: Santosh Desai.
In the new campaign for Airtel, brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan talks about his life and the power of relationships and networks.
The campaign for Tata Indicom uses several people laughing. The idea: a digitally enhanced network allows you to hear not just what is being said, but also the emotion behind it.
The ad for Tata Docomo has a bunch of people travelling on the Friendship Express train in pin-drop silence. A group of young people sing the Docomo jingle, which gets everyone involved.
What did you think of the campaigns?
Telecom is a nebulous category, which is tangible through its communication. Unlike other service industry brands, such as airlines or hotels, which have infrastructure and consumer experience, telecom has few tangible, brand-able properties to speak of. The sector is at a phase where everyone is trying to outdo the other in scale, spends and production value. So I struggle to understand why Docomo, which had some fairly nice advertising initially, would descend to such banality. The idea of a brand getting consumers to sing their jingle is as old as the hills. Airtel as a brand has so many voices, with different campaigns featuring Madhavan, Kareena and Saif, etc., it’s almost as if they are fighting for their own consistency. The latest ad with Shah Rukh Khan is a tedious commercial. The Tata Indicom ad is trying to say something big, with all its lush production, but suffers from the same vacuous abstractions. Barring Vodafone, which speaks in one voice across all their communication, few have been able to build a brand landscape and own it.
With India preparing for number portability, how can these brands stand out?
The idea is to create an own-able property and belief system for the brand. Vodafone and Idea have done a very good job of it. Telecom as a category seems a little disconnected from consumer experience, whether it’s call drop rates or billing experiences. All the investments seem to be for grand advertising campaigns but it’s time these brands looked at what consumers expect, and take it to the next level. If Idea took the notion of getting the people’s voice heard from their ad campaigns, and actually set up hotlines which connected their users to people in power, it could be a powerful idea.
Crowded: The Airtel brand landscape has way too many stars.
Which brand, to your mind, is doing a good job in this sector?
It would have to be Vodafone, just for their consistency in communication. The brand has been consistent through their transition from Orange to Hutch to Vodafone and have created a territory that can be defined as their own. Even Idea, which started out with some fairly absurd advertising, has created a fairly credible brand. Docomo’s launch campaign made a game-changing entry with their per-second billing. Their strategy has been a spectacular success because they offered consumers something very real.
As told to Gouri Shah