Few ads I have seen in recent times have made me feel as good as the new ones for The Hindu, where the paper takes on The Times of India.
For those who haven’t seen the ads (there are three), they show an invisible questioner posing questions to some young people (executives and college students). None of them seem to know the full form of ATM, or the identity of Ratan Tata’s successor (one young man says: “His son… Mukesh Ambani”), or the name of Ram’s father ( “I haven’t seen Ramayan,” says a young lady). Yet, all know the nickname of actor Hrithik Roshan, the gender of Aishwarya’s baby, and the identity of the Bollywood actress with a size zero figure. The questioner then asks the young people which newspaper they read, and while their answers are beeped out, their lip movement leaves little to the imagination. Nor does the punch line: “Stay ahead of the times.”
One reason why I like the ads (and I will be honest about this) is editorial hubris. I see The Hindu as a paper that, like Mint, is fighting the good fight.
Illustration by Jayachandran/Mint
Another is the aggression on display. For too long, the Mahavishnu of Mount Road has played safe and it is good to see the paper becoming aggressive about what it does and, more tellingly, what it thinks of The Times of India’s style of journalism.
This kind of aggression may be a little late in coming. The Times of India has, over the past few years, become a good read and, perhaps driven by the realization that Page 1 of the country’s most-read English newspaper needs to reflect the sentiments of the English-speaking middle class, the daily has adopted an anti-corruption and anti-government stance that seems to have worked. Still, the subtext of The Hindu’s ads aren’t out of place because there are times when The Times does inexplicable things: like the Page 1 plugs it carried for a New Delhi-based wellness centre and which the Times group’s CEO Ravi Dhariwal defended, in a comment to WSJ.com, as not being “…an advt/advertorial” for the centre which, it emerged, was fully owned by the Times group. “No money has been charged for it. We do cover our in-house activities/events/launches in a similar manner.” The Page 1 plugs, which also appeared in The Economic Times, did not carry any disclosure that the wellness centre was owned by the Times group.
1. My first job in journalism was at The Hindu Business Line, published by Kasturi & Sons Ltd, which also publishes The Hindu, and since I didn’t go to J-school, it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to say that I learnt a lot of my journalism in a quiet corner of Mount Road.
2. The Times of India competes with The Hindustan Times, published by HT Media Ltd, which also publishes Mint. The Economic Times, another fine paper published by the Times group, competes with Mint.)
Anyway, I digress. This column isn’t about HT Media. Nor is it about the Times group. It is about The Hindu. I hope the ads aren’t a late response to The Times of India’s excellent ad for its Chennai edition. (For those who haven’t seen this ad, which was released last year, it shows a young man in a dhoti and white shirt sleeping his way through various happenings. A newspaper (The Hindu) is always in the frame. The punchline: “Stuck with news that puts you to sleep? Wake up to The Times of India”.) Instead, and because there are three ads (which, I must stress, are artfully scripted), I hope the aggression displayed by The Hindu reflects a more fundamental change in how the paper, and the company behind it, will react to competition.
The ads also come at a time when The Hindu has a new editorial and business team in place. I know from my own experience that a new editor, even if he is hand-picked by the old one, will, even as he keeps the core of the paper intact, try new things and experiment in an attempt to put his own stamp on the paper, and that can only help its cause.
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