Reviewer: Roopak Saluja

Fun spot: Roopak Saluja. Photo by Kedar Bhat/Mint


The new campaign for Bharti Airtel Ltd by Taproot India showcases a classroom of college students singing a jingle about why every friend is important.

What did you think of the advertisement?

The core concept itself, of depicting the importance of friends, their networks and how a mobile operator ties it all together, is old hat in the mobile sector space across various markets for more than a decade now. What sets this one apart, though, is the manner in which the idea was fleshed out. The newly appointed agency on Airtel’s roster, independent hot shop Taproot India, seems to have brought back on track an otherwise iconic advertising brand that I feel was losing its way.

Talking of execution per se, ad film-maker Ram Madhvani (of the Happydent ad fame) has skilfully tied all the elements together to deliver a very memorable film. Though I should mention that I find the casting to be a bit of a missed opportunity.

And most importantly, the spot really works. Not everyone likes it, but everyone’s humming it. Today, an accomplished adman from the agency that handles Airtel’s biggest competitor told me how people at his office are even slotting their friends into “ghadi-ghadi kaam aaye" and “ghadi-ghadi call kare".

Do you think this campaign works for the brand?

It does. As I was saying before, the brand seemed to have lost its way. From playing chess with dadaji while enjoying the hospitality of Indian Railways, we suddenly found ourselves on the romantic streets of Prague with a very international vibe. Don’t get me wrong, what JWT did as their opening piece to address what was probably a brief to project the brand as ultra-global (post-Zain acquisition and all) was a beautiful feat of film-making, award-winningly executed by Independent Films’ Philippe Andre. But I really did find the leap difficult to digest. And I’m not even an Airtel consumer.

The same happened back in the summer of 2009, if I remember correctly, when their previous agency, Rediffusion Y&R, aired a campaign with little kids playing outdoors, again with a very international vibe that screamed to have the Airtel logo replaced with Vodafone’s.

So what Taproot and Ram Madhvani have done here is create a very memorable, fun spot that seems to really be in sync with the brand, even though Vodafone, Virgin Mobile and even Aircel come to mind as having barked up the same tree of friends and networking, etc.

What must brands keep in mind when planning a campaign for an extremely crowded category such as telecom?

Distinctiveness and consistency. Of the top few brands in this space, only Vodafone—along with its various antecedents—and Airtel have achieved a distinct brand voice. Idea deserves massive credit for breaking into the distinctive space more recently with their often annoying yet very entertaining What an idea, Sirji. And even more props to (Tata) Docomo for leapfrogging on to the high table within their very short existence, pretty much thanks to that sticky whistle-able jingle. The rest, honestly, are a little behind.

Pugs, Zoozoos, “You and I", et al, make for a pretty unique Vodaworld. As an aside, I should say that I find Vodafone in other markets to be far less distinctive than we have it here in India. Though Airtel too has a combination of certain elements that define its world, chief among which is its audio mnemonic signature tune, it scores lower on distinctiveness.

And I have to say that—rather counter-intuitively for me—Aircel has managed to create some amount of distinctiveness, purely through (M.S.) Dhoni, even though their advertising is really just same old, same old.

In the age of social networking sites, Twitter and new media, how important is it for the brand campaign to be viral or adaptable?

Very. Because if you’re not ticking those boxes, you can be sure your competitor is. Especially in a young and tech category, being in sync with the zeitgeist and the latest cool thing is all the more important. How you deliver has now become as important as what you deliver.

How integral is the media plan to the success of a good campaign? In this case, it seems to be everywhere—on TV and radio. Does that work well?

Extremely. With such a powerful track, it’s kind of a no-brainer to go on to radio. Whether you tweak your media to suit the idea or you plan it to reach a target audience or fulfil certain objectives, there’s no doubt that the media plan is almost as important, if not as important, as the idea. In several cases, rather too often in our market, we’ve seen that might is right (read: crap ideas that do the job just because they’ve been supported with a pile of cash).

As told to Gouri Shah.