Not worth the note

Not worth the note

Having spent more than two decades in the advertising industry, Prathap Suthan, national creative director, Cheil Worldwide, is known best for his India Shining campaign. Suthan has also worked with brands such as Reliance Industries, Rasna, General Motors and Samsung.


The new ad created by Publicis Ambience for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) aims to create awareness about counterfeit notes. The film is set against poetry by Gulzar and has vignettes of people examining money. It highlights the safety features people can look for in notes to ensure that they are not being handed counterfeit notes.

What did you think of the ad?

Money-wise: The ad is a montage of people of all ages, in different situations, looking at rupee notes.

What’s your take on the strategy?

I cannot see this as the panacea to the problem. And I certainly think that this communication has arrived rather late. The flight left years ago. As long as I can recall, news about fake notes being pumped into the country, people being caught, etc., have been eating media space. But then, this is a start. For RBI to admit that its security and everything else sacrosanct have been compromised is bold. It’s an official acceptance of a monster. Then again, this ought to be one of the many mechanisms that ought to be deployed to arrest the damage that counterfeit money wreaks.

I like the fact that the film is slanted at the aam janta in our towns and villages.

For these are the very people who trust and believe our national legal tender to be almost holy, and will unlike (people in the) metros, use currency in their daily lives.

This is the heart of India where counterfeit currency can thrive unnoticed, and corrode us until it cannibalizes everything.

Does this ad reach out to its target audience and serve the purpose of the communication?

Now here is the quandary that’s staring at me. For the people at the bottom end of the ladder, and those who do their business in cash, checking for fake currency is a reflex. Because to them every single note counts. The difference between a meal and hunger. A single lapse, and life can collapse. They are fantastic spotters of counterfeit money. And, therefore, this is redundant advertising. Check with your roadside fruit-seller for conviction. That leaves us as the covert audience—the metropolitan mindset that almost never inspects currency. When was the last time we took time out to identify fakes?

Even if we were the overlapping audience, this approach would have only worked aeons ago. When we used physical money more. In the era of Net payments, credit cards, cheques, and everything else paperless, this isn’t even showing us a true mirror.

I think this current commercial is too soft, and this will only help me admire my currency note. The urgency, and the criticality of the issue at hand, have all vanished under a veneer of touching visuals and words.

Poetry is good, but won’t save my wallet. We are sitting on a time bomb, and this isn’t the time for emotive advertising. We need an action-oriented approach. Make us warriors. Let’s guard our wealth. Dragons have to be slayed, not eulogized. Period.

How is this ad different from any other government ad?

For once, this doesn’t look tacky. 35mm thankfully. This actually doesn’t look like the sad films that our bureaucrats dish out on passport, medicines, employment, etc.

More than lifeless information, there’s a thought-out sync between the visuals and the lyrics, there’s been an attempt at making the pill sweeter, and voila—a real advertising agency is involved. Full marks to those at RBI—while they wouldn’t have had any issues with budgets, for buying into aesthetics. I always thought bankers were bankrupt on that plane, but I suppose this is an example to those in similar positions of corporate, political, and bureaucratic power who have abdicated their finer sensibilities.

What did you think of the ad in terms of production? And does it portray a pan-Indian milieu?

If I look at it through a creative filter, there’s a message, a conscious unity in diversity appeal, and deft thinking. There are new peeps into what could have been a hackneyed portrayal of our mosaic, and I particularly recall one visual. The little sister who looks up and inspects the Rs100 note after she ties a raakhi to her brother. Brilliant.

However, here is an issue. I thought fake currency was a nationwide problem. This communication is north-skewed and Hindi-heavy. Gulzar’s words will go over my cousin’s head in Kochi. Here’s a bigger issue. If the audience is up-country India, where quality of literacy levels are still suspect, should the main message be left as supers to be read? I hope there will be language edits, plus a lot of other measures. Right now, this is gentle stuff. And we need more than cough syrup to treat heart disease. Especially when there are instances of even banks unknowingly doling out counterfeit notes. A bit like going to a government hospital, only to be given spurious drugs. That’s bad news.

As told to Gouri Shah.