Over the top and ‘filmi’, it feels like an epidemic of sameness

Over the top and ‘filmi’, it feels like an epidemic of sameness


With more than 13 years experience in advertising, Raghu Bhat and Manish Bhatt, founder-directors of Scarecrow Communications Ltd, have worked on brands such as Wonder Bra, Religare Broking, Asian Paints and Britannia.


The new campaign, announcing the fourth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on MAX channel by JWT India, demonstrates the tournament’s popularity among audiences. The advertisement declares that everything will come to a grinding halt from 8 April, the start of the tournament. The campaign is titled Bharat Bandh.

What did you think of the advertisement?

The idea of Bharat Bandh shows how IPL can make life pause. It goes beyond the literal manifestations of the bandh by showing how everything shuts temporarily, including a gangster’s clout, a wife and mother-in-law’s fight and the charms of a nubile nymphet. The production values are suitably lavish, as you would expect an IPL advertisement to be. The treatment is over the top and filmi.

The idea is not staggeringly original, even though the words “Bharat Bandh" have currency. A useful way to measure the originality quotient is to see how far the idea has travelled from the brief. If one considers that the brief is to sell the biggest cricket show on earth, then the creative idea (life-stopping) is a bit close to the category.

How does this stack up compared with all the other DLF IPL campaigns in the past?

It’s instructive to understand what is the role of advertising in this case. Is it creating awareness? Not really, since the sports pages of the dailies, Espncricinfo.com and the sports channels have already done that. The sobering reality is that people will be as interested in IPL even if there is no IPL ad campaign. Therefore, a campaign for IPL grapples with a Sartre-like existentialist question—why do I exist? This is a classic problem while advertising TV content. An advertisement for a fast-moving consumer good has a clearly defined purpose. It’s far more central to the brand-building effort. It has a direct bearing on sales. In contrast, an advertisement campaign for IPL can never claim credit for the event’s success. To use a music analogy, it’s like an opening act of a Metallica rock show.

The point is, people will turn up in droves to watch James Hetfield perform even if the opening act is done away with. In such a scenario, the only way for an advertisement campaign for content to be successful is to be as engaging as the content itself. This is not easy, but this is the acid test of creativity.

Nike’s pre-World Cup campaigns (for the Fifa World Cup) like Joga Bonito (Play Beautiful) create approximately as much hysteria as the matches themselves. So do the Adidas campaigns. In this light, does this campaign deliver on such lofty objectives? The jury might be divided on this.

With all the cricket action on television channels this season, what must broadcasters such as ESPN and Sony keep in mind while planning their campaigns?

Advertising legend Bill Bernbach said if you remove the brand and replace it with something else, and if the joke still works, it probably wasn’t the best possible use of humour in the first place. The campaign makes life harder for itself by embracing the visual motifs and tonality of the old campaigns. Also, the scale of IPL is so overpowering that advertising pre-supposes it needs scale too.

The result is an epidemic of sameness. As the unbelievable success of Zoozoos in the first year and its not-so-successful run in the second year has shown, use of formulae will lead to diminishing returns. There is a lot of tactical advertising masquerading as brand building. Instead of burning millions to create a sense of ephemeral excitement, it’s better to invest in an enduring brand idea (to borrow a page from Kaun Banega Crorepati, or KBC, the brand idea said—every question is important).

Interesting creative campaigns are a weapon to create instant channel loyalty. Undifferentiated campaigns are an opportunity loss. Therefore, channels should show the same chutzpah while buying creatives from their agencies which they displayed during the bidding process.

What’s your favourite advertisement in the genre?

The campaign for Fox Sports. It showed a boat spiralling out of control in choppy waters. Then the film rewinds to the assembly line where the boat is being manufactured. A mechanic screws a knob while watching Fox Sports on TV. That’s when you realize why the machine is faulty. He is so engrossed in watching TV that he fixes the wrong knob. The slug line says: “Don’t buy stuff made on 14 September." NBA Playoffs started on 14 September. Brilliant.

Every major tournament has an anthem and campaign revolving around it. If you had to pick an anthem for the IPL, what would it be and why?

One sees formulae furiously at work here. After hearing eight anthems, you don’t remember a single one. Why does every team need an anthem? Can there be a visually disruptive ritual instead, like the All Blacks of New Zealand (in rugby) have? Or maybe an oath that can be read out in one breath? Every franchisee seeks to become a distinctive brand and yet, ironically, displays identical behaviour.

The tournament has been surrounded by reports of financial irregularities, etc. Is there anything the broadcaster and the brand could have done to reclaim faith?

Indians love cricket unconditionally. The Indian cricket administration loves money unconditionally. They are two parallel streams. Scams are related to the second stream. This has no bearing on the first stream.

As told to Gouri Shah.