Advertisers use crisis to get message across

Advertisers use crisis to get message across

Mumbai: A recent advertisement for low-fare carrier IndiGo took a swipe at full-service rival Kingfisher Airlines’ “king of good times" tag line while drawing attention to the failing health of the aviation industry—and perhaps the larger economy.

“Let the bad times roll… Fly IndiGo in good times and in bad times," it instructed travellers.

For the past few months, banks, insurers and brokerages have been running campaigns that address the turbulent economy while pushing their brands. Now, advertisers from non-financial sectors, such as IndiGo, are joining the game with campaigns that use key words, phrases or images related to the global economic crisis.

The strategy, essentially, is to ride on the back of all the attention the economic downturn is generating across the world, while showing that the company cares for the consumer—or that its brand can help ease the pain in some measure. As proof that advertising is a mirror of the times, buzzwords such as economic crisis, thumbs down, bad/difficult times, downturn, meltdown and liquidity pepper ads, along with utilitarian phrases such as value, bargains, savings and durability.

Click here to watch video

/Content/Videos/2008-11-03/0211 Quick take New_MINT_TV.flv9539894e-a8e5-11dd-9c67-000b5dabf613.flv

For example, an ad for spiritual music CDs from Times Music, the music production, promotion and distribution arm of The Times Group, advises: “Turn the downturn up, with the divine blessings of the lord." And another ad says: “Revive your faith in difficult times."

“Clearly, jumping on the zeitgeist has always been a tactical advertising trend," says Jon Wilkins, group founding partner for independent ad agency Naked Communications Ltd, pointing to instances where advertisers have chosen to work with anything topical, ranging from the warm weather, films and festivals, to sporting events such as the Olympics. “The global crash is probably one of the few events of recent times that affects everyone so, obviously, everyone will jump onto the bandwagon."

Take a bargain home

Advertisers from the non-financial sectors have for some time now been alluding to the faltering economy, with campaigns that talk about value for money and durability. An ad for the Fiat Palio urges consumers to “drive home a bargain" while one for Paharpur Cooling Towers gallantly announced it was trying to “put the $2 billion sleeping pill industry out of business". The point? Bring down energy costs with cooling towers, and sleep well.

The new ads, however, have started making overt references to the global crisis in the hope of gaining consumer attention.

“A message that is highly relevant hits home better than just a message," says Scott Goodson, founder and chief executive of StrawberryFrog, an independent creative agency, explaining that the benefits are huge for brands that get it right.

“In these fragmented media times, relevance is more vital than awareness… It’s critical to be part of the cultural conversation and not just sit outside of it."

No surprise then that a number of advertisers are looking to use this opportunity to cut across the clutter and reach out to consumers. An ad for the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad says its programmes are, “Easily the safest investment whatever the economic conditions". The print ad for Wipro BPO shows a young woman smiling with the caption, “I feel safe and looked after—your future is safe with Wipro BPO." And, more recently, an ad for public relations firm Adfactors PR Pvt. Ltd, says: “In times like these, please communicate."

Cheeky spin-offs

Topical hooks are usually used by brands or categories that can carry off cheeky advertising. Amul Butter, for instance, has for years been using topical issues to draw attention to the brand. Similarly, Coca-Cola India recently released an ad for its aerated drink Sprite that was a cheeky spinoff on the rise in food prices.

Using such hooks, experts say, could work both ways for a brand. For the right brands, it can help, but it can also land the brand in the clutter, or worse, in the mire. An Amul ad referring to the current economic crisis, for example, could extract a few laughs from consumers. But for a financial institution or bank to lean on the current situation might put people off than put them in a positive disposition as many see banks as part of the current problem, explains Wilkins of Naked Communications.

Also, short-term strategies are not likely to cut the ice with consumers. “Word play gets attention. But the question is, what am I going to do with that attention?" says K.V. Sridhar, national creative director at Leo Burnett India, who maintains that a tactical short-term strategy purely aimed at attracting eyeballs could erode brand equity while a well thought-out strategy, which addresses the crisis in a deeper way, is likely to strike a chord.

Citing the example of the Volkswagen Beetle, he says that the little, fuel-efficient car was a better and economic alternative solution during recessionary times in the West.

While most ads are local, tactical and on “buy today" mode, Mythili Chandrasekar, senior vice-president and executive planning director at JWT India, says the real response to the crisis will not be so much in using words in an ad, but in repackaging value propositions.

“Perhaps, brands that promise effectiveness will connect better. But only if it is an inherent part of the product promise, otherwise it will not ring true."