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Connecting with the audience

Madhukar Sabnavis | August 01, 2003

Would Amitabh Bachchan's numerous 'Vijays' have been a hit today as they were in the 70s? An interesting question worth thinking about.

Often it is believed that Amitabh Bachchan was a product of his times -- the right man being in the right roles at the right time. The country was coming out of the 'dream called Independence' and the middle-class youth was being exposed to the harsh reality of life. Unemployment. Corruption. Bureaucracy.

The system had made him helpless and 'Vijay' represented his vicarious pleasure of taking on the system and fighting it. It was this social reality that the Big B and Salim Javed perhaps rode on,  to make hit after hit through the late 70s.

Today,  the youth have learnt to accept the system as it is and the trick is to get round it rather than fight it! Idealism is out, pragmatism is in. Perhaps 'Vijay' may not be as appealing today.

What makes Shahrukh Khan's  'Rahul' in Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge a hit even today? Research after research among today's youth reveals a distinct preference for arranged love marriages.

A far cry from the late 80s when rebellion was in and eloping and marrying against parents' wishes was an act of bravery and admiration. Today's youth believes that it is important to carry parents along when choosing their life partners and Shahrukh in DDLJ represents exactly that -- and hence connects with the public.

What was the secret behind the success of  Lagaan? What was in Lagaan that made it transcend socio-economic classes across big and small towns?

Aamir Khan. His last movie set in rural India Mela was a turkey at the box office. Music. Lagaan had good music. But films with better and more memorable music failed at the box office. 1942 - A Love Story and Dil Se are just two examples of the same. Cricket -- the  Indian national passion and obsession.

Films based on cricket in the past had bombed.  All Rounder and Awaal Number are two such films. The latter even starred Aamir Khan. The British Raj. To most of today's generation that is just another period in history books and  doesn't evoke any nostalgic memories or emotions.

Like it might have done in the 50s and 60s -- to a generation that grew through Independence and partition. Then what?

No doubt all these elements contributed their bit. Lagaan was a good story, well told. However, delving deeper, one sees in Lagaan something that helped it to connect with the viewer, whoever he was.

Lagaan was about the underdog (Bhuvan) taking on a giant (the British Raj) for a cause (tax exemption) and coming out a winner. Cricket was the means of challenge -- an unusual connection.

There is an underdog in every one of us and there is the fantasy of coming out a winner. Everybody supports an underdog. And loves a winner. And the viewer vicariously lives through the trysts of the underdog and enjoys his victory. This is the chord it strikes with every viewer. And thus connects!

What makes some advertising connect and others not?

The best advertising strikes a chord in the consumer and makes him connect with it. While the message delivered is important, the difference between a good and ordinary ad is that a good ad is based on a strong human or social truth that makes the ad involving and memorable. This chord is called a consumer insight or human truth.

While some films are ridden on 'social truths/trends' (like Amitabh Bachchan and DDLJ), advertising often looks for more universal truths (like Lagaan) to build their stories around and engage the viewer with their message. The stories get contemporised but the attempt is to keep the truth the same.

There is no better way of illustrating this point than with examples.

Fewiquik is a normal, ordinary quick-fixing glue. However, its advertising uses the truth that 'city sleekers always think of their country cousins to be bumpkins' to make a memorable ad. So while the city sleeker waits for hours to get his catch, the village bumpkin catches four fishes, noisily and in a thrice, with 'Fewiquik'

Grasim's uncrushable advertising uses the human truth 'women are jealous of other women' to establish the product's uncrushability in a memorable way.  A wife crushes the suit so that her husband does not look good in front of his 'woman boss'. But the suit continues to look good. Both men and women look at the ad and say "That emotion and the woman's reaction look so real"

'You are what you look' is a strong universal truth. And it has been used over years, interestingly across product categories as diverse as detergents and credit cards to make connects with consumers.

Rin used it a few years ago in a jewellery commercial where a non-Rin woman was not allowed into the store and not treated as well as a Rin woman.

And American Express  used the same to make the point -- it is a passport to get any one into anywhere however you look. So a couple, coloured by Holi celebrations, are allowed into a five star hotel on flashing the card.

Finally, Cadbury Dairy Milk has been built in the last decade by tapping into the universal truth that there is a child in all of us that never dies -- always waiting to come out and chocolate is what brings that out.

Whether it is the girl doing a spontaneous jig in the now famous cricket commercial (children are inherently uninhibited) or elders giving reasons to eat chocolate in the Cyrus Broacha commercial (children are most innovative in giving lame excuses) or the snippets of adults enjoying watching cricket unabashedly in the recent cricket commercial (adults become children in front of the TV) -- the brand's advertising has always touched a real chord among adults and children alike.

The continuous challenge in advertising is to find these human truths and connect them with the product to create engaging communication.

They could come out of detailed yet sensitive research -- interrogating the consumer on the product, his interaction with the category and his emotions connected with it. ('Thanda matlab Coca-Cola' must have come from such understanding. Consumers in the north refer to a soft drink as 'thanda') They could come from understanding consumers as human beings -- their lives, dreams, tears, fears and cheers. (Fair and Lovely advertising historically has been built on the Indian girl's need to look her best -- fair -- to get the best groom).

Or from pure observation of life around us (Fewiquik and Grasim touch truths about human beings). In fact, some of the best creative people in the business are great observers of life and are able to make interesting connections between brand problem in hand and their observations.

There is however, no known formula for success in advertising (just as in films). Nor for unearthing such human truths or insights. It's all about trying to tell a product story in a refreshing new way with a truth that strikes a chord with the viewer.

Something worth thinking about.

The writer is Country Manager -- Discovery, Ogilvy and Mather India



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Use the right Links .. Is this what Narayanamurthy say about leadership ?


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