This is not an account of the best TV advertising of the year gone by -- in terms of creative excellence or consumer effectiveness.
It is just a recap of the year and an attempt to highlight the interesting things that the advertising world attempted during the year 2003 -- things that are worth noting. And the focus on television because it is the lead medium for most national brands.
It's been the year of the child. It is normally accepted that children and dogs are the best way to connect with human beings. And 2003 saw at least three interesting examples of brands using the child in categories one would never connect naturally with them.
The first is the Hutch network ad -- "Wherever you go, our network follows". To drive home their point of uninterrupted connectivity, Hutch used the man/dog relationship to so easily and memorably communicate the proposition.
And it makes for such an endearing campaign. The idea has actually gone multimedia -- into outdoor and press -- and retains its original charm.
"Hoodibaba" cries the little boy companion of the Bajaj Caliber rider, atop a hill, and that added to the memorability of the phrase. The fact that Royal Enfield decided to do a take off on this phrase is a salutation to its power.
"Kya kare Papa, petrol khatm hi nahi hota," the little Sikh boy exclaims in exasperation in the Maruti Suzuki 800 ad.
And this makes the point of the car's fuel efficiency clearly yet differently. And not surprisingly makes the ad stand out from the clutter of automotive ads talking economy.
We may see more of the child in the years to come, perhaps.
It's been a year of advertising human values. Campaigns have moved from product hardsell to trying to occupy category emotional highgrounds.
The recent Airtel campaign of "Express yourself" does just that. Fairly daring, given that product features have driven the category, Airtel decided to take a different route by owning the emotional space of the category of mobile connectivity -- human expression.
A multi-media campaign with evocative visuals of expression, the campaign catches many eyeballs -- but does beg the question -- is there a need to be rooted in some product differentiating truth?
Tata Indica, on the other hand, moved its rather very product-focused, "More car per car" campaign of the last couple of years, into the more emotional level of "Its human to want more" -- one of its expressions actually using a child praying and another a child playing to make the point.
VIP, known for its "Kal bhi, aaj bhi, kal bhi" campaign of the '90s returned this year with its "Bye, bye…happy journey" campaign -- doing a modern rendition of the basic values of travel.
It was the year for the retro. Aaj Tak set the trend with its much-awarded campaign last year, which used the early 1900 period settings and look.
Mirinda Orange's "gardener" commercial with the '70s hairdo and clothes of both the man and boy looked strange but stood out.
Parle Fun Centre used a lilting '60s melody jingle and a very "black and white" feel to capture the spirit. And so too, the now catchy "Kya aap Close up karte hai" jingle in the new Close up television commercial. Going back in time seems to add charm to communication!
It was a year of foreigners speaking in Hindi. "Iski to gayi" of Shane Warne set the tone in the Pepsi commercial released during the World Cup. And the line became a common phrase.
And Videocon extended it by getting the likes of Ricky Ponting and Stephen Fleming mouthing "Bada hai to Videocon".
With channels like Star and Sony recording sponsorship lines in Hindi, the ad world has perhaps realised that anglicised Hindi is no longer alien to the Indian ear. And could be used to add charm and memorability.
It was a year when iconic brands built on their big ideas of previous years. Coke made Aamir Khan a Nepali and a Bengali.
Pepsi took its "Dil mange more" into a number of new expressions -- the lift commercial actually highlighting the acting prowess of Sachin Tendulkar. Asian Paints carried its "Har ghar kuch kehta hai" campaign into a kids' room execution -- one more example of the use of child to gain empathy.
Cadbury Dairy Milk continued to tap into "the child in every adult" in two distinctly endearing expressions for World Cup cricket and its launch of new range.
Fevicol pushed its bonds further with its train and more recent suicide commercial. And Raymond did a sequel to its famous "teacher farewell" commercial. The teacher comes back to his student's wedding and the moment of reunion is quite touchingly captured.
It was a year when advertising continued to stretch sensibilities. The Pepsi "Chaddi utarna hai" commercial was corny to say the least.
But is sure to have captured the imagination of the youth -- its core target. Bipasha Basu's "I'll go for the one with the smallest" in the Panasonic mobile phone commercial was edgy.
And the Sanifresh ad really took "urghiness" to the extreme -- a boy drops his engagement ring in the potty and actually puts it on his fiancee's finger and kisses it at the end. The toilet has been cleaned by Sanifresh and so has to be absolutely, completely clean and safe!
It was the year of some quiet advertising too. Asian Paints Royale brought together a number of elements -- painting one wall, do-it-yourself, family values through a photograph and a star Akshaya Khanna -- all in a quiet, unobtrusive way.
A total contrast to Reid and Taylor. Amitabh Bachchan has been used and misused, but never as abused as in the Reid and Taylor ad.
Imagine the Big B being made to do a Bond! And the Tata Safari ad -- Fast and How -- with a roller coaster and car ride made the point clearly and how.
It was a year of the BPCL Mak lubricant commercial. Like it or hate it, it could not be ignored. "Mak makes it possible" took advertising imagination to the limit and the sheer madness of it made it enjoyable. "Leg spin and off spin ek hi gend mein" and "a donkey winning a derby" -- how much more lateral can an execution go. It does help in making the brand salient (much like the Ajit jokes did for Maggi sauces in the early '90s) but will it help in sales?
The campaign of the year would be Reliance mobile launch in February last year. "Aap kahan hai" and "Sehwag ki maa, break ke bad" were really memorable. And the campaign's baseline "Karlo duniya apne muthi mein" actually spawned viral marketing.
The SMS doing the round on March 23 after Australia knocked up 360 runs in the first innings of the final is reflective of the power of the line -- "Chalo India, karlo s… apne chaddi mein"
- Emotions continue to reign -- with new ways being explored to choke the heart and tickle the senses. And it is heartening to see brands returning to building emotional values.
- Hindustani has come of age. Westerners better become more Indian and play the complete part rather than just stand there and look good!
- There is a harking back in time -- with the run of the retro.
- And a continued search to use celebrities differently -- if you have to use it, do it differently.
Which of these have worked and which haven't? What does the new year have in store for us? Something worth thinking about.
The writer is Country Manager -- Discovery, Ogilvy and Mather India. Views expressed in this article are personal