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Air Deccan: When dreams take wing
Meenakshi Radhakrishnan-Swami |
July 27, 2005
The postman delivers a letter to an old man. "It's from your son in Delhi," he says. "It's an air ticket." As he pedals off, the old man slips back in time to when he carved a wooden plane for his son. He remembers how the excited child ran all over the village with his new toy.
Back in the present, the villagers gather round to see off the old man, clutching a borrowed bag to his chest.
At the airport, palpably nervous, he refuses to let go of the bag. He finally releases it for the X-ray machine, and watches closely as the officer checks the screen. The officer stares and then smiles on seeing a toy plane show up inside the bag.
"For millions of Indians, flying is no longer a dream" intones the voice-over, as an Air Deccan aircraft is shown, followed by the airline's logo and tagline: Simplifly.
That's the short narration of a very long ad. At 150 seconds -- a breathtaking two-and-a-half minutes -- the Air Deccan campaign that was released two weeks ago is being touted as the "the longest TV commercial ever to be telecast in the history of Indian advertising."
Created by Orchard Advertising, a part of the Leo Burnett group, the ad is Air Deccan's second TV campaign since the low-cost airline launched in 2003.
The new ad is worlds removed from the earlier, no-frills campaign. But then, the motive two years ago was different. Air Deccan was the first low-cost carrier to start operations in the country and it needed to play up that point.
"We were aiming for a rational connect -- that the brand stands for the lowest airfare," explains John Kuruvilla, chief revenue officer of Air Deccan, adding "Now it was time for an emotional connect."
That was easier than you would think. Meetings between Air Deccan executives and the Orchard creative team are rarely structured briefings; they are more like long chat sessions where Air Deccan Founder and Managing Director G R Gopinath "virtually dreams aloud. We just listen," laughs Thomas Xavier, national creative director, Orchard.
Once the agency had understood Gopinath's desire to "capture the vision of the company -- that any Indian can fly", writing the script for this mammoth commercial took just two weeks and it was approved without change. Gopinath says his only proviso was "The ad should not be flippant. It should be shot like a Shyam Benegal film."
Roping in National Award-winning actor Murali to play the protagonist made that task easier. Initially outraged at the thought of being associated with pickles and shampoos, Murali was persuaded, recalls Xavier, once he understood the concept. The film was shot in picturesque Pollachi, in interior Tamil Nadu.
"It's a geographically-neutral place. So it could be anywhere in India," says Kuruvilla. Pollachi is also within driving distance of Coimbatore, where the airport sequence was shot. And Coimbatore's proximity to Bangalore -- where both Air Deccan and Orchard are headquartered -- meant the company could achieve huge savings in logistics.
If the film is "poetic realism" (Xavier's phrase), its promotion is purely commercial. Xavier calls it "advertising by appointment".
The ad is not aired on the mass channels -- instead it has found select time-slots on niche channels such as National Geographic, MTV, Star News and AXN. (A 60-second edited version will soon go on air on the mass channels.) And instead of continuous airing, the ad is being telecast in bursts of two-and-a-half weeks.
But this is probably the first time an ad has been promoted like a film. Hoardings and posters at airports announced the telecast times as part of the pre-publicity campaign.
Trailers on the Internet and mobile phones added to the buzz and for about 10 days before it went on air, Air Deccan distributed leaflets to 6,000-7,000 passengers everyday. There's even an Internet contest where tickets are being given away as prizes.
Kuruvilla explains: "We don't have the money to push the campaign on air. So we decided to drive viewership this way." Air Deccan's not really short of cash -- the marketing budget this year is over Rs 20 crore (Rs 200 million). But the company is a careful spender.
"Air Deccan goes to the best talent and then drives the price down. Fortunately, everyone wants to be associated with a revolution. In this case, because the script was good, great talent was willing to work for less," points out Xavier.
Both Air Deccan and Orchard insist that they didn't "set out" to create a long ad -- but the storyline demanded it. Of course, length has its own advantages -- it can leave a lasting impression, and media planners can focus on reach rather than frequency.
On the other hand, persuading channels to book on ad film for an entire commercial break can be tough.
But when your target viewer is anybody who'd like to travel by airplane, you probably feel it's worth the effort.