Friendship as a special, precious and unique bonding between people has been hymned and celebrated in popular culture – movies, songs, stories – from ages. However, as a canny marketing mover n’ shaker ... well, let me think about it! Sure there have been loads of ads touching this theme, but it is the recent bunch – Airtel, Vodafone, Cadbury – that has got people talking. Overnight this amazing communion and bonding (with special focus on Youngistan) has zoomed centre-stage, winning friends and influencing people in a manner that would make Dale Carnegie beam till his face exploded! With Airtel’s iconic Har ek friend, and now Jo mera hai leading the pack, with Vodafone and Cadbury ads following, this category of Relationship Marketing seeks to clearly (explore? exploit? leverage? front? use? capitalise? cash-in-on?) celebrate this human emotion to achieve a commercial purpose, right? Is it right? More importantly, is it working?
Veteran Ad person Ayesha Sehgal (earlier with Delhi-based Clarion) is first off the block and wastes no time in small talk. “At the risk of being a killjoy let me come straight to the point. Sure the Airtel ads are hugely popular – as are the others – but my belief is that it is because of the feel-good factor and brilliant execution, rather than any great, ground-breaking concept. They are all too simplistic, basic, naïve, lame, and even lazy! For me they typically amplify the seductive dangers of new-age film-making – superb casting, great direction, fab camera work, amazing lyrics and music … but is it saying anything special that would persuade me to be converted from charmed-audience to determined consumer? I don’t think so,” she says.
Ace Ad filmmaker Ram Madhvani – who has incidentally supervised the terrific camera work in both the new Airtel ads – brings his evolved and mature take to the table. “While it’s a free country and opinions will happen when ads hit the public domain, some critical points really need to be considered,” says Madhvani. The veteran believes that the Airtel advertisement’s connect and focus – as per brief mandated – demanded a connect with its constituency. What better than popular culture, tapping youngistan and their lingo? Political Commentator Sudheendra Kulkarni aptly elaborates this point by saluting the youthful idealism of the mind-blowing lyrics … I-Me-Myself boring hai / Us and we interesting hai / Internet hai to friendship hai / Friendship hai to sharing hai / Main aur tu se hum bane / Humse bane humsab / Sabse jude to zindagi / Hey Zindagi, wassup!
Ultimately, Madhvani believes, that some fundamental questions need to be asked … “Are you humming along? Does it make you smile and feel good every time you see these ads? Do you remember the words? Does it, in any way, inspire bonding? The objective was not to demonstrate our communication skills through heavy-handed esoteric experimentation and creative leaps but showcase the connectivity aspect, with warmth and memorability,” Madhvani opines.
Lloyd Mathias agrees. Founder-Director of GreenBean Ventures (and Former President & CMO, Tata Teleservices), he takes the case forward. “As a category-fit, the Airtel ads are bang-on because the telecom business is about connectivity. The brownie points, however, come from their superbly creative interpretation and rendition of friendship vis-à-vis youngistan! To Gen Y, friends do define their life and world, and playing out this feeling / experience in mad-cap, care-free ways is the name of this game. Friendship, as anchor, works brilliantly here,” he says. However, Mathias warns that friendship as a team / platform must be carefully leveraged, otherwise it could well appear both corny and contrived.
ECD Bates (Mumbai) and film scriptwriter (Vicky Donor), Juhi Chaturvedi is up next. For her these work brilliantly solely on the brand-fit quotient. “Airtel, Cadbury, Vodafone and some others have smartly hit the emotional route via the friendship theme because, in terms of profile, it works best. It’s a great strategy. In all these cases, the magic of youth and bonding form the soul of their communication smartly tied with the product proposition ensuring a very successful and rewarding audience /consumer take-out,” says Juhi. Anjali Nayar agrees. The Chief Executive of M&C Saatchi (Delhi) just loves “the basic simplicity that drives these ads powered by warmth, spontaneity and honesty. In these complex and tension-filled times, the full-throated, open demonstration of friendship is a hugely re-assuring factor and does evoke memories of our youth and what bonding is all about.” The energy, charm and excitement that infuse these ads, along with the amazing, inspirational and focused lyrics, make it stand out, for Mrs. Nayar.
Veteran Ad-watcher Saurabh Vyas winds up the debate, raining on the parade and playing serious Devil’s Advocate. “We live in a time when style gobbles up substance, form rules over content and appearance is perceived as reality. In this dumbed-down environment where the Bollywood influence is all-pervasive and is constantly referred to – wrongly – as Indian Cinema and even otherwise sane people like Sudheendra Kulkarni (shockingly?) compare Jo mera hai to the iconic Mile sur mera tumhara … what can I say? These are definitely finely crafted and engaging ads on the theme of friendship, but do they impact the product they are meant to promote …. Or truly celebrate friendship, youngistan-style? They are far too superficial and populist like the Bollywood movies, cleverly designed to manipulate and patao the emotional, feel-good quotient of Gen Y – which they successfully seemed to have done. For me it’s certainly a hugely over-rated, over-hyped song and dance extravaganza signifying nothing … but in a space where the Rs.100 crore club calls the shots and popularity has hi-jacked quality, minority voices hardly stand a chance …!!” says the acerbic critic. What’s your take, dear reader?