Opinion: Diwali advertising 2020 – Are we out of things to say?

Prabhakar Mundkur on Diwali advertising in 2020

With campaigns pouring in, ad veteran Prabhakar Mundkur shares two cents on Diwali advertising in 2020 – what stands out, what doesn’t, and what it takes to create a difference in this cluttered space.

Given that the world has been through such a tumultuous time with a major pandemic, I had little doubt that some marketers would at least make use of the pandemic in one way or the other for their usual Diwali advertising.

Perhaps, the most gracious of them all was the Cadbury’s Diwali ad.  The most obvious thing to do possibly was to persuade consumers to stay away from spreading the virus i.e. through limited fireworks, handwashing, social distancing, etc. But I thought the Cadbury’s ad went one step further.  It played for the underdog, those small businesses around the country that go unnoticed and have borne the economic brunt of the pandemic.

The interesting innovation in the ad was that it used artificial intelligence so that every time the ad is seen by a user in various cities like Mumbai Delhi, Pune, etc, it shows local stores around that specific PIN code prompting the user to buy from a local store.  

The ad was applauded on social media and for me, it broke the mold through innovation.

Another interesting ad was from Titan which seems to have made a habit of getting misunderstood. That could be another aspect of Diwali advertising. Delve too deep into rituals and customs and you might just get it wrong because you are treading on the fragile ground because the country is searching for its new identity and is quick to misunderstand every good intention. And all this while, the brand was attempting to keep people away from bursting crackers.

Also read: Opinion: Micromax In – The branding story of the ‘Mobile of Hindustan’

In the ad, one of the actors in the commercial is heard saying, “Definitely no firecrackers and I don’t think anyone should light any firecrackers…” As a result, it got slammed for preaching to Hindus.

One of the comments even went like this:

“Why should anyone advise Hindus on how to celebrate our festivals? Companies must focus on selling their products, not lecture us to refrain from bursting crackers. We will light lamps, distribute sweets, and burst green crackers. Please join us. You will understand Ekatvam.”

In Indian advertising, maybe, there is an unsaid formula that children and jingles can never go wrong. I thought Oppo followed this formula in their Diwali ad.

‘Be the light’ is a story of two children, a tutor, and one child trying to brighten the Diwali of another kid. Non-controversial. You can’t go wrong. Warm and fuzzy feeling that is not unique but doesn’t get into any troubles. The product appears in an end for an emotional selfie. This was a long format film over 5 minutes which is getting increasingly popular.

There are clearly two aspects to Diwali advertising. One is the religious aspect. The other is the festival aspect and the emotions that we derive from festivals – cheer, joy, family togetherness, lights, sweets, etc.  This year, another aspect of the pandemic was added by many marketers to draw relevance to the current situation.

The easiest route is of course to put together a collage of festive moments with a warm jingle. Works but doesn’t make it any different as in the case of the Myntra ad.

But the basic thought of good storytelling combined with warmth, joy, happiness, and innovation (Cadbury’s) made for some Diwali advertising this year.

So are we out of things to say this Diwali?  We will always be out of things to say. What will make brands different is really how to say it.

This article piece is authored by Prabhakar Mundkur, an ad veteran in advertising, across the globe.


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