Opinion: Don’t press the ‘Festive Button’ the next time you work on a festive ad

festive ads

Navonil Chatterjee, Chief Strategy Officer, Rediffusion Brand Solutions writes about the emotional overdrive that ads enter into, every festive season, dimming brand recall marginally. Chatterjee shares how its time to unlearn, relearn, and take risks

It is that time of the year when “it’s all about loving your family”, a la Karan Johar style. Time to go back into a Sooraj Barjatya ‘Hum Saath-Saath Hain’ world. Time to love, embrace, hug, exchange pleasantries and sweet nothings, even sweets. It is time for brands across categories (and not just Manyavar), to don their metaphorical ‘ethnic avatar’, because the Great Indian Festive Season is fast approaching.

It is that time of the year too when suddenly your concern for your maid’s daughter’s education goes up. Leading to you sponsoring a scholarship for her or buying her LED lights, depending upon the category of course! So nice and progressive, right? 

When your consciousness awakens to the remembrance of the fact that your security guard is staying far away from his family in the hills and you gift him a smartphone or offer free internet (again, depending on the category) so that he can video-call them. Oh, so touching, no? 

When your usually conservative, steeped-in-tradition grandparents suddenly go through a time-machine transformation to bless your same-sex live-in partner. And gifts him or her a watch or a wallet. Of course, depending on the category. So cute and liberal, right?

Come on, you must have got the drift by now…

Come to the Festive Season and brands put on their goody two shoes to embrace positivity and piety in all forms and shades – love, warmth, care, concern, compassion, understanding, appreciation, acknowledgment, the works! It’s an emotional cornucopia out there, goodness on overdrive. But then, was that Lovely University sponsoring that scholarship, or was it Byju’s? Bajaj LED lights, right? Or wait, was that Cisco? And was that Samsung with the smartphone and Jio with the free internet? Possibly. Or not. Despite the fact that very often this emotional mash-up actually leads to a complete mishmash and misattribution of brands and messaging, all parties involved in this process seem to be very content with the outcome. It all usually starts with that very popular and overwhelmingly inspiring brief of “Let’s create something viral” which leads to a potpourri of emotions getting unleashed in today’s favorite ‘content’ format which viewers click, like, and share and everyone (albeit only all the members of the client and agency team) gets thrilled to bits about it. Is the communication ‘on brand’? Has it reached the real consumer of the brand? Was it effective in achieving clearly defined brand objectives? Such trivial questions of course get lost in the glow and bonhomie of congratulatory backslapping!

No ad perhaps captures the clichés and monotony of festive communication better than the Netflix Anurag Kashyap Diwali TVC that uses typical Diwali settings, symbolism, and imagery to diss the same. The TVC dramatizes a typical family setting during Diwali, while the voice-over says: Diwali, that special time of the year when your whole family comes together in slow motion … You see it every year, in every ad … Oh these adorable little angels (referring to the 2 kids) who melt your heart and burn your bedroom … Don’t worry, we have not forgotten about the thoughtful husband and his loving wife …Wait, wait, let the piano kick in…

The TVC ends by saying: “Diwali ads may never change, but your entertainment certainly can!” 

Point made. 

QED.

So how does one beat the festive clutter and stay fresh? Here are five simple tips that can help your brand zag while every other brand is zigging this festive season:

1. Reset

The first thing needed is a change in mindset itself. Don’t start by labeling it as a festive ad in your mind. Think of it just as a brand ad that happens to release during the festive season! Just this little re-set in the mindset itself will work wonders for the communication that will follow subsequently. 

2. Un-set

Every Indian festival comes with the trappings of its own rituals and symbolism. Whether it be rangolis, diyas, flowers, kolams, etc. there is a typical setting, topography, space, and visual iconography associated with every festival. If you want to break free from the clutter, one easy way to do it is to stay away from the typical festive look and setting.

The 2016 Mercedes Benz Snow Date commercial is a classic case in point – while it is a Christmas ad, there is no red and green symbology used in the entire ad, no Santa, no gifts. And while it is a snowy setting, it is there to just make the point of the two Mercedes cars navigating through the snow on a tough winter night when nobody else has dared to venture out. That too, just to keep a date!

3. Subset

There will always be some strong first-level associations with any festival – like Dahi Handi has with Krishna Janmashtami. But how often have you seen that tall human pyramid being used by brands every Janmashtami? Year after year? Brand after brand? In category after category? The trick is to dig deeper and look at the sub-set. What other less-obvious, less-leveraged elements exist in a particular festival?

While Krishna was referred to as the ‘Makkhan Chor’, the real Makkhan Chor was his maternal uncle, the evil ruler Kansa, who denied children nourishment by seizing all the milk products produced. So, in reality, the thief was actually the cop, while the cop was the real thief! Now that seems like a new narrative that a brand can perhaps leverage in its storytelling to stay fresh and break the clutter.

4. Asset

Byron Sharp talks about brands creating memory structures that endure. Surprisingly, when it comes to festive communication, brands often get waylaid and distracted and forget what their core is, what assets do they have which they need to continue to leverage, what are their unique ‘signature’ elements, etc. If anything, during the festive season, the competitive share of voice is also the highest, so if you want your brand to do better, does it not make sense to find ways to drive your advantage over the competition? Instead of relying on the self-same, generic mushy emotions, isn’t it the time to drive your superiority through tangible, rational claims?

My simple advice to brands will be that they try and find an interesting product connect with the particular festival – where the brand becomes more useful and relevant than normal because of some aspect of that festival.

Like Nike shoes helping you to run away faster from the maddening festive crowd. Or Bose noise cancellation speakers coming to your aid in cutting the Diwali din. Or Digene pocket-friendly tablets going very well with mutton roll during Pujo pandal-hopping. A brand’s asset or advantage doesn’t lose its relevance just because it is festive communication – if anything brands need to find ways of heightening that relevance by finding an interesting product connect with some aspect of the particular festival. 

5. Upset

The festive season is all about sharing and caring, right? For example, if it’s Christmas, all of us need to be in that generous, ‘giving’, Santa Claus mode, right? Wrong. If you are Harvey Nichols, that is! In its ‘Sorry, I spent it on myself’ campaign, the luxury retail brand changed the entire Christmas narrative from generosity to selfishness, “A little something for them. A bigger something for you” – was the cheeky, anti-Christmas (or should I say ‘anti-Christ’) message that Harvey Nichols sent out during Christmas and the rest was history. Sales boomed, conversations exploded, and multiple awards were pocketed by the brand. And that’s all because the brand had the balls to upset the conventions of the festive season and go against the grain. It is a strategy that seems risky but can potentially be hugely rewarding! 

This year is not like any other year – 2021 is a year that saw a lot of people losing their jobs and livelihoods or having their salaries cut – maybe this festive season, some brands can curb their greed and request consumers to be a bit pragmatic on their festive spends. Now that’s a message that will surely ‘upset’ the festive applecart but is sure to find resonance and empathy across a whole lot of consumers. And if upset is too much of an upsetting strategy for marketers, they can at least look at the other tips of reset, ‘un-set’, subset, and asset to stay fresh amidst the festive clutter.


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