Oral-B Pro-Health’s ‘batteesi’ campaign made my jaw drop

Circa 2013: It was supposedly the most awaited FMCG launch to happen… a challenger that would shake the No 1 brand and run tremors of fear through it… a market shaker who prompted competitors to pre-empt with their challenger launches.

As I watched the ads, my jaw dropped, and it even touched the floor. I was amazed, zapped, stupefied all at once. The first ad I saw was of an inane set of people chewing and eating, with Madhuri Dixit Nene appearing at the end, stating some lines about toothpaste that does everything. Someone who wrote the positioning will undoubtedly get an honourable mention when I teach my students about the ‘E2=0’ principle… which means ‘when you emphasise everything, you emphasise nothing’.

As a proponent of correct language, it also appalled me to hear the repeated use of the word ‘batteesi’. 

In Hindi, the word is common in the context of dentures. A modified phrase ‘batteeson barkaraar’ was used for years to advertise a popular brand while rendering its ’32 intact’ promise in Hindi. For a Hindi speaking person, batteesi is a negative word, most often used for reprimanding, such as ‘batteesi mat dikhao’ (most often used to condemn those who laugh or grin irreverently). In worst cases, ‘batteesi tod denge… or batteesi bahar nikal denge’ is used to threaten someone with dire consequences. 

I wondered why did the brand say, ‘India ki batteesi’.

Then I saw another ad for Oral-B toothbrush, with a jaded Madhuri Dixit Nene mouthing out her ‘Smile Officer’ role with a plasticky smile in tow… at the end, I saw a ‘buy an Oral-B brush and get a toothpaste free offer’. 

Wonder what the client and its agencies were thinking as they set out to launch a superior, anticipated brand in a cut-throat and high loyalty toothpaste market through an offer. If I try hard and give P&G its due, this may be the company’s way of promoting trials. But again, does this reflect how the company has positioned itself in India. Ask anyone who knows the company beyond being just a consumer, and the individual will talk about the company’s products being premium and high market. If that is how they have built their perception across their several brands, why would they want to explore trials through a bundled offer?

All I can say with my professional experience is that this entry strategy of P&G had for sure shaken their competitors. In this case, the competitors must be shaking with uncontrolled laughter, as they need not do anything to protect their interests. P&G had done them a great favour with their launch communication, which passes by like a ship in the dark and tops it with a ‘take it home free’ offer. I hoped once again that marketers and advertisers were more innovative. Anyway, years later, I continue to wonder as Ghalib said, ‘Ya ilaahi ye majra kya hai’.


Jingles are a form of sound branding where the sales pitch is sung to a musical tune. It is pretty popular in our country.
When I was trying to trace back its origin, I found it in Urdu poetry.
Nazeer Akbarabadi wrote various poems on various fruits, sweet meat, etc. to help its sellers sell there wares better.
All these poems were collected by legendary playwright Habeeb Tanveer and was used in his classical play Agra Bazaar.
Here I reproduce a part of his poem titled “Kakdi” to illustrate my point:

क्या प्यारी प्यारी मीठी और पतली पतलियां हैं
गन्ने की पोरियां हैं रेशम की तकलियाँ हैं
फ़रहाद की निगाहें शीरीं की हंसलियां हैं
मजनूँ की सर्द आहें लैला की ऊँगलियाँ हैं
क्या ख़ूब ककड़ियाँ हैं क्या ख़ूब ककड़ियाँ हैं

MRUC, media manual and a secret between two friends

The first-ever readership survey in India was conducted in 1971, by ORG if I remember right.
After that, subsequent readership studies took five years gap to complete. Research agencies kept changing, and differences of opinion led to Roda Mehta parting ways with Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI). Roda showed her middle finger to AAAI and established “Her Own” outfit called Media Research Users Council India (MRUC India).
I recall an interesting incident with Roda.
When AAAI decided to start Media Planning Workshops, I compiled the manual for workshops. The day manual was released, my friend Bahadur Merwan, who was on the sub-committee with me, called me.
Bahadur said, “Jameel, Roda is upset with you. She may sue you.”
I asked, “Why Bahadur? What did I do?”
Bahadur replied, “You have taken page 1 to page 15 of your manual from Roda’s manual and haven’t bothered to give her credit.”
I was stunned, but very calmly, I replied, “Bahadur, please tell Roda that my source is the book called Media Planning by James Adams. I shall be grateful if Roda could tell me what her source is.”
What conversation took place between Bahadur and me after that will go to my grave.
Anyway, I am told now MRUC publishes Readership Study every year.
Whatever I could look at tells me what study being published by MRUC seems to be “Desk Research.” 😉

Advertising: Believe it or not?

In this age of skepticism, cleverness for the sake of cleverness will be a liability rather than an asset.
Consumers do not appreciate, cleverness for the sake of cleverness in any of the promotional message. Their reactions to our promotional messages have been:
A. I don’t trust you. Why should I ?
B. I am surprised when something I buy actually performs the way it was advertise to perform.
C. Others make the same claim you do; most of you lying.

Writing that copy right is an art

For a copywriter of a television commercial, the copy should be the words (audio) that accompany the pictures in a television commercial.
Pictures must tell the story. Audio is supposed to support the visuals. But today, look at most commercials; almost all of them are radio spots where visuals support audio. We haven’t got over the hangover of radio commercials.
We got to remember that a lot of television viewers look at commercial breaks with sound muted. Visuals must tell the story even without audio.
Most of our copywriters tend to get carried away with the idea of writing “piece of life” commercials and fall into this trap of writing radio spots when they are supposed to be writing TV commercials.

RIP Media Planning

In 1969, at the age of 19, I came into advertising. At that moment, the media planning was limited to raising an estimate, drawing a schedule, and only upon client approval, release orders (RO) were issued.
A movement to professionalise Media Planning saw the birth of the first readership survey in 1971. ORG conducted the research.
The report had too many errors and not an error of judgement. However, over a while constant efforts to make media planning as professional as possible & we did reach there with Media Planners such as Roda Mehta, Ketaki Gupte, PRP Nair, Paulomi Dhawan, Lynn de Souza, Arvind Vinayak & Yours Truly.
In 1990s, Martin Sorrel went on a buying spree and managed to buy over 80% of Indian Advertising Agencies. With an accountant as the owner, Advertising was destined to see its lowest ebb. Which I am looking at almost every day.
Now, there ain’t any media planners left.
Recently, for one my largest account as consultant, The No. 1 agency presented The Effective Media Reach as The Plan Reach while presenting a media plan. When I asked them, “how did you work this out?”, the meek answer was “Software” to which I asked, “do you know the formula?” The answer was meeker this time, “No”.
May I say any more?
In 1970, when I joined advertising, advertising media was limited to raising estimates, drawing up schedules for client’s product, service or idea promotion and nothing else. The media went to the summit of planning. Now it is back to just drawing up estimates, schedules once again.
Happy Media Buying. Goodbye Media Planning.

Remembering RK Swamy

I recall my days with the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) when Larry Grant, Govind Sajnani, Bahadur Merwan, Gopi Kukde, and I conducted “creative workshops” in Mumbai.
I conducted 52, 3-months workshops at a stretch without any break. I am sure it was some record, but I never bothered to run after records. AAAI also published my advertising book in Hindi; the book being the first one on this subject in Hindi. That, too, was a record, but neither AAAI nor I claimed the record. We with AAAI also compiled the first-ever manual for Creative Planning, Media Planning, Film Production, PR Planning & Print Production. Today, AAAI doesn’t seem to take any pride in these firsts which they pioneered. All these activities were started when the great R K Swamy was the president of AAAI. He earnestly believed in training and professional development for our profession. Mr R K Swamy, you are being sorely missed.

(Photo sourced from RK Swamy BBDO Pvt. Ltd.)

विज्ञापन की परिभाषाएँ

विज्ञापन क्या है? कभी किसी ने अपने एक लेख में चकब्लोर की परिभाषा का उल्लेख किया था. चकब्लोर के अनुसार, “विज्ञापन मानवीय बुद्धि को बस उतनी देर अवरुध्द कर देने की कला है, जितनी देर उसकी जेब से रक़म निकलवाने में लगे।”

इस परिभाषा को अगर पूरी तरह सही मान लिया जाए तो सारे विज्ञापन अभियान केवल दुकानों के आस पास ही चलने चाहिएँ, क्यूँकि ये वही स्थान है जहां उपभोक्ता अपनी जेब से रक़म निकालता है। टी वी पर कोई विज्ञापन देखने के बाद, जेब से रुपये निकाल कर दुकानों की ओर नहीं दौड़ते हैं। मेरी राय में ये परिभाषा सड़कों पर मजमा लगा कर लोगों को मूर्ख बनाने वालों पर ज़्यादा लागू होती है।

आज सभी उत्पादक (जो व्यावसायिक हैं) मानते हैं कि उपभोक्ता कम अक़्ल हस्ती नहीं, बल्कि बुद्धिमान जीव है। इसीलिए वो उसे तर्क द्वारा अपना उत्पादन ख़रीदने और इस्तेमाल करने के लिए प्रेरित करते हैं।

परिभाषाओं की बात निकली है तो आइए, चंद और परिभाषाओं पर भी एक नज़र डाल लेते हैं। एच जी वेल्स का कहना है “विज्ञापन वैध झूठ का दूसरा नाम है” उनकी ये राय शायद ‘शादी से पहले, शादी के बाद ज़रूर मिलें, खोई हुई ताक़त दुबारा हासिल करें, जवानी की भूल पर ना पछताएँ” जैसे विज्ञापनों पर आधारित होगी। इनकी इस राये के लिए हम विज्ञापन व्यवसायी स्वयं ज़िम्मेदार हैं, क्यूँकि अक्सर हम उत्पादनों के बढ़े-चढ़े झूठे बखान के दोषी होते हैं ।

टॉमस जेफ़रसन के अनुसार, “समाचार पत्रों में केवल विज्ञापन वे सत्य बयान करते हैं, जिन पर भरोसा किया जा सकता है।” ज़ाहिर है जेफ़रसन साहब का वास्ता उन विज्ञापनों से पड़ा होगा जो ईमानदारी के से उपभोक्ताओं को अपनी ओर खींचने का प्रयत्न करते हैं।

ब्रूस बरटन का कहना है “यदि विज्ञापन लोगों से उनकी हैसियत से ज़्यादा ख़र्च करवाता है तो उसे गरिया क्यूँ जाए क्यूँकि लोग शादी करके भी तो अपनी हैसियत से बेहतर जीवन जीने का प्रयत्न करते ही हैं।”

यहाँ सिवाए मज़ाक़ के कोई और तुक नज़र नहीं आती। हाँ, ये ज़रूर सही है कि अगर कोई अपनी हैसियत से बध कर जीने की कोशिश करता है तो इसमें विज्ञापन का क्या दोष? करोड़ों लोग होंगे जो मर्सिडीज़ का विज्ञापन देख कर उसे ख़रीदने और इस्तेमाल करने की इच्छा रखते होंगे लेकिन ख़रीदते वही हैं जिनके जेब में दाम होते हैं।

Purpose defeated

The enormity of advertising clutter is on the rise. The latest is the half-page advertisement by Stanley Lifestyles in the leading national daily today.
It makes sense to reiterate once again that advertising happens incidentally.  
In a layman’s language, incidental ad exposure implies that an advertisement receives minimal attentional resources. At the same time, other more relevant information is being processed like a radio advertising spot between a news discussion or an advertising ticker on a primetime news show or a half-page advertisement on the first page of a leading newspaper will make the advertising message get lost in the melee of information.
A study on incidental ad exposure to examine whether incidental exposure to an ad increases the likelihood that a product depicted in the ad will be included in a consideration set suggested that the incidental exposure effect is relatively robust, occurring across a variety of factors such as when the consideration set formation context was memory or stimulus-based, when the buying situation was familiar or unfamiliar, and across two different product classes. Further, these effects were found despite subjects’ lack of explicit memory for the ads.
The advertisement aims to grab a consumer by the collar, hold his attention, and become the medium to convey the message, i.e. buy the product.
The advertisement by Stanley Lifestyles miserably fails to achieve even one of these advertising goals.
Because the messaging is not clear. “Makers of the Beautiful.” “Stanley Bespoke Luxury for the Aristocratic Few.” What does this imply? Your guess is as good as mine. There’s zilch clarity about the product and its USP that this advertising tries to sell. To add to it, how do you process a white horse, a lady with a birdcage and a high-end sofa. Is it a bespoke furniture brand’s advertisement? Could be. It isn’t staring at me in the face so I chose to look away.
Because of the missing centre of the layout. This particular advertisement’s centre is a confusing spot. It fails to grab a reader’s attention.
Because there’s no entry-exit point for a reader. The advertisement space has no access point for a reader to get in, stay for a few minutes, and then leave. The images, copy, and layout are all so jumbled up.
The purpose stands defeated. It must have cost a bomb to buy that half-page of prime advertising space in a leading daily. There’s going to be no return on the furniture boutique’s investment because of the messy advertisement, and that is saddening.