Ads in the Time of Twit­ter

GUEST AR­TI­CLE Cre­ativ­ity in the face of a dou­ble-edged sword.

The Brand Reporter - - BY INVITATION - By Amit Akali feed­

So­cial me­dia is a dou­bleedged sword. It’s trans­formed ad­ver­tis­ing pos­i­tively — you don’t need huge bud­gets or tele­vi­sion to get your mes­sage across. As the fear­less girl proved, a sin­gle statue built on Wall Street could travel through so­cial me­dia to carry its mes­sage across the world. But like ev­ery sword this one has a sharp neg­a­tive edge too. So­cial me­dia could de­stroy a cam­paign as eas­ily. Deepika Padukone’s Vogue cam­paign or the Pierce Bros­nan Pan Ba­har ad re­ceived more brick­bats than likes – even forc­ing James Bond to apol­o­gise.

So how do you cre­ate com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the time of Twit­ter? Here are some tips, a few of them learnt the hard way:


I think so­cial me­dia has changed the way In­dian ad­ver­tis­ing looks. If you re­mem­ber, 10 years back, a large part of ad­ver­tis­ing was fake – glitzy and glam­orous – but un­be­liev­able. And we’d made rules for our­selves, like ‘Let’s not de­pict se­ri­ous is­sues in ad­ver­tis­ing’ or ‘You can’t show hand­i­capped peo­ple in ad­ver­tis­ing’. To­day, these rules have been bro­ken. A mass brand like Red La­bel has tack­led is­sues like Hindu-Mus­lim har­mony and gen­der equal­ity. The ‘most seen’ film on YouTube – the ‘Sam­sung Ser­vice’ film has a blind pro­tag­o­nist, while hand­i­caps, dis­eases and so­cial causes have been tack­led reg­u­larly by brands such as Dabur (‘Brave’) and Ariel (‘Share The Load’). And it’s not a co-in­ci­dence that this change has ac­com­pa­nied the ad­vent of so­cial me­dia. To­day, most com­mu­ni­ca­tion is con­sumed on phones. What else do we con­sume on our phone? So­cial me­dia – What­sApp, Face­book, Twit­ter and YouTube. What if a friend was fak­ing it on FB – act­ing cool – you’d just tell him to ‘stop the natak!’, right? Peo­ple re­act sim­i­larly to ad­ver­tis­ing. If it’s not based in re­al­ity they’ll prob­a­bly thrash it. I be­lieve that’s what the is­sue with Pan Ba­har was; far be­yond Pierce Bros­nan pro­mot­ing a bad habit, it wasn’t be­liev­able that he’d chew paan masala. Ob­vi­ously, not all ad­ver­tis­ing needs to be based in re­al­ity, you could rely on hu­mour or glitz for a par­tic­u­lar brand if that’s the right thing to do.


What­ever you por­tray – re­al­ity, hu­mour, glam­our – it needs to come nat­u­rally to your brand. This is prob­a­bly the rea­son Deepika’s Vogue ads were panned. I felt they didn’t seem to come from the brand and sounded like some­one mouthing what’s ex­pected. If you’re try­ing to use a so­cial cause just for your own good, you’ll be found out. And pun­ished for it. This isn’t about just so­cial causes. If you want to be glam­orous or funny, go ahead, as long as you can carry it off. Rest as­sured, you’ll be ridiculed if you can’t.


As brands, we are scared to say any­thing neg­a­tive or self-ef­fac­ing. But I’ve learnt that hon­esty is al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated. Peo­ple will be­lieve your strengths more if you ac­cept your faults. Years back, at Ogilvy, we worked on a cam­paign called ‘Sur­pris­ingly SBI’ for State Bank Of In­dia. When we were briefed that SBI had the max­i­mum num­ber of ATMs, we didn’t be­lieve it our­selves. We made that the crux of the cam­paign. The com­mer­cials showed peo­ple los­ing bets be­cause they didn’t be­lieve the same about SBI. And peo­ple be­lieved us – they liked the fact that we were hon­est and ad­mit­ted it was ‘sur­pris­ing’. It’s prob­a­bly the only cam­paign that won the Grand Prix at the Ab­bys and the Effies. Sim­i­larly, when Cad­bury went through to a worm in­fes­ta­tion is­sue, they didn’t deny it – in fact, Amitabh Bachchan spoke for the brand and ac­cepted its mis­takes... rea­son why the brand came back stronger. On the other hand, if you deny the truth or get de­fen­sive, you’re sure to get panned on so­cial me­dia.


Even­tu­ally, your con­science needs to be clear. You need to truly be­lieve that this piece of com­mu­ni­ca­tion is not caus­ing any harm. You need to put your­self in the con­sumers’ shoes and ask, ‘Is this go­ing to of­fend them?’ If the an­swer to that is yes, shelve the cam­paign. Lis­ten to peo­ple around you with­out be­ing de­fen­sive. If some­one in your team raises an is­sue, take it se­ri­ously. Don’t be ob­sessed with re­leas­ing the creative. Lis­ten to ev­ery­body, but at the end of the day lis­ten to your gut. When the ‘Laugh At Death’ idea was first pre­sented, the room was a di­vided house. There were some who felt that jok­ing about death was in bad taste. I felt that if ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients them­selves made fun of their own im­pend­ing death, it couldn’t be taken neg­a­tively. We went ahead with the cam­paign. And there was not one neg­a­tive com­ment. In fact, the wave of pos­i­tive en­gage­ment made us trend on Twit­ter, FB and YouTube and gave us free PR worth crores, in­clud­ing cov­er­age by BBC Lon­don.


While we should be con­scious of so­cial me­dia you can’t cre­ate great ad­ver­tis­ing if you’re scared of what peo­ple are go­ing to say. You have to keep only the brand’s in­ter­est in mind. If it’s right for the brand, if your con­science is clear, go ahead. Rest as­sured there WILL be peo­ple who have is­sues with any­thing you do. There are ads I’ve loved like the ‘Vicks Eunuch’ com­mer­cial but I’ve seen enough neg­a­tive com­ments on it too. I re­mem­ber there was a fun ad we’d done which showed a stam­mer­ing guy (Not Nescafe). And we got sued by an as­so­ci­a­tion for stam­mer­ers. I strongly be­lieved that the ad had no sem­blance to re­al­ity and was to be taken as a joke. I per­son­ally felt the as­so­ci­a­tion was tak­ing it wrongly. This was be­fore so­cial me­dia. Given the same brief and given that the ram­i­fi­ca­tions would be worse with so­cial me­dia, I would yet go ahead with the ad, as my con­science is clear.

PS: I did check this col­umn a cou­ple of times to make sure I wouldn’t get panned on so­cial me­dia for it. Fin­gers crossed.

(The au­thor is man­ag­ing part­ner and CCO, What’s Your Prob­lem and CCO, Medulla Com­mu­ni­ca­tions.) ■

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