If I were to describe the year gone by for advertising and marketing (A&M) in India in three words, the words would be – quiet, uneventful, forgettable. This may sound a little depressing and pessimistic, but after two decades of great buoyancy and optimism, 2011 was static.
It is not that there were no interesting campaigns. In a recent survey, Airtel’s ‘Har friend zaroori hai’, Ceat’s ‘The streets are filled with idiots’, Flipkart’s ‘No kidding. No worries’, Diary Milk’s ‘Meethe mein kuch meetha ho jaye’, Asian Paints’ ‘Happy Painting Deewar’, Union Bank of India’s ‘Your dreams are not just your own’, and Pepsi’s ‘Change the Game’ were some of the advertisements mentioned by young creative folk as memorable campaigns of 2011. However, to my mind, none were game changing or path breaking the way the Vodafone ‘Zoozoos’ or Tata Tea ‘Jaago Re’ campaigns were when they were first released a few years ago. Some of these were actually follow-ups to mother campaigns launched earlier. Similarly, there were few real big, new brand launches, none at the scale of Colors and ‘Balika Vadhu’ or Docomo, which happened again in the last few years. No game changing campaign or big brand launches clearly reflected a tepid year for A&M. However, the year did see the rise of Taproot India (with two big campaigns in the year) as an alternative source of creativity for clients. This could be a game changer in the future!
Interestingly, the only game changing work came from outside the ‘commercial’ product world – the ‘India Against Corruption’ (IAC) campaign of Anna Hazare. It used the integrated power of social media, event management and media relations to create a movement. It successfully managed to get the Lokpal Bill tabled in Parliament and passed in one House. The way the movement generated online and offline buzz and spurred the youth to action is a tribute to the power of movements and causes they stand for. Unfortunately, the same campaign ended in December in a whimper, given the people turnout at the rally in Mumbai. This, too, reflects how the year has left little for people to feel good about and the actual power of the movement is in doubt.
The year clearly reinforced the traditional belief that the A&M world is strongly dependent on the social and economic environment in which it operates. 2011 was the year when the excesses of the optimism and growth of the past decades actually caught up with us as a nation and society. Let me share two examples that support this idea. First, telecom has been the game changing industry in the last decade – it has successfully democratised the mobile phone.
However, 2012 saw the emergence of the 2G scam that showed the fallout of unbridled growth with few checks and balances, and provided the air cover for galvanising the IAC movement. All the glitter of high growth suddenly got shrouded in the ghosts of corruption and unfair business practices. And second, the commercialisation and excess of cricket that the Indian market has witnessed in the last two decades had its impact. The return of the World Cup in April 2011 became a faint memory very fast. Few people now have a top of mind recall of the year as a year of Cricket World Cup win. The IPL tournament started a week post that momentous win and then the disastrous England tour followed in quick succession to leave cricket aficionados little time to savour and enjoy the fruits of the World Cup despite it coming after 28 long years.
Excess had taken away the joys of growth, victory, conquests and progress. Overlay this with an environment where the retail FDI bill got retracted and the dollar climbed relentless vis-à-vis the rupee, and it was a year when the economy got stretched and not surprisingly, marketers operated with caution rather than the normal positivism seen in previous years.
Finally, it is worth mentioning two songs that made the waves during the year – ‘DK Bose’ from the movie ‘Delhi Belly’, raising the hackles of the social moral police, and ‘Why this Kolaveri di,’ the viral hit song. The latter with its nonsense lyrics made the singer and composer celebrities overnight. This could, at one level, be seen as just pure fun- the attitude and pre-disposition of the youth today. On the other hand, this could be spelling the doom bells for aesthetics and style in everyday life. There may be merit in a famous lyricist criticism of ‘Kolaveri di’, saying they are no lyrics! One hopes this is not the beginning of the deterioration of popular culture, something India had witnessed in the 80s.
All this does sound somber, but hopefully 2011 is behind us and one wishes there is more dare and excitement in 2012. And marketing and advertising will have more achievement to show this year – something worth thinking about.
(Madhukar Sabnavis is Country Head - Discovery and Planning, Ogilvy & Mather India.)