Guest Column: Advertising and media hallmarks of 2014: Madhukar Sabnavis

Madhukar Sabnavis, Vice Chairman, O&M India comments on the BJP campaign, sporting leagues, e-commerce explosion, and other defining moments of 2014

e4m by Madhukar Sabanavis
Published: Dec 29, 2014 8:03 AM  | 5 min read
Guest Column: Advertising and media hallmarks of 2014: Madhukar Sabnavis

The BJP campaign was the biggest and most influential campaign of the year. It played a role in determining the government of the largest democracy in the world. For the advertising industry, it demonstrated the power of what advertising can do for non-commercial products. Hopefully, it has built confidence amongst both public and social sectors that advertising can influence behaviours and hence should open new opportunities for the industry. For practitioners and believers, it reinforced the power of advertising. In a category- politics- where media (traditional and social media conversations) coverage is high, it showed that controlled messaging has the ability to decisively influence public opinion. What the BJP campaign did was to ensure its message was clearly delivered to the electorate, overcoming the noise of diverse views beamed through the editorial content of media. It was able to shift the discourse from a ‘local candidate’ choice to a ‘national leader’ selection- moving the election from a parliamentary form to a presidential form. Focussing on local issues in local media made the messaging relevant to local markets. And egging people to vote closer to the polling date in each local market nudged more people to come out and vote.

It was a well-planned, multi-layered multi media campaign. The timing was also terrific. Running the campaign in the last two months, helped to give focus to public dissatisfaction and drive it to vote conversion. The campaign timing subliminally followed Seth Godin’s principle that most elections are won on fence-sitting voters who can be converted closer to the polling date. There is enough tracking data (poll predictions) to show how public sentiment moved from giving the BJP and its allies the highest seats to making it a single party majority- demonstrating the effectiveness of the advertising. Clearly, it’s a landmark for the Indian advertising industry.  It should augur well for the industry- both in terms of business and belief in its power- if used well.

TV channels have always leveraged live events to garner TRPs. And in the last two decades, cricket has been the bread, butter and icing for this (outside the one-off film award shows). The runaway success of IPL was a case of a sports body leveraging the sport for its benefit. This year saw Star expand its footprint decisively into sports as entertainment. What was innovative was it partnering sports bodies and corporate India to create four new properties and evangelise sports beyond cricket. Hockey, kabaddi, football and tennis saw IPL type leagues. The Pro Kabaddi League was particularly interesting as it modernized a very local, rustic sport and made it a TV event worth watching. Beyond the TRPs the programs garnered, what was interesting is that it created new content and foretells opportunities for advertisers and brands to create properties for themselves.

The flipkart vs amazon war in October was reminiscent of the Coke-Pepsi wars of the 80s. It was nice to see the presence of youthful aggression and exuberance in the Indian advertising market. It was a distinct shift from just five years ago- when the front pages of lead newspapers carried aggressive discount ads from traditional retail. Besides the funding that lead e-commerce brands have received, their salience in the media market has opened a new category for advertising agencies to go after- for both brand building and sales generation. The sounds of a digital revolution have been around for some years, is this the tipping point of change?

Creativity continued to explore new boundaries through the year. Three come to mind for me. First, the breaking of the thirty second shackle and the emergence of long form commercial.While Nike, Tata Sky and Google, to name a few, had done it in 2013, it was interesting to see classic FMCG brands like Fortune, Nescafe and Pepsi taking the leap and giving it a shot. It was recognition of YouTube as a high viewing channel and seizing the opportunity to tell stories without the constraints of time. I think this trend will continue and grow. It could also stimulate marketers to think beyond propositions to ‘purposes and philosophies’ and seek to ‘inspire’ viewers besides entertain. This could help to stimulate engagement and sharing among viewers. ‘Consumers as media’ could become the focus for marketers and advertisers. The second exploration that is interesting is the subtle shift from ‘woman empowerment’ to ‘gender equality’.  ‘Empowerment’ means woman can do anything she wants to (including everything men can do!) but ‘gender equality’ is about being respected and treated similarly. The Airtel ‘Boss’ and the Raga ‘Woman of today’ are two commercials that stimulated this thought interestingly during the year. And the third is the much awarded ‘Kan Khajura Tesan’- India’s first free and on demand mobile radio station. This creative idea was based on a digital insight- the unique Indian missed call–and this opens up another world of possibilities.

Finally, to me, Alia Bhat was the star of the year. Besides the hits she gave in Bollywood, her self-parody on the net is both instructive and inspirational. Why must someone good in one field be proficient in another- even if it’s general knowledge? After the ‘boo-boo’ she did on a ‘Koffee with Karan’ show, she had the guts and the ability to laugh at herself to make a viral video ‘Genius of the year’ with All India Bakchod.  Will strong brands ever have the confidence to so something like that?

Something worth thinking about.

The author is Madhukar Sabnavis, Vice Chairman, Ogilvy and Mather India

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