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Is the government a good client? Agency Heads on PSA campaigns

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Is the government a good client? Agency Heads on PSA campaigns

In 2014, India was declared polio free by the World Health Organisation after three years without any single case of polio in the country. It was a milestone victory for the entire nation including advertising honcho, Piyush Pandey who had conceptualised the Polio Eradication campaign. Senior Bachchan was the face of the campaign and reportedly; the communication was drafted keeping in mind, the ‘angry young man’ image of the actor.  More recent examples would be Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat initiative and also the Beti Bachao campaigns, for which Grey was brought on board.  The list can go on, but what is new here is that, there has been a gradual rise in Government reaching out to professional agencies for creating their public service awareness (PSA) campaigns.

Speaking on this, Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & Creative Director, Ogilvy, South Asia said, “Government is looking at professional agencies, whose work they like and consider impactful. We have been declared polio free, but if one single case comes back, the status will be taken away from us. So we will have to keep at it.”

Samir Datar, VP & Branch Head, Grey, added that the reason why government is hiring full-time agencies is because they are looking for big difference. They are also aware of how the communication process works and there is a willingness to participate. Not only is there a heavy involvement, but they are also equally concerned on how the final product will look like. They are working to change the notion which the general people have towards the government machinery which is of ‘slow and tedious’. 

Working for Brands vs working for the Government:

Commenting on the difference between working for a brand and a government campaign, Pandey elaborated, “It depends on who the person on the other side is. Is it someone who wants to do fresh and impactful things or is someone who has a fixed mind? So whether it is a government or any private body, a campaign is only as good as a client.”

Malvika Mehra, National Creative Director (who is serving her notice period at Grey Worldwide), spoke about how the role of a ‘problem solver’ remains the same when she is working for any brand or any government campaign. The approach however, for the government ad is more sensitive and impactful, because it is aimed at hitting a larger audience.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, Executive Creative Director, South Asia, O&M, who was part of the ‘Hathipaon Mukt Bharat’ (Filaria Free India) initiative, realised while working for the campaign, there are many PSA films, but one has to be disruptive, in order to catch the attention of the viewers. Talking about one of the biggest benefits of working with the government, he mentioned, “When government hires an agency, they consider the latter as the expert. On the other hand, when we work for a brand, there are different levels of marketing heads who try and come in between an agency’s creative work.”

FCB Ulka has been part of the Mumbai Police outdoor campaign for more than 20 years now. The campaigns are displayed at the Babulnath Junction billboard as it has a great location advantage since bulk of the traffic to and from South Mumbai passes through this corner.

Nitin Karkare, COO, FCB Ulka said, “Every month, we are given 4-5 themes on road safety and based on them, we work on our creative. Once they are done, we send them for approval and we also get them immediately. On the other hands, several other dynamics need to be kept in mind, while working for brands. From the competition aspect to the marketing angle; but when we are working directly for the Mumbai Police, we know that it is directed to the consumers and we have to convey to them only one message - The Dos and Don’ts of Driving.”

Eeksaurus, a Mumbai based production house & advertising agency, has recently made a series of animated online videos for the Mumbai Police. Out of which one is the ‘Porcupine Jacket- Free Hugs to Molesters’ video, which is a story of few girls who are enjoying at a pub and an evil guy tries to molest them. So it is during this time of duress, that this girl switches one button on her dress and it turns into a porcupine jacket which is used to attack the culprit. The message then appears on the screen that these unrealistic products are coming soon in 2214 AD, until then, when in trouble, please call 103.

“I have been extremely hounded by the issues of women safety and the irreverence which people have towards the subject. So I made these films without the thought of selling it to anyone. So after these videos were done, I showed them to the Joint Commissioner of the Mumbai Police and he was so happy to see the work, that he asked me to use the Mumbai Police logo on the films and put them up on the internet. Also, when you are working on these projects, it is for your own satisfaction and not meant for making profits,” elaborated Suresh Eriyat, Founder & Creative Director, Eeksaurus.

So how should the tone of communication be?

Mehra pointed out that the tone of the communication in these public service campaigns is usually of sarcasm, gravity and seriousness. The topics are such that it cannot be taken lightly, so very rarely is humour used. However, Chattopadhyay offered a different perspective and said, “This is actually a very wide subject, the tonality of the communication depends on the imagination of the agencies and the approval by the government. Yes humour can be used, preferably dark humour, I like the radio spot where Vidya Balan is found talking to the flies because she says that talking to them is more effective than telling humans not to defecate in open. Here humour has been used to communicate a very serious issue on sanitation to the public.” On the other hand, FCB Ulka in their outdoor campaigns for Mumbai Police has deliberately maintained a very friendly tone of communication, with the intention, not to scare people or instil fear in them.

Speaking on the same lines, Ranji Cherian, President, DDB Mudra South and East, felt that the execution of these government campaigns depends on the nature of the program that one is dealing with. “The tone usually is very dramatic and engages viewers at an emotional level. The task most commonly is to change or modify behaviour. There is a huge role in magnifying the emotion while narrating the story which results in high levels of engagement. We at DDB Mudra Bangalore did a campaign for Bangalore Traffic Police to combat distracted driving. We approached story telling with visuals that were extremely dramatic. This approach helped to capture attention and drive the message home,” he added.

There are several times, when agencies need to work for brands which are trying to push a particular social message. On asking how credible the communication becomes, Chattopadhyay stated, “A brand supporting a particular cause has to be in its DNA. Also the tone of the communication should fit into the tone of the brand. Adding to it, Karkare said, “For our Amul campaigns, Dr Kurien started the entire Manthan series for the women empowerment, and we highlight this theme in all our campaigns. So my belief is that, when brands are championing any particular cause, they have to be true to the ethos of the brand, rather than blindly following the trend.” Eriyat, on the other hand, is of the opinion, that there is no harm, even if the cause is not directly related to the product. Because it is very necessary to sometimes do things selflessly for the society and give back.

Increasingly, the government is relying on big creative agencies, because they are looking to create impactful campaigns which will bring the message home to the targeted audience. The biggest achievement perhaps is not the number of metals these campaigns win at an award show, but the positive change which they bring.

Click here to view the ads:
Polio Eradication:


Swachh Bharat:

Beti Bachao:



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