DON'T make excuses," Sorab Mistry, president and CEO of McCann-Erickson India (MEI), taunts the brotherhood of advertising as he guns down the my that the arrival of a host of global brands in the last five years—with their internationally well-entrenched advertising—would relegate what they call in ad parlance Indian 'creative' to history. Indeed, belying the fear that they are now doomed forever to translate and reshoot German or Australian campaigns, Indian ad agencies are increasingly managing to conjure up creative work which is substituting global campaigns in India. And in some cases is being extended to markets outside India.
MEI'S Gillette Presto disposable razor commercial is on Gillette's worldwide show reel, a compilation of the best ads around the world. The Cadbury-Schweppes chairman carries the Cadbury's Dairy Milk (CDM) ad film by Ogilvy & Mather India (O&M) on his show reel. The campaign is already being aired in Sri Lanka. Indeed, in Britain, Cadbury's has been impressed enough to add on the Indian slogan, 'The Real Taste of Life', on its CDM packs. O&M'S Le Sancy campaign won the Unilever Chairman's vote for the best worldwide group campaign of 1994. The print campaign has travelled to Thailand and Malaysia.
Winning client confidence hasn't come easy. Says Lopa Banerjee, vice-president, creative, MEI: "The fear psychosis of the client that the Indian agency won't deliver has often left us without an opportunity to prove that we can." For a client coming into a new market, the decision to tamper with an advertising idea that has worked in the western and South-east Asian markets for years and sometimes decades, is a very difficult one to make. In several cases, the decision has been precipitated by the realisation that the global message doesn't work in the Indian milieu. And sometimes, it has been a growing appreciation of the competence of the Indian agency that has tilted the balance.
Pepsi's launch commercials erroneously interpreted the "Choice of the New Generation" of India to be pop music only to later realise that it is cricket and films. The Mexx brand of apparel uses the motifXX to represent a positive, contemporary attitude. Research, after running the international campaign in India, revealed it meant anything but that for the Indian consumer—XX's associations ranged from pornography to extra large sizes. Karishma, the local agency, for the first time in the history of the brand, made a locally suitable campaign equating the Xs to better recognised, positive peace, love and smile signs. The Mexx ads could easily go to markets like China with similar sensibilities.
When Lego toys arrived in India, research showed that only 8 per cent of the target audience—upper and upper-middle class parents—were aware of Lego and its brand values. For, Lego prides itself on being no ordinary toy. While children have fun playing with it, the building blocks also enhance creative and motor skills. As a result, a totally new campaign was developed for India, derived from the Lego "nutrition for the mind" positioning, and based on the typical Indian parents' concern for their child's health. "Parents go to great lengths to ensure a healthy and balanced diet besides supplements like tonics and nutritious beverages," says Ralph Crasto, vice-president, Karishma. The campaign thus uses analogies like energy drinks and milk and eggs to educate parents about toys that limber up the child's mind. Similarly, the Wrangler cowboy's Wild West metaphor has been extended in India to the teenager's regular canteen-bike-campus-gym life for the first time worldwide. Reason: the Indian teen, it was found, felt alienated by the old cowboy image, which appealed more to the 25-35 age group.
The older Le Sancy campaign had been running for 20 years across the planet. And Unilever was desperately seeking a new idea that would interpret anew the "quality that lasts" positioning to replace the ageing girl-in-a-bath routine. Piyush Pandey, executive creative director, O&M, and his team came up with the idea that was finally accepted. "Le Soggy" said the headline for a generic soap in the print ad, contrasting it against "Le Sancy" to convey the message simply and universally: that the Lever soap doesn't melt as easily as others, and lasts longer. Commercials contrasted Le Sancy against things that don't last—water in the taps for young boys to have fun, maids for housewives to have peace of mind. The idea behind these typical Indian situations can be extended to any market, feels Pandey.
Across the world, Unilever has run its Dove soap ads carrying impromptu consumer endorsements in regular 30 or 40-seconders. O&M's suggestion to make the films more natural—at the cost of having the currently running films of awkward lengths like 37 and 43 seconds—was a considerable decision for the client. Especially when he has to pay for a longer, fixed airing time to TV channels. Nestle, for the first time in 10 years, has allowed its agency, MEI, to make a theme commercial (the big film that represents the brand) for its flagship, Nescafe. This was after the agency came into its current avatar of a wholly-owned subsidiary of McCann-Erickson Worldwide in March last year, and Mistry, an internationally trained adman, took charge.
So now that the jinx is broken, could India become a source for creative on the international circuit? The answer, unfortunately, is not an unqualified yes. It's still a long shot, feel many. There are too many clients afraid to tinker the slightest bit with tried-and-tested western campaigns, whether they are relevant to the Indian consumer or not. And as far as Indian creative goes, consistent output and prominence through international awards will have to precede before this just-born trend gathers significant force.
Clients are warming up. Perfetti's nod to MEI for reversing the clauses of its international line for its chewing gum, Centre Fresh, from 'the centre of refreshment' to 'the centre of excitement' is no mere semantics. The going seems good. But the understanding is: work can be rejected even at the final stage. There's no room for errors as the writing on the wall gets clearer: no promises. But yes, a fair chance.