“Glory baby suit. Glory baby suit. Mon bhoray jai aharay, Glory baby suit!” Does anyone remember this jingle? Or this Bata Shoe classic “Hatti hatti pai pai dekhona…?” Maybe “come on everybody smile… smile, smile the Peps Gel smile”? All these are milestone ads in the evolution of the advertising industry in Bangladesh. The TV advertising in particular has evolved from telope based slides of early years, to the glitz of 35 mm highly post produced gems that we see today. Be it the old couple in the Shadharon Bima ad, Nargis of Gaco Touch or the lines “agay chilam boka…”, our TV advertising has many memorable moments. Some great, some good, some forgettable, and some downright awful.
Bangladesh’s advertising industry started even before there was a Bangladesh. Mr. Enayet Karim’s Interspan (Interspeed these days) or Mr. Reza Ali’s Bitopi, were making a mark for themselves in the Pakistan times. Those days the advertisements in TV was limited to only a few ads of Habib or Grindlay’s Bank that were shot in West Pakistan but broadcast here. But there was an interesting experimentation in those days, in which, PTV used to run a soap opera called “Ghoroa” where brands were weaved into the story line. Talk about early product placements! Outside of this, TV commercials were, by and large, limited to some telope ads (akin to showing a PowerPoint presentation) during the Eid festivals. It was only the late 70s that saw the regular appearance of motion picture TVCs. Colour ads however did not come in till the early 80s. It was about that time that competition between brands began to break out. Peps Gel vs. Close-Up was the first big advertising match up. This was an eye-opener for the business world. Consumers now had a choice, and they were exercising it. It was not acceptable any more that products were simply made available. Marketers needed to give a compelling reason to the consumers to buy their products. Be it the mouthwash in Close-Up or the great strong smile of Peps Gel, consumer benefit had to be articulated. It is difficult to say who won. I guess both sides claim victory. In the mid 90s after a decade of David vs. Goliath battle, Unilever eventually bought out those brands from the smaller Fisons. This was the time when the big advertising agencies, Asiatic (East Asiatic at that time) and Adcomm, came into maturity.
1990s saw the emergence of a new style of advertising. With Colour Zone and Pearson, Afzal Hossain’s Mattra broke into the scene. Though a vast majority of the advertisements were still being produced in India Mr. Hossain became the director of choice, shooting a string of highly popular commercials. Advertising agencies were lining up to get him to shoot. Unfortunately all the hype had a draw back. While the ads were attractive, star cast affairs (that was the time Mou, Bipasha, Nobel and the other celebrity models started to emerge), they were beginning to look alike. We had great looking ads that were a part of everybody’s conversations coming out one after the other, but frankly, they failed to connect. People loved the new sari or a jewellery ad but forgot which brand it was advertising. They began to say things like “I love Mousumi’s sari ad” and in reality while they found the ad compelling, brands were not getting built.
The late 90s saw another phenomena. International advertising agencies compelled by their worldwide multinational client were tying up with Bangladeshi advertising agencies. JWT, Ogilvy, Lintas, DDB, Bates, McCann, Leo Burnett all signed up affiliation agreements with the local big guns. Overnight we saw our billings hit previously unimaginable figures. I still remember, a figure that we quoted as the total advertising market size in 1994 was smaller than my agencies billing in 2000. This sort of investments by clients led to agencies being accountable for the performance of brands in their custody. BAT, Unilever and the likes regularly monitored consumer’s feedback on, amongst other things, brand perceptions and loyalty. Advertising agencies were made to sit through research after research of brand health checks. This, along with the inputs and training the international agency networks were putting in, meant Bangladesh’s advertising industry was forced to coming of age. Since the beginning of this decade it was not good enough just to produce good-looking ads. There had to be a method to our madness. We needed to find an insight, and then build a communication around it. When I first joined advertising, I actually had a client giving me an Indian commercial and saying “amakay ai rokom akta boi baniya dan” (make me a “book” like this). Not anymore. Now I have to justify every aspect of a proposed storyboard even before we call a Pre-Production meeting. Life has become tougher, but now we can say we are building brands.
These days I spend a good part of the month looking through all the ads that have been released recently to decide on which ads to review on the Bangladesh Brand Forum’s magazine. That has helped me to get a broader perspective on how TVCs are evolving in the country. I must report that I am generally happy with the trend. Things are looking so much better thought out and professional than they did when I joined the industry some 14 years back. (Has it been that long already?). Of course there are a few brain numbingly bad ads, but that happens across the world. If you actually look at ads in the more developed markets, for every Cannes Lion winner, you will see ten Used Car Lemon Ads with the owner of some car dealership shouting into the camera on why he is the honest deal! Do this experiment, sit through any two hour slot on an Indian satellite channel like Zee Movies and mark the ads you see in two columns, those you like and those you don’t. My bet is that the latter column will outweigh the former by a factor of at least 2. The industry here is not an exception. But if you follow the ads you will see that a lot of ads are now making the effort. That some thought has gone behind finding the right insights. More than just making the ads look good, they are trying to reach out to the consumers and connect. This is the definitive sign that things are to change. There are ads that are not only building brands but also categories. The Banglalink “Deen bodol” or grameenphone’s “Ma” reach beyond just saying “buy me” to a level where it burns the brand into the consumer psyche.
Unfortunately we often mistake popular ads to be equal to successful advertising. I know I’m opening up a can of worms here. The debate worldwide in the advertising world often pivots around this point itself. Do award-winning ads sell products? Well, there are strong points on both sides of the debate. Now we even have “effectiveness awards”. And a Bangladeshi agency actually won an Asia wide effectiveness award recently. But then, how can we attribute only the advertising to the sales efficiency? In case of the Bangladeshi award, how can we not ask if the distribution got better, or if the regulations helped to stem grey market mobile set imports? This debate will continue. But the point I will make is that just a flash in the pan wonderful advertising does not necessarily mean the brand connects are there. As a matter of fact also, just because there is a consumer-connect does not mean that advertisement is remembered. In the long run brands, and their ads, that do both - that is, find an insight and execute it to a level higher than mere consumer acceptance - are the really successful brands. And ads. Bangladesh’s soap market has wonderful example of this point. In the mid 90s, Lux was ruling supreme. Unilever (Lever Brothers at that time) was complacent. I believe they took their eyes off the ball. Aromatic latched in with a superb insight – Halal soap! Those things flew off the shelves. Interestingly it had the same ingredients as Lux, which is to say that if it was possible for a soap to be halal, then Lux was, too! I remember seeing some research in the late 90s where consumers said that they first tried Aromatic because of the halal hook but stayed on because it was actually a better soap. In all this mayhem of the soap wars, which one of us can recall the Aromatic Gold ad? But when it comes to Lux, who can forget Shuborna Mostafa, Shomi Kaiser or Bipasa’s Lux star TVCs? Interestingly some of the soap ads with the most buzz was not from Lux but from Camellia and Keya Super Lemon Soap. But where are those brands of “great” ads? Both Aromatic and Camellia have been sold to the Indian multinational Marico. But Lux is still around not only because they upgraded their products and made ads that consumers have enjoyed, but also because they found the consumer connects. They moved into an insight where Lux offered the consumer a chance to become a star, like the models. And that sold. Lux today is back in their supreme position. They rightly showed the advertising world that the role of advertising today is not only to entertain or to inform, but also to make sure that consumers are at the heart of all brand development efforts. This makes the difference between a good-looking ad and an effective ad.
I don’t have a crystal ball to predict what will happen to TVCs in the future. Worldwide trends indicate the days of the 30 second spot to be numbered. I tend to disagree slightly with that. Yes, communication needs to, and will, have a more 360-degree perspective and reach, but I think TVCs will still form the core of our media buy well into the foreseeable future. However I believe there will some distinct shifts.
Firstly, user generated content will begin to be more apparent. I don’t know if you have ever gone into YouTube and typed in Bangladeshi advertising, but if you have, then you will see many mock ads that have been made by the average Jasim. And with video technology on mobile phone getting cheaper, and of better quality, as well as with infiltration of broadband, it is a matter of time that the role of marketing manager will change. Brand communication will move from being one way (i.e., from the client / agency to the viewer / consumer) to a multi-channel one, where consumer groups will start sharing not only peer reviews but also actual user generated content between themselves. This is inevitable. Unfortunately our industry has not understood that this will come sooner than we anticipate. If advertising agencies and brands are not ready for this revolution, then the consumers will simply disregard us and go on to mould brands themselves They will give them personality, values and shape that might not be in the best interest of the longevity of the brand. Without our supervision of the process brand owners will soon find out that they no longer are in control of their most valuable asset.
Secondly, I believe this is the time for local brands to establish themselves. Multinational companies, through their effort to find efficiencies of scale in the name of regionalisation, are beginning to give up unique local insights in favour of those that work over a regional audience. But all of us know that a Bangladeshi doesn’t think like a West Bengali, forget like a Tamil or a Thai. Local brands need to exploit this opportunity thrown up by MNCs. They not only can start owning these positions, but also use their dexterity to make faster decisions and their local market knowledge to drive it home to the consumers. In recent years the carbonated beverage brand Mojo has shown that by doing things that are tuned to consumer’s needs, rather than aping previously successful cola brands, a huge brand can be built. I believe it is a matter of time before Bangladeshi brands start leveraging local success into international triumph.
Last but not least, clients will stop looking at advertising as a cost; rather they will see it as an investment. A brand’s television advertising will hopefully not have to endure poor production quality anymore. By ensuring that a TVC not only has a relevant insight, but also an adequate attention to details, the extra taka put into the making of the TVC is offset by lower media expenditure. This will lead to better production facilities, more professional services and an overall improvement of quality of our product.
At the end I am reminded of something the illustrious advertising practitioner Bill Bernbach of DDB had said, “Good advertising builds sales. Great advertising builds factories.” Looking at Bangladeshi advertising’s evolution I think that this is good news for people who build factories.