Tuesday, May 05, 2009

BFF: Critique 7: Prophylactic

Appeared in the April 2009 edition of the Bangladesh Brand Forum magazine.

One of my most embarrassing moments in advertising occurred when, in the mid 90s, I started out as a junior client executive. I was called in for a meeting with a large contraceptive product client that we handled. They were going to launch a “ribbed” and “dotted” variety of their popular condom brand. In the course of the meeting, between strategizing and conceptualization, Mr. Client turned to me and said “do you know what dotted and ribbed is?” I was dumbfounded. Now most of you don’t know this but my boss also happens to be my mother! Questioned in front of her, well you realize my predicament. What could I say but hem and haw! So Mr. Client grabs into his briefcase and pulls out a few sample. He then goes on to tear the packaging and describe in details the product benefits - its contours and its consumer benefits. I don’t think I’ve ever turned redder in my life!

Well that anecdote aside, I’ve always been fascinated by contraceptive advertising. Especially in a Muslim majority country like Bangladesh, where talking about sex has always been a taboo. How do you sell a product you can not talk about? Now that did not stop us. Between Mr. Reza Ali’s Bitopi handling Raja Condoms and Adcomm with Sensation and Panther, we were doing quite a reasonable job. Condom sales and usage were up and birthrates down. However primary focus of any campaign was on family planning. Hence sex and the reported pleasure from that activity was not spoken about. Rather all conversation was based on the benefits of smaller families. One of the most successful campaigns in Bangladesh’s advertising history was a Vasectomy ad where they first showed a family over run by kids. Man comes home and talks to his wife and they decide that he should visit the local clinic where a “solution” would be provided. Cut to the end-shot of man and wife and their ideal family. Man saying the immortal line “aagay chilam boka, akhon hoilam budhimaan” (Loosely translated, “Was foolish before, now I am much wiser!”). One rather obvious hole in the plot - where did all those extra children before the procedure disappeared to? But that aside I think it got the message across. I am not sure if it got men to agree to get, well, fixed. But it started a conversation.

Advertising that followed later were walking a very tight line to ensure that the discourse continues. But all that changed with the launch of Sensation Condom. For the first time we pushed the envelope. Positioning it on the pleasure principal, the ad showed a couple who were celebrating an occasion and were using the contraceptive to stay safe. And also for the first time the concept of prevention from sexually transmitted disease was mentioned. So the condom came out of the closet. Its role shifted from being only a family planning tool to that of a protector. Albeit still between married couples.

Since then the company in question has evolved the market along. Especially on the Sensation brand, the messaging has moved more towards the pleasure side of the business, over the years adding on pleasure enhancers to the product like contours and even flavours. This growing boldness has often ran right into a wall put up by the staid censors of BTV. But now with the proliferation of local satellite channels, consumers are not shielded from the realities of life. Hey having sex isn’t bad, just make sure you are protected.

In recent days three particular condom ads have caught the attention of viewers. As I’ve directly worked on one of them (Hero), I will not comment on it. But I thought it would be interesting to talk about the other two ads

Panther : This brand operates in a very difficult target market matrix. Aimed at the mid-segment of the consumers who happen not only to be conservative but also budget conscious. It’s difficult to talk about many things with this group. Compounding the problem is this fear that contraceptive will be looked down upon as not being macho enough and reduce the pleasure. I thought the Agency - Mediacom was bang on when they addressed these two issues head on. The story of this ad is simple. A brother in a joint family in a village comes home unexpectedly with a lot of fan fare and announces that he is married. And that too, to a very beautiful cinema heroine. Throughout the rest of the commercial we see how she is utterly besotted by her husband. At the same time this red-blooded-cinema-actress-marrying man’s cousin is intrigued by the secret of his success. Only to rush in and ask him how he does what he does. And on cue comes in the Panther condom pack and the pay off “ashol purush” (real man). The TVC blends in everything - humour, product benefit, virility. In one stroke they tear down the two barriers to purchase, while not needing to resort to the usual product story. Well actually they did talk about the product. It’s intertwined in the plot so ingeniously. All they did, rightly, was not to talk about product attributes.

On the production front, Kislu did a great job as well. Edits were well done. Acting set the mood of the ad and the music highlighted it. The reaction of the cousin was perfect. It brought in the spirit and the intrigue.

Production value I’ll give it a 7 on 10. On originality and insight: 9. Overall: 8.5

Sensation : we no longer handle the brand. Bitopi has taken on the stewardship. Their current offering is, to put it mildly, very bold in its reach. I believe this is another of the watershed ads that Sensation has gifted the advertising industry. In my mind they have now moved from only pleasure to a sexual act itself. Well though not explicitly shown, it explores the fantasy world of role play. The TVC which was produced by Opus Communication out of Kolkatta shows a very sexy woman who is dressing up for a night out in the town. And as she walks down the street she has this feeling that she is being followed. We indeed see that a man in an overcoat, fedora and dark glasses (yes in the evening) stalking her. The music builds the suspense of a cat and mouse situation. The hunter and the hunted. She tries to find refuge in a cafe, only to see him sitting there. Scared, she runs back home. But the man is already there! Cue in drama, suspense, Hindi serial music and boom… she smiles. It’s her husband. And here comes the twist. As they are about to embrace, she takes of a wig. If this isn’t the-stranger-in-the-alley role play fantasy that any Creative Director fantasises about, I’ll give up my subscription to Hugh Hefner’s magazine. Ok the required married couple photographs are in the background but the whole thing is still very spunky.

Unfortunately I am not sure if the consumers picked up on the message. The thinking might be that the sophisticated target for this brand will get it even if others don’t. But I’ve spoken about it with quite a few people. I am not sure they get it. After explaining it, yes everyone loves it. They think it’s feisty and original. But they need to see it repeatedly before getting the message. In today’s fragmented media scenario that is a no-no. It’s a shame that TVC wasn’t smooth enough to capture the nuances of story-line. We saw the man too early, and his attempt to hide too feeble. The girl on the other hand did a bang up job. Her expressions were great. Showed her emotions I thought, quite well. Especially at the end where that faked apprehension turns to the wicked smile of knowing what will come next.

Unfortunately this seems to be an ad that admen like me will love and talk about for years to come, while fall flat with the consumers. But this shouldn’t discourage either the client or the agency. Both, I hope, have embarked on an adventure that will see many such taboo TVCs and topics being discussed. A strong step in that direction indeed.

Production value 4 on 10. On originality: 8 and insight: 6. Overall: 7

Nazim Farhan Choudhury is the Deputy Managing Director of Adcomm Limited and an ardent fan of edgy advertising. He is of the strong belief that advertising is a medium that can help shape a society and its culture. We can use it for the better good of the nation. Introduce new thought, promote new concepts and eventually change the thinking. And if we are lucky, for the better. If you have comments, feel free to write at farhan@adcommad.com or visit his blogsite http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com

YouTube Links to the ads

Panther: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aISVQkNeKiM
Sensation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x98QKxAZP5Y

1 comment:

Don said...

Dear Farhan Bhai,

I have always been your fan and all your write-ups I have read so far have always impressed me! So did this one! It was not only very informative, but also so funny!! Specially the first para and also the part you mentioned Hugh's magazine! Simply great! thanks for sharing the knowledge!