Sir Henry Wotton, an English author and diplomat of the late 16th century, had once mentioned, “Broadway is a place where people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.” It didn’t help burn down the raging popuarity of Broadway musicals by any means. Interestingly, the second half of 2011 saw two brands bringing the concept closer to home by launching their recent adverts in a Broadway musical format. Indigo Airlines produced a Broadway musical-inspired ad to communicate the launch of its international services in late November, while Vodafone created one in September to launch its new Facebook phone Vodafone Blue.
But one knows that the Broadway musical isn’t a 30 seconder, so in a world where your ads are expected to be short and crisp, how feasible is the idea of a two-minute long commercial? Rajiv Rao, NCD, Ogilvy & Mather (the agency behind the Vodafone ad), responds, “Sometimes the story needs to be told in a longer format. There’s so much to see in that TVC from the lyrics to the choreography, it isn’t exhausting at all.” Arun Iyer, NCD, Lowe Lintas, concedes, “It’s not a question of time but the entertainment quotient of the musical. The format does take a lot more time than usual, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will cause boredom.” But then, how many Indians are exposed to the concept of Broadway musicals? How does it help establish a connect with them? Iyer says that the audience targeted by both Vodafone Blue and Indigo Airlines is by and large aware of Broadway musicals.
Rao adds that maybe some people might not have seen Broadway plays but the concept is not entirely alien to them because thanks to Bollywood, the concept of song and dance goes in sync with their preferences. Agrees Rahul Mathew, executive creative director, McCann Erickson, and asks, “Do you really need to call it a Broadway musical to enjoy it? It’s an interesting format; you don’t have to be hung up on the term ‘Broadway musical’.”
Does that mean there’s room for more Broadway musicals coming our way through ads? Says Mathew, “Right now it’s in the execution stage, and if you are chasing an execution, it will die out soon. It’s good to have a formula in a chemistry lab, not in advertising.” Anuradha Aggarwal, VP, brand communication and consumer insights, Vodafone India, highlights, “It’s hard to make a musical, the advertiser has to be careful while making that decision. Not too many brands do it because it’s an expensive and bold step. When we first heard about the idea, we were very excited but we had to take practical calls at the operation level .”
Kitisha Gaglani, producer, Hello Robot (production house for Indigo Airlines’ recent ad) agrees. She notes, “I’m not sure about more Broadway musicals. When we did it, they said we’ve copied that 1950’s musical. When someone else does it, they’ll say, ‘Oh they’ve copied that Iindigo spot’. Now that we have already done it, I’d tell another client attempting the same to try something new.”
As Joanne Lipman (former editor of Wall Street Journal) puts it, “Broadway has its Tonys. And advertising has its Clios. And its Andys, Addys, Effies and Obies. And 117 other assorted awards. And those are just the big ones”; perhaps the Broadway musical is one among the many ways used to tell a story in advertising, a theatrical one at that.
Rajiv Rao, national creative director, Ogilvy & Mather
“Consumers will always like something new if it is engaging enough. They are unlikely to think that since they haven’t seen a Broadway musical before, they are not going to like it when they see one. Someone has to bring newness to this space, we have to start somewhere. At the same time if everybody starts doing it, it won’t remain new anymore, would it? That’s when it would become boring. If the idea converts into a formula, it isn’t refreshing anymore. It should be relevant and new.”
Kitisha Gaglani, producer, Hello Robot
“To be honest, I think it needs a certain kind of creative to be able to write a script for a Broadway musical. And then you need a certain kind of client that would love such a script and actually have the faith to make it. Most clients in India still shy away from experimenting or trying something new. We are still stuck in the era of advertising where you need to spell out what you have to sell. I’m glad that Wieden+Kennedy and Indigo Airlines decided to break out of the box and invested in advertising their new features in a fun, charming way.”
Arun Iyer, national creative director, Lowe Lintas
“It could be a complete coincidence that the two brands happened to use this format simultaneously. But the newness of the format is gone now. So, it won’t be the formula to go by if one wants to do something executionally different. On top of that, it is quite expensive to pull off a good musical. Moreover, musicals have been a part of advertising for quite some time now (globally if not in India), it is definitely not like one of those big things that’s here to stay. There’s nothing astronomical about it, so to speak!”
Anuradha Aggarwal, VP, brand communication , Vodafone India
“When Rajiv Rao presented this idea to us, we were very excited about it. The scale at which the TVC was to be produced did make us a tad wary. We always knew it was going to be a long film, hence it was all the more important to do justice to its scale and keep it interesting throughout. Nirvana Films and Rajiv pulled it off admirably. We brought international talent, shot the TVC in continuation without any cut-aways or camera tricks, just like it is supposed to happen in a Broadway musical. We are happy that it has already got international acclaim in countries like Turkey and Spain.”
Rahul Mathew, executive creative director, McCann Erickson
“The format is interesting but it tends to be repetitive unless the words are quirky. One has to have a specific reason for pulling out a Broadway musical which should be backed by relevance and strategy. Clients react to the merit of an idea not its format. When Vodafone Blue came up with a musical, it was largely done to offset the popularity of Airtel’s ‘Har Ek Friend Zaroori Hota Hai’ campaign. It was fresh at that time, it no longer is one. An idea is different only till the time it doesn’t become a wall-paper. The format is wearing off now.”