I love watching TV. If you were to walk into my cabin, you would find the TV set on, and me surfing between CNBC, some news channels, sports, you name it. Of course the excuse I give anyone who asks is, “I am in the communication business … I must watch commercials and programs.”
Of course I need to quickly mention that I am not a high flying hot shot agency or media executive who gets featured in the premier advertising magazine of the country. But on a more serious note I did notice that many of these high powered and high profile executives are hardly watching any TV. Many of them watch for less than half a hour, if at all! More than 70 per cent of the advertising revenue (at least for many advertising dependent categories) goes into TV if my memory serves me right. How does one understand the consumer if one does not empathize with her, observe what she’s doing or experience the emotions she is going through?
I remember telling my copywriters of the nineties to go by second class train from Madras to Delhi, watch a Govinda movie and listen to Hindi music. They laughed at me. But then I belong to the David Ogilvy school of advertising which meant that you did some dumb things. You spent time with the consumer, sat in on focus groups for your brand, used your client’s products.
I was reminded of this with telling effect by a client, who was from France. I was the executive vice president South, of Mudra Communications and went to meet my client and his international partner to introduce my successor as I was moving to Delhi. We were handling the Reynolds account in Madras as it used to be called those days. My successor, a well bred, polished advertising professional came suitably attired to the meeting with his Mont Blanc pen et al. After the meeting as we shook hands and prepared to leave (there was no swine flu those days) the Frenchman said something to me which made both of us wince. “I do not know how things work in India but if this had been France I would have broken the Mont Blanc pen into several pieces and looked for another agency”. After all Reynolds was the largest maker of ball point pens in the country, priced at a princely 4 Rs!
Maybe these antiquated principles are irrelevant in today’s modern world.
It’s not about you silly; it’s about your consumer
I do voluntary counseling and we are trained to keep reminding ourselves that it is not about ourselves but about our callers. Very often we carry our prejudices, biases and environment to work. We are from St. Xaviers, we are members of the Bombay Gym, we went to IIM, our favourite program is ‘ Grey’s Anatomy’ and the only channel some of us may watch may be ‘Travel & Living’. But our target audience is watching Jai Shri Krishna and she pays the bills.
I remember Leo Burnett, the advertising agency, asking its creative people who were handling Ariel, to spend days watching people wash clothes. How else would you be able to understand the consumer’s problems? How else would you get an insight that touches her and moves the sales graph? And let’s for one moment imagine that I were a large advertiser with crores of rupees to be spent on advertising. I would be extremely nervous to give my money to all these high powered advertising and creative types who are not even watching the same TV programs in which crores are being recommended and spent! Yes I know we have reams of data, research, numbers… but where’s the human factor? Where is that judgment which is going to make a difference to the brand? Where is that blinding flash of the obvious, as Tom Peters used to ask.
So my advice to you dear brethren is simple if unpalatable. Put yourself in your consumer’s shoes. That is what empathy is all about. And marketing is all about empathy. Watch Rakhi Sawant. I can almost hear your “ugh”! But a mere 15.6 million Indians watched her wedding. I am sure I will never have your same gift of phrase in describing her, but once again it is not about you or me but about your consumer. And the sooner Indian advertising recognizes that, the better off it will be!Ramanujam Sridhar is the CEO of brand-comm and the author of "Googly. Branding on Indian Turf". You can visit his blog ‘Third Umpire on Branding’ at http://ramanujam-sridhar.blogspot.com