Thoughts

The lost point

12:00 PM

Once upon a time, there was a mobile phone service provider that was new, and had to get its message out there. They needed a strong commercial to sell their brand as a whole. And so, they came up with one of the most powerful ad I ever saw on TV...ever.



This commercial had no dialogues, just a succession of scenes in black and white, short lines of text to read, and a powerful music composed by AR Rahman. The first time I saw it was when I first arrived to India in 2003, I didn't know yet that airtel was a mobile phone service provider, but the ad spoke for itself, watching it once I knew it had to be something about telecommunications. There was no smart phones back in the days, just good old regular mobile phones that needed basic plans and services. The concept of having a mobile phone was relatively new in Switzerland, even newer in India. That commercial drove the point home beautifully and powerfully. Airtel enabled people to communicate and express themselves.

Commercial wise, they should have stopped at this message, but they chose to go downhill from there. Each of their following commercial campaign became dumber than the previous. Cheesy dialogues, idiotic situations, and far less focus on the product they were selling. The latest being this one :



The story line, for those who don't understand any Hindi at all, is that of a female boss asking her employee to work extra time, as the commercial progress, the man is stuck at work, the boss goes home. The boss suddenly morphs into a masterchef in her kitchen preparing a royal feast and call her husband to know when he'll be home. That is when you learn that the employee is the boss's husband. She then show him via video call what he is missing out with the food, and when the guy tells her he can't go home she tells him to explain to his boss that his wife told him to come...WHA...AT?

This commercial is wrong on all levels. It firs tells women that even if they are in a leadership position at work, they still need to be the perfect wife and cook a professional gourmet meal at home after a long day in office. And it tells men they better get used to their wives bossing them around in all spheres now that said women want equality. And, all this balderdash for...hold your socks...selling Smart Phone specific plans. if you missed the selling point...watch it again, and pay attentions to the few final seconds. I don't know about you, but the smart phone special plan is really the last thing I remember from that ad. First they don't explain why their plan is better than regular plans (I have a smart phone and don't even feel compelled to move to a better plan than my regular one). Then they manage to insult everybody, men, women, and the notion of feminism.

Airtel, please get your act together. You fail at empowering women the right way, you fail at delivering an engaged message, and you absolutely fail at selling your product with this commercial. You are a telecom company, not an activist organisation. Focus on what you are good at, which frankly speaking I start wondering about. Provide quality services and sell them right...this is what your commercials should be about. Leave the cause of women empowerment to those who know about it.

15 comments

  1. Anonymous12:25 PM

    That is a really bizarre commercial! I only watched it once, and I think the phone wasn't even shown until the last 1/3 of the commercial? Very strange way to sell phone plans. Are long commercials like that the norm in India? We have 30 second commercials here in the US. Are commercials shown before in after show or do they interrupt the show every 8-10 mins with a few mins of commercials, as they do in the US? I don't watch a lot of TV, but I always jump ip and do things during commercials.
    Susan

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    1. I posted a reply in the comment that is not shown as a reply. In case you selected the notify me option, I did reply to your comment about the length of commercials in India.

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  2. They do interrupt program's every 10-15 minutes for a commercial break, especially at prime time, and normally TV ads are about 30 seconds long. Those like these that are longer usually air in their inter gravity the first week or so and then a condensed version is aired most of the time, with the long version being reserved for prime time slots.
    And yes it is a very strange ad, because you barely see the phone at all, and it doesn't tell you what is so special about the smart phone specific plan that would make you want to upgrade. What is shown is what any plan with an internet package can do, beside they are probably not using the mobile plan at all in this scenario, in office and at home? The odds are that people use the wifi from their ISP to do these things.

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  3. Anonymous4:53 PM

    Excellent observation. The quality of Airtel adverts have indeed reduced dramatically.

    I'm also having issues with the network - both voice and data. Voice quality is usually fine, but for some calls falls off dramatically. 3G services NEVER provide the speeds promised. All this despite living and working in Bangalore South. Their customer service agents over phone and field technicians are just not trained well enough to sort out my problems. Am really disappointed , and now I wonder how they can make such empty boasts in their adverts.

    -Rames

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    1. I have the broadband connection in my home, I have a feeling they constantly cheat us on the high speed allowance. When we moved from Bangalore to Mumbai we cancelled the Bangalore subscription but they harassed us for months claiming we had still 2 months left to pay them, and sent a legal notice, which turned out to be bogus. We aren't the only one who have gone through that crap with them. They should really focus on their services quality before injecting money in such crap advertising. I had a airtel connection for my mobile years ago it was fine. I have no idea what it is like now, at one point we got Hutch which is now Vodafone, and it works fine for us.

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  4. Anonymous5:45 AM

    To add to what people have been saying about this absolutely bizarro commercial - which da*! fool of a company has two married people in a hierarchical relationship at work?! They would be in two separate divisions with no possibility of a conflict of interest, if the company had any sense. From that very first premise, the whole ad and its silly message fall apart.

    ---SRC

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    1. Oh yes indeed! No company would put a couple in such a hierarchy in real life. This is yet another thing that do not compute in this add. I wonder what kind of idiots at the advertising agency thought this was a good idea. And selling a smart phone plan when the few seconds we see them busing a mobile phone is probably done via WIFI is ridiculous, who in their sane mind will use their mobile data plan when they can rely on a wifi alternative to begin with? There are a million ways they could have sold that additional service better.

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    2. Anonymous4:55 PM

      I was also wondering about the hierarchy which seemed unreal. The social media these days is full of messages and clips about social awareness. Some are very good but others are I don’t know, have a “self righteous” ring to them. It is as if the message is being thrust down the throat of the viewer and you must agree with it if you are modern. Random clips with which which you must agree because the person who has uploaded he clip has given it that spin and also because your friends have liked them on the facebook. These clips also There is a lot of over simplification, generalization like the argument “should India spend on toilets and not on Mars mission”. You can link the two but there are two very different things.
      We are also over analyzing things. Most of these films stop at awareness. What next?? How do bring about change. Beyond that initial shock there is no further serious discussion. I have always believed that there is cultural context of every society which must be taken into consideration when we discuss social issues. Without that context, you oversimplify and generalize things and often reach a wrong conclusion. That is why we see lots of heated discussions on social issues but without any solution because much of the discussion is bereft of the crucial cultural context.

      Apple

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    3. The other problem in this case is that Airtel is a telecommunication company, and they should stick to that, instead of trying to make a social awareness campaign in which they seem to have forgotten to squeeze their product until the very end. There is nothing that really makes any sense in this ad. It tells men that with women entering the workforce and being in high positions they will have to get used to the idea that women will rule all over them in a very bad way. And it still reminds women that having a successful career is fine, as long as they still redeem themselves as perfect housewives in their free time. As I said it manages to insult everybody, men, women, modern progressive people and more traditional people.

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  5. Anonymous5:05 PM

    We don't have a TV at home so am saved by all these commercial s which make me cringe to the soul. A couple of years ago when we were visiting cousins I happened to watch this ad of women Horlicks commercial where she suddenly lands a job. I can understand the stamina part but what has the job got to do with it? and one more similar Horlicks ad where she gets abused physically and suddenly everything changes.

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    1. I don't watch much TV myself, and I must have missed that horlicks ad. So it seems that Horlicks makes kids class topers and let women change everything about their lives...good lord! Now I know why my daughter is not watching anything but DVD and Disney Junior, which have no commercial breaks.

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  6. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Lol. The ad makes very little sense But so does almost every other ad in the Indian T.V. I think you took it in the wrong way about the women gourmet cooking thingy. It does not really teach you to cook a meal after getting back from office. You see like India is a land of stark contrasts I wouldn't be surprised if the people are the same way too. The urban upper middle class values and morals have changed a lot in the past 20 years. Many of The working women from my flat, friends circle and relatives no longer cook and clean but they actually divide the chores between them. Unless cooking is something they actually want to do so. One of my friends is a software professional but she still bakes bday cakes for her kids and loves to make dinner almost every other day though they have a part time cook. And this other friend of mine is a housekeeper and they too have a part time cook and a full time maid. :) To each his own . It's just that the creatives had absolutely no idea where they were heading with this commercial which is ridiculous beyond words and has very little to do with their product.

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    1. I don't know to me the message is pretty clear : you can be a though professional boss, but you still have the duty to be the gentle wife. She might like cooking, but what she is cooking is a full gourmet dish with lots of heavy equipment out on her kitchen counter, and takes time to display it all elegantly on the table. I love to cook myself, but I keep that kind of complicated cooking for the weekend, not at the end of a work day, I am a stay at home mom and blogger, not a big head honcho in an office. So I don't buy the idea that the lady in that add really wants to cook such a meal after a long day at work...noway. But this ad is bad on all level and makes no sense whatsoever to begin with, so it would be hard to say which interpretation we have is what the advertiser had in their mind.

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  7. zainab7:42 AM

    http://m.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/Kalpana_Sharma/the-other-half-women-in-general-have-no-choice-but-to-keep-working-all-the-time/article6323916.ece/?maneref=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.co.in%2F . Do check this link out. I didn't know that ad was so serious until I came across this article in the morning. :)

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    1. Very interesting article! And very true. There is also a segment of the women population that take a hiatus work wise and go back to work once the children are idependent enough. Many of my friends are now considering having a part time work or take a teaching position because their children are finally out of the house for more than 2-3 hours. I myself used to work as a translator from home until Ishita became mobile and left me less time to focus on such work. I don't want to go back to translation, but with her in school 4 hours a day, I am starting to think about my options as far as writting goes.

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