What an Idea, Sirji!

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It is very difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a tune or a tag line
I have an unreasonable liking for Idea, the mobile services brand. And this proclivity has to be understood slightly differently. I used to head the advertising agency that launched Birla AT&T in Pune. It was great fun and a challenge to work with a demanding American client, who was solidly behind the agency.
Those were the early days of the mobile phone in India and people frantically called each other from the cheaper landlines, when they got calls on their mobiles — the rates were that prohibitive!
Things moved for the brand once Lowe Lintas, as it used to be called in those days, started working on the account. I started following it even if I didn’t subscribe to the service. One of the first things that drew me to the brand was the signature tune, that had a piece composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
For my generation, he was God. Here’s one of the earliest commercials, showing a variety of people using the mobile phone. For me, what made the commercial memorable was the music and that signature tune, which became the ringtone for Idea users. For the brand, it became its property that it has held on to steadfastly over the years.
 
Social messages
One of the ad differentiators, that set Idea apart from its competitors Airtel and Vodafone, was the focus on social messages. They used Abhishek Bachchan to great effect in quite a few commercials.
But here is one of my favourites. This one is about children from the village, who are unable to get admission into a city school because of paucity of space. In such a situation, Idea steps in and helps the children get the best education, thanks to its network.
It has a fairy tale ending, with a bright village girl becoming the student of the year to the absolute delight of the school principal, who is Abhishek Bachchan, the face of the brand for several years. This commercial had the ‘What an Idea, Sirji!’ theme.
 
Nothing is more delightful for a copywriter than for his line to become a part of the editorial in every newspaper. How often is it that something innovative in the news been headlined with the brand’s line? To me, that is a testament to the creative product’s excellence and how much it has become a part of the mainstream. And this element, of having a social message, has continued to differentiate the brand.
Walk when you talk
I could talk about several commercials of Idea that I liked, but I will stay with one simple, highly-effective commercial that again features Abhishek Bachchan. This one exhorts people to walk while they talk, thus creatively ensuring that people stay fit even as they keep talking endlessly on the phone!
 
One never knows why agencies lose clients, especially when they have been handling the same brand for years. However, I believe in the adage that clients are won on great creative and lost by poor servicing. The Idea account has moved to another agency after several years. Here’s the new commercial.
 
It’s interesting how, sticking with the social message genre, it talks about subjects that are getting increasingly popular, such as women empowerment and how women need to get stronger — and, of course, how a network can be a part of this strength.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
Clients and agencies tend to get tired of their advertising campaigns even if the customers don’t and are often guilty of dispensing with good promotions before they outlive their usefulness. In this case, however, even though the latest campaign was done by another agency, they found the social message campaign relevant and powerful enough to be sustained, albeit with a different execution.
Remember, it is extremely difficult to build a brand property which could be a campaign idea, a signature tune or even a tag line. If customers remember something other than your brand name, you should consider yourself fortunate and compliment the advertising agency for persisting with the same.
But it is even more creditable that despite the change, both the client and the new agency have seen that some ideas can be extremely powerful and should be continued and even improved upon, as in the case of this commercial, which talks about how a video can change your life. This shows that company has recognised the importance given to videos by today’s young consumer, the primary target audience for mobile services.
So think once again. Must you change? And if yes, how do you do it for the better?

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