The Kurlon case represents the vagaries and uncertainties in the world of advertising and communications. The Kurlon commercials depicted three famous personalities bouncing back from difficult and life-changing situations, with humor entwined in the visuals. The ad agency, however, came in for criticism from several quarters for the way it portrayed Pakistani education campaigner, 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai.
Although the agency explained the rationale, the ad raised questions on the tenuous balance between creativity and realism. The case depicted the risks of using celebrities in commercials and the portrayal of the personal lives of these celebrities.
The campaign was submitted at the Kyoorius Advertising and Digital Awards but was withdrawn on the second day of the jury session, according to an online blog. The company’s US office issued an apology that the ads were contrary to the beliefs and professional standards of O&M and its clients, and stated that it would review their internal processes to ensure that standards were never again compromised.
The case must be analysed from different angles to arrive at what needs to be done to remedy the situation.
The use of children, especially those in situations similar to what Malala faced, undermines the status of a young girl, who withstood pressure from an intolerant society that believed little in girl children or their education. Her choice as the central subject of the commercial shows how very little homework was done to identify a celebrity, especially when the agency could have chosen from other, popular alternatives.
For example, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and a host of other personalities have overcome unthinkable odds and triumphed. The task for the creative team is to highlight personalities who have a universal but non-controversial acceptability.
The print commercial depicts Malala getting shot in the head, falling on to a Kurl-on mattress and then bouncing back to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Although the idea is conveyed, it has a restricted appeal. What is humour in one country is a serious affair in another and, hence, the outcry. Although the bounce-back idea was appreciated, the manner in which the young girl was shown went against certain cultural norms, especially when it concerned children in a violence-riven society.
When celebrities are used, an obvious challenge is the source from where the person is being chosen. In this case, Malala enjoys huge popularity across the globe and her being a Nobel Prize winner obviously puts her in a high orbit. But she faces the risk of being misrepresented when dealt with insensitively. The manner in which the attack on her was sensationalised in a commercial obviously raised credibility issues – not so much with the person but the source from where the individual is chosen, in this case Pakistan, which is not tolerant towards women and issues such as their education or safety.
The creative originally conceptualised by the advertising agency talks about the product attribute — a spring mattress which obviously has bounce and needs no more reinforcement. Any mattress worth its quality and brand stature will satisfy this minimum criterion for a consumer. The task, therefore, is to go beyond the product’s core attributes and highlight the differentiating factors that may be linked to tangible or intangible benefits.
Kurl-on enjoys huge credibility, sells a popular range of mattresses in spring, foam, rubberised coir and ones with therapeutic varieties, and enjoys a price premium. However competition has swamped the market, with more than 10 popular brands, national and international, jostling for space hitherto occupied by Kurl-on. As a mature brand, the challenge is to keep reinforcing the message about the product’s attributes and, at the same time, trying to highlight the distinguishing characteristics to keep the brand relevant in the consumer’s mind.
Unless there is a radical characteristic that can be used to reinforce the message, Kurl-on will not be able to grab attention. In my opinion, it has to position itself on non product-specific attributes. The brand communication, therefore, will have to move towards dramatising a situation that communicates the product benefits but is depicted in a non-explicit way.
Such advertising can be created only after carrying out a qualitative study of the attributes and characteristics consumers look for when they buy a product like a mattress. Extensive research by marketing consultant Clotaire Rapaille, founder and CEO of Archetype Discoveries, shows that consumers are not always able to articulate their true needs and there are obvious differences among cultures. Rapaille says that cultures, like individuals, have an unconscious, and that this unconscious is active in each one of us, making us do things we might not even be aware of.
Connecting to this collective unconscious is a challenge for any marketer / advertiser. In my opinion, the context for Kurl-on too fits a similar description. We have to analyse, using sophisticated methods, the deeper imprints people carry in their minds when it comes to a mattress (ideas such as rest, relaxation, hope, promise, stability, rejuvenation — or any one of these).
We can ask respondents what their earliest thoughts about mattresses were. The answers may revolve around thick rugs or cotton stuffed mattresses, usually hand-made, which were the typical mattresses of some decades ago. Similarly, the idea of being comforted by our parents in childhood too forms one such imprint. The outcome of such deep, qualitative analysis will help determine the communication design.
The idea (television commercial): The collective Indian conscious, especially that of the middle-class / upper middle-class that usually buys the range of mattresses from Kurl-on, is all about ‘relaxation’ after a hard day’s work. People long for a good night’s sleep to feel rejuvenated the next morning. The TVC can first dramatise different methods of relaxing (yoga, deep breathing, listening to Kenny G, an MS Subbulakshmi recital in the backdrop, birds chirping at sunrise, praying, chanting hymns, and so on).
In the next frame, a person sleeping on a Kurl-on mattress can be shown, to draw the parallel that, besides these ways of relaxing, there is another alternative, which is a Kurl-on mattress. The bouncy nature of the mattress can be depicted as the person rests on the bed and wakes up rejuvenated the next morning, ready to take on the world. The situation can be shot in simple frames depicting the working executive, typically in his early 40s that allows capturing the family in the backdrop and completing the frame for the prospective viewer to evaluate.
Suggested tagline / punchline : “Spring back on with Kurl-on, India’s leading mattress brand”
Suggested copy : Bounce is natural to Nature – you are a part of nature – why should you be deprived of proper sleep / rest, when the solution is at hand? Go get yourself the true mattress that helps you spring back to life – every single day! Buy Kurl-on and get the bounce back in your life.
Rationale for the idea : Indians today are working harder than their ancestors and travel much longer than earlier generations to commute to the workplace. The pressures tell on each one of us. We are expected to be fresh and cheerful each day of the week, right through the year. This is not possible without adequate breaks and rest.
The idea suggested above communicates the principle of springing back to life after a much-needed and well-deserved break for every individual. The message, in my opinion, is an easier way to connect to the audience. Different professions can be shown. Doctors, lawyers, policemen, businessmen and teachers can be made the central characters. A busy but famous film personality or a well-known surgeon could be the spokesperson for the brand.
For print media though, the solution can be portrayed slightly differently. Two frames, the first depicting a tired executive getting home after a hard day’s work, falling flat on the Kurl-on mattress for a while, and bouncing back to enjoy his dinner. In the second frame, he or she gets up refreshed and energised after a good night’s sleep on Kurl-on. The central idea remains the same, and so will be the tagline.
(The expert analysis was done by KS Venu Gopal Rao, Professor & Coordinator, Marketing & Strategy, IBS Hyderabad. Achyut Telang assisted in evaluation of the entries.)