24 December 2015 16:14:29 IST

How to make “feel good” advertising better

Such commercials are effective when they are timely and people are inclined to receive the message

It is that time of year when the feelings of universal peace and brotherhood and love abound — it’s Christmas. Different people have different images of Christmas, and yet, they have one underlying, common theme — they are all about togetherness and friendships that cut across races, religions and languages.

Yet, even as Christmas is around the corner, the world is going through trauma and personal distrust. Positions are getting polarised as people look at others with diverse backgrounds through a glass of preconceived notions. Terrorism seems to be rearing its ugly head all too frequently and being suspicious of people from different religions is becoming commonplace — a sad commentary of the times we live in.

Ads to the rescue

It is in this context that one can see the value of the new Tata Sky commercial , that has been set around Christmas and the surrounding festivities. It is a pleasantly shot ad, lit differently. It opens to musicians who are clearly Muslim, with their beards and skullcaps, playing Christmas Carols even as the stage is aglow with warm candle-light.

It could be set anywhere: a church, a mosque; even a prayer hall. The musicians are playing instruments that are essentially Eastern, even if the tunes are well-recognised Christmas carols. The 105-second long commercial for Tata Sky does not have a branding message, but entreats people to not give up faith in humanity just yet. Of course, it helps that Tata Sky has its own channels to keep playing the commercial, unlike other advertisers.

We must remember that today, many commercials are produced for longer durations despite the media cost being prohibitively high. This is because they are made primarily for YouTube, so the ads can go viral. This commercial has succeeded in its attempt, probably because the timing is right — it reminds us of the need for universal brotherhood during Christmas.

Two nations that need to communicate

India and Pakistan have had a disturbed relationship. Even the halting attempts to get closer together have been compounded by stray incidents. While it is easy to blame it on politicians or on the other country, there is no denying that there is a problem between these two neighbours who, till 1947, were a large, undivided nation.

Now, take a look at Coca Cola’s advertisement around the same theme. The premise is that people of these two countries are actually fond of each other and are only separated by borders and the restrictions imposed by hostile and suspicious governments.

The man on the street wants to understand what is happening across the border. Once he does, he realises that wherever they live, people are the same; that they have commonalities with others who live across the border. In this elaborate video, Coca Cola created a machine that enabled people to connect with those across the border by doing activities like placing hands on the machine, dancing and demonstrating their emotions.

Of course, we must remember that Coca Cola is sold in both countries and the brand was reaching out to consumers and prospects with this feel-good message and long-video primarily created for YouTube and sharing.

Airtel, the country's largest mobile service operator, too, did a commercial with the same theme, though it was more of a television commercial rather than a demonstration video. It featured two small children living on different sides of the border, who play football together. This addresses and reinforces the belief that barriers are man-made and people are bound by common interests like sports.

Not a new effort

Efforts like this are not necessarily new and my mind goes back to 1988 and one of the most popular commercials of that time — Mile Sur Mera Tumhara, which was a classic in my early days in advertising. Watch the commercial featuring some of the biggest singers, actors and celebrities of that time. The thought was that despite India being a land of diverse people, religions and languages, Indians are essentially the same and have a lot in common.

Again, the need for something like this was quite high, as the nation was recovering from violence and loss of life due to religious clashes.

Is there a better way?

Clearly “feel-good” advertising has a role to play. It works better when it is topical and when people are more inclined to receive the message.

In my view, it would be better for brands to create it on one theme, which is perhaps linked to their CSR, instead of isolated pieces of communication on random subjects. This would enable brands to build on the relationship with their CSR and try to own it. It is important for companies to demonstrate that they have a heart and are willing to put money behind it.

So, what is your company’s cause and what are you doing about it?

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