Sunday, March 23, 2008

China: World’s Largest Irony-producing nation!

Ask anyone about China, and more often than not, you would get few catch words like “Increasingly Progressive” or “Biggest economy with youth getting more and more westernized” or “Conservative yet fastest growing” .. Walk into the streets of Shanghai and a strange contrast would hit you in your face – “Modernized westernized youth” along with “conservative” elders, progressive culture coupled with core Chinese values, openness but within restricted norms, or westernized business aspirations camouflaged under socialist intentions and termed as, what’s my favorite, “Capitalistic Socialist Economy” – that is today’s China…wow! Indeed, this is China…. Consciously confusing but sub-consciously ironic!

And if you haven’t got enough to nod at this point of view, munch on and you would figure out where is this coming from.

This incident is a recent one picked from the media & advertising sector - how the government played around for their own convenience and satisfaction, and how, this incident left all the critiques once again affirm their understanding on Chinese stance – Ironic!

On one hand, China wants to spread awareness about AIDS and control it from spreading – it wants to tell people how safe sex is important. How? One of the stunts applied was, guess what, making dresses out of condoms! Some 6 months back, a fashion show was organized in Beijing (to celebrate the 18th World Population Day), where outfits were made out of condoms as main materials by university students along with Condom factory workers. (Coverage) Indeed, as you click on the dresses, you would infer that it was indeed a commendable effort to spread awareness through this medium. I am sure the government would have supported this cause, and cleared the performance, thereby, demonstrating its openness and progressive nature.

From what I have learnt, one needs the government consent for almost everything (yes, factor in all your weird pervert thoughts, when I say “EVERYTHING!”).

But when the same "progressive" government witnessed a rather open expression of nudity and sex in a movie, it fell against their cultural values, and really perturbed the officials, so much so that they decided to take extreme action – not against the movie makers who wrote the script, not against the director who directed the scenes, not against the hero who tore off the actress’s clothes, but, against the actress, who in her debut film made an attempt to enact a strong character symbolizing betrayal, lust and passion, and er, yes, who exposed!

Ms. Tang Wei, in her debut film, “Lust, Caution” plays the role of a student activist who seduces a Japanese spy during Japan's occupation of Shanghai in World War II and ultimately betrays her country. The film sensitizes the audiences to the differences between Japan and China during World War II, and also depicts nudity in the movie.

So what was the action taken? Though the movie scenes were cut almost instantly when the movie was released (almost 7 months back), but this was not enough. The government wanted to make the action much more pronounced, and ah, Ironic! So they went ahead, and announced all forms of bans on the actress…banning any ads featuring the actress in radio, film or print; excluding her name from any guest lists for award shows in China; and removing all the discussions about the film or the actress on online forums;

The biggest Loser? Unilever, who signed on the actress with a $845,000 contract for the endorsement of Pond’s and be the face of Pond’s in the mainland (which is a big skin-care market). This was a move to reposition Pond’s as an upscale brand in Asia, and involved local celebrities across Asia. With this ban being enforced, chances are that Unilever might end up throwing the investment in junk! (as mentioned in an Adage article covering this story, “Chinese Pond’s Ads Under ‘Caution’")

The irony of such action is perfectly summarized in one of comments posted in response to the entry Anyone who has ever been naked is banned in China that mocked at the ban, “Nudity is also illegal on the radio in China. “Turn the volume up. I think they’re naked”! ;)

Read the post too – perfect to make a point! How purchasing decisions would be impacted… “because the person who endorsed the brand actually posed nude in her movie, so let me buy this cream, and pose nude elsewhere!” wow! Only some iron-brains can think of such great logic!

The Chinese government feels that Tang Wei's sexy nude scenes in the film render her unfit for advertising. Heaven forbid the people of China be influenced in their skin cream purchasing decisions by a fellow citizen who was once naked—China got its population of 1.3 billion strictly through asexual reproduction

According to, a snapshot of the course of events that took place have been presented, that perfectly highlights what the government wants:
On March 9, … the vice director of the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT), the brains behind these actions,.. said, "This policy is directed at subject matter, not people."…
… On March 18, a relevant person at SARFT, during a media interview, said that SARFT had not "completely banned" Tang Wei, but was simply not encouraging the continued expansion of her influence. Tang Wei was a good actress, but many young people thought that they could be like her and strip their way to fame; this could easily have a negative effect on the maturation of young people.
Wow! By looking / hearing Tang Wei apply Pond’s cream, a lot of youth might get negatively influenced and strip their way to fame!

Have a look at the movie trailer to get a “sneak peak” into the obscene and vulgar corrupted scenes that Tang Wei dared to perform, and do what no Chinese woman has ever dared to do – expose!

Convinced about the nudity and explicit sex in the movie? :) Agreed that the movie might raise tensions between the two nations, or might instigate the youth against something negative, but what has Unilever or Ms Tang got to do with it?

Well, it does! Seemingly, for this ad, Unilever consciously chose Ms Tang, who was already grappling with the controversies around her banned movie. Why then, did Unilever, or Ogilvy for that matter, choose Wang? More so, why does the TV spot show the actress using Pond's as she gets dressed and made up on a 1930s movie set, the same era as "Lust, Caution" is set in, when they know that the movie is controversial?

Call it a PR stunt, or plain luck, the brand has definitely got good visibility – not through advertisements, but through discussions around banning of the advertisement, discussions around the celebrity and discussions around the rationale behind this exercise.

Maybe, Unilever has taken a cue from Benetton! But whatever said and done, what seemed to be banned and less talked about, has ended up being talked and mocked all over the globe – ending up in achieving what an advertisement aspires to achieve – “attract consumer attention” – This ad, for all it’s worth, has managed to exceed all its expectations from advertisers/ marketers, without any “lust” and now, without any “caution” too!

So, were we discussing Ironies? ;)

Source: Photo Source Link 1, Link 2, Link 3; References: Hollywood, Adage, You Tube

Friday, March 21, 2008

FMCG in India – went Rural and now growing there too!

FMCG Industry in India is witnessing a change – a change in the pattern in which it is growing – needless to say, with the changing demographics, the pattern of marketing would also change. As rural penetration increases, the rural markets would command more and more share of the overall FMCG space. Though the urban markets are growing too, the incremental addition in consumers / households is much more in rural space as compared to urban markets.

According to an article in Mint, posted a couple of months back, not only have the media investments by FMCG companies moved towards rural India, but also a larger piece of the cake has started coming from the rural belt itself.

Rural India, mostly termed as “high opportunity” market, is no longer just an opportunitiy, but is now yielding results. As the article mentions, “180 million rural and semi-urban people’s attention has already been diverted towards FMCG products, according to latest estimates released by industry chamber, Assocham” and why is that? “In the first nine months of current fiscal, FMCG’s ad budget witnessed an increase of nearly 20% to promote FMCG products which is influencing and motivating the rural youth to consume higher volumes of such products.

But are more media investments and greater rural contribution connected? Well, one could attribute that to media. But then there is also a bigger reason, which seems to be more pragmatic in the given circumstances, and that is, the REACH. Reaching to those 6-lakh odd villages has always been the biggest barrier, and this is something that is now being overcome by most of the giants now. With each of them following their own models, distribution has been the focus to tap the rural consumer’s big fat wallet, which is gradually paying out.

As per my limited understanding, media was always there. The same consumer watched most of the TV serials his urban counterpart did, witnessed the same ads his counterpart skipped, and aspired for the same things/people his urban brethren did. The only difference was - he never could / intended to purchase those brands (which he thinks are products).

Translating those aspirations into purchases, to me, has been the biggest success in the rural markets today – and that is the core reason for this change of pattern. More so, when patterns move to trends, one can safely assume that half of the work is done.

And what are these trends?
- Market for FMCG products in rural India is estimated at 52% & is projected to touch 57% by end March'08
- In semi-urban segment, present FMCG market size is around 19% and is expected to scale up by 6% to touch 21% by end of current fiscal

What is a positive signal is that the churn rates are much lower in rural markets as compared to their elder brothers sitting in the top class towns, which is a good indicator for the organizations. Once added, their likelihood of sticking to you is far greater that what it is in the urban space.

What remains to be seen is the impact of media on these consumers, and if, with the changing trends, if the low churn rates would also show a different direction.

Incidentally, it is not just volumes we are talking here – because of the numbers, the overall value contribution has exceeded the urban contribution – “Domestic FMCG total size in terms of volume is currently $15 billion, of which $7.9 billion is rural contribution as against $4.2 billion of urban and metros while $2.85 billion is semi-urban FMCG market"

Lastly, something to chew on … Most of us have a perception of rural as presented in these pictures. Is this always the case? Does Rural mean poor all the time? As the article mentions, “Over 70% sale of FMCG products is made to middle class households and over 50% of middle class is in rural India.

So, as long as the growth in coming from “consuming” those consumer goods (and not the way I had mentioned sometime back [Sales sans Marketing in Rural India]), more and more rural consumers are finally coming out and re-purchasing those brands, spurring a growth in the overall FMCG space.

Still wondering if rural India is all about Farming and Cows? ;)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Outdoor Advertising - Nothing left to Imagination!

Whenever a new medium emerges, marketers run behind it, exploiting it till the time it is coined as “common media” or till the time their infatuation with that medium is over. Look around, and you would say the same thing for newspapers, magazines, and now Billboards as well.

Initially, they were billboards – just plain simple billboards. An advertiser just wanted to stand next to the road. Not speak anything, but simply stand. If someone passed by, he would talk silently, without caring much if the other person listened or not.
Then slowly, more people came, and everyone wanted to stand next to the road. The bigger ones then wanted to move a step further. They shouted! Some….just went on the road itself!

And so emerged much more aggressive forms of Outdoor Advertising - ambient, guerilla, virals and so on and so forth

What is exciting about Ambients? Well, if nothing, they do grab attention. And some of them move into the viral phase as well, creating more and more attention. The takeaway? Am not sure how much recall the brand has, but the ambient for sure gets a lot of eyeballs rolling.

But what is special with Billboards? First and foremost, if creatively used, billboards offer a lot of flexibility. This flexibility, leveraged by creative innovations of advertising masterminds, is what separates the effective billboards from the dead ones you notice around you. Unfortunately, very few advertisers understand that a billboard that is seen for not more than 2-3 seconds, needs to be smartly as well as effectively used.

Having said that, there are few advertisers who have applied this flexibility of Billboards and ambients to perfection and are undoubtedly classic examples of creative excellence.

Consider, for instance, the latest creation by Duval Guillaume*, for Carlsberg. It is to advertise the new Carlsberg bottle design, and is presented in a rather unique manner, by putting the new bottles themselves! As they say – for the bottles, by the bottles!

Apart from Duval’s Carlsberg, there are other creations too, that are worth mentioning. Found the links at Adrants, where Steve has linked to the previous similar outdoors highlighted at his blog – Leo Burnett’s Lettuce garden billboard for McDonalds and Ella Bache’s Peach Lady in the garden for its skincare brand.

While Leo Burnett worked on representing Freshness and greenness in the McDonald’s Fresh Salad, by putting lettuce leaves on the billboard, Ella Bache took a step further, and made an entire naked lady out of Peaches and put her in Sydney's First Fleet Park. Have a look -

Loads of interesting points/coverage on this lady - undoubtedly, there is nothing left to imagination! Refer to the links** below for more.

Coming back to the billboard application, an interesting perspective was expressed at one of the posts on Lettuce Billboard -
"It's unfortunate most agencies and marketers don't realize the billboard medium is at its most powerful when it's used for simple, direct messaging. Two to four words and a simple visual is about all the medium can take. Too many marketers and agencies try to cram the entire marketing plan onto a single 14 X 48 foot space which is usually seen for less than three seconds. For billboards, simplicity rules."

Well said. Arguably, as billboards get simpler, the feel factor that was never even in the consideration set for billboards, is beginning to emerge, and one can not only imagine the brands, but also see/feel the advertised brands, through billboards/ambients.

And with examples such as the carlsberg bottles, the lettuce leaves and the naked lady, must say, there is little that is left to imagination!

Pun intended! ;)

*Duval, of Antwerp Agency, has been featured at this place before, for its Cadbury Shweppes Fountain Bottle earlier
**For more details, you could refer to the write-ups at various blogs / sites:
Lettuce Billboard, Peach Lady: Commercial Archives, Adrants and the making of the video (worth a download))
[Photo Source:
Peach Lady, Carlsberg Bottles and Fresh Salad, Human Billboard]

Aaah....Good Morning! Too late to get up?

This blog has been sleeping for long now...pretty long! Maybe the blogger too. Atleast that is what I have been hearing, and getting comments about.

On one hand, it is great to find regulars visiting my den, even during its dormant days (months!) but on the other hand, the sleep has been fairly long now...probably a lot of regulars moved to the occasionals club!

Anyways, I intend to rejoin the regulars club, and hope to find more members there to give me company..

Needless to say, while I was sleeping I did not waste my time and dreamt a lot :). Some of it can be written here, some can simply be applied. With time, I would share a lot of my dreams - atleast the ones that are helpful to the larger and saner mortals...

I just got up this morning, with loads of energy and that freshness that sensitizes you to the world around you – that positive smell of freshness that one aspires to internalize, that translates not only to your thought process but also to your passion and perspectives.

So with all the freshness intact, another attempt to revitalize this place begins today..

..maybe thats just what they say for "The all New XXX" series or the sequels of the long pending serials/movies, when they get too droning ;-)

[Links to Pics: Baby Sleeping, misplaced the link to the baby in hand pic. In case you happen to come across the source, please let me know. Will link to it. Thanks!]