But seriously…

Posted on July 3, 2009

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I think it was just a couple of weeks ago that I first laid eyes on the new Honda campaign. Kind of hard to miss it actually, with a complete spread at the back of the Times of India and the DNA. When I spotted the tagline, I must say it didn’t really strike me as it probably struck you if you’d seen it. Why So Serious? Of course, then my head did the whole ‘haha’ thing, as I assumed that there might be some sort of body copy that might have had some connection to the Dark Knight’s qualities, i.e. protection. But that’s me, always looking for the good in something. I didn’t find anything of course. Nothing in fact to salvage at all from this failed approach of communication.

And that’s sad really. It’s sad because this is the kind of communication that has been greenlit for the same company that gave us Asimo.

Then of course I realised that they were in fact, serious about the campaign. It didn’t take long for certain creative directors to rip the whole campaign to shreds, but I think on this occasion its justified. I’ve not been in the advertising industry that long. Far be it from me to dole out any advice to young copywriters and account planners about concepts.

But even a nutless monkey, to quote a famous scientologist from a Ben Stiller movie, could do this job if they realised that its probably unwise to rip a line from the second highest weekend grossing movie in Hollywood last year.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t buy the argument that this tagline was just a coincidence. First of all, the actual line speaks very little about the communication in the ad, or to give it a better term, the ‘big idea’ . With cactii and bubbles and an ambiguous line thrown in, there are way too many messages going out for a single campaign, especially for an automobile.

When I see a campaign like this, I’m propelled backwards in time to the way things were when I was studying advertising in a classroom. Of course, back in college, I couldn’t give a dingo’s tit about the importance of a brand. I daresay that most of my classmates didn’t either. Few eighteen year olds do. We all love to write our own reviews, don’t we! But there was one thing I did learn, when I read up on the legends, like Bernbach, Rosser Reeves and David Ogilvy.

It was that no matter how much people might deny it today, advertising is a process of selling. To sell an idea, sell a brand, sell a product, a tagline, and even a political agenda to the average end consumer is essentially what we do. And as much as we might groan that thats a sales or marketing department’s responsibility, this will not cease to be a fact. I think the sooner the Indian advertising industry realises that, the better it will be in the long run.

And all those legends recognised it. Much as we might like to say that the success of a ‘traditional’ long copy like the style of David Ogilvy was a result of the times, we’re ignoring the fact that with that copy came a single clear message.

I do admit that we can’t go back to stuff like that. Most marketing executives would push a revolver down your throat if you were to suggest something truly traditional. They want more of the new, more of the cool, and the never-been-tried-befores!

But surely we can do something about overall planning?

The failure of the Honda Jazz campaign, (and I think it’s safe to assume its failed, since I don’t hear a peep about the car since the ads came out) cannot be blamed on the shortcomings of a juvenile or inexperienced writer. It’s failure is the failure of the agency as a whole. Someone higher up read this copy, agreed with it, approved it’s direction, put it into practice and spent valuable money and resources to execute it. One wonders why.

At the risk of sounding condescending and scornful, I must say that I can probably predict their line of defence to any of the above observations.

Why So Serious?

Har. Har.

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