Earlier this month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) put out an advertising campaign in mass media, ostensibly to ‘humanise’ the richest municipal body in the country. The two-ad campaign features two BMC workers and eulogises their commitment, hardwork and tenacity that help Mumbai stay clean, and partake a perennial supply of clean drinking water.
The BMC has been at the receiving end of much criticism, much derision and negativity, in the past years and months because of the various infrastructural issues being faced by Mumbai, India’s economic and commercial capital. As per the BMC’s ad agency Lowe Lintas, the campaign is designed to portray “restless Mumbaikars” (read BMC employees) who work ceaselessly and selflessly to service the round-the-clock needs of a “restless Mumbai”.
The ads show a sanitation worker and an employee of the water department who shrug aside family commitments to devote their days (and nights) to making Mumbai more liveable. Compare and contrast this imagery to the BMC employee stereotype – conniving, cold-hearted, corrupt, couldn’t-care-less …
And it is here that the campaign falls short on that very important count: do the efforts of BMC employees, howsoever selfless, actually make Mumbai a better city to live in? But let’s look at the positives first. The BMC campaign is surely a first of its kind. I don’t recall any local body in India actually running an image makeover campaign. The BMC campaign at least signals one very important thing: the BMC does care for its image, and feels the need to embellish it, burnish it, smarten it in the face it presents to its citizens, the Mumbaikars. Also, the effort in communication is to make its own employees look good, which is surely commendable.
However, the negatives on the new campaign far outweigh the positives. For one, I am very skeptical about the motives behind the campaign. Surely, the story of the BMC employees is not intended to change the way Mumbaikars feel about BMC — the bad roads, the flooding every monsoon, the bulging and overflowing garbage dumps, and more importantly, the overwhelming image of BMC employees as highly corrupt, greedy and self-centred. The current campaign does not even attempt to focus on any of the civic issues. It is just a feel-good campaign that the BMC is perhaps putting out for self-deification rather than for public service.
In sharp contrast is the New Year ad by Vivo mobiles featuring Aamir Khan. ‘Shut the Mobile’ is the new message from Vivo. You would obviously wonder why a mobile company would put out such a category-negative message. But the messaging is not what you first think. Created by Dentsu, the campaign features actor Aamir Khan as a father who is constantly busy on his smartphone even while sitting down to breakfast with family.
When he does finally engage in family conversation, his young son makes a New Year wish to get a smartphone. The obviously surprised Khan tells him that he’s too young to get a phone to which he replies that he wants his father’s phone, which he will switch off and keep away. Khan is embarrassed, hands him the phone, and the son promptly shuts the mobile up.
It is a really nice ad. Strategic, yes. But sensitive too. The smartphone is robbing families of ‘together time’, or quality time together as the screen grabs more attention than the chatter around the dinner table. The back story to the new campaign is a study conducted by Vivo where the findings highlight that an average Indian spends over 1,800 hours a year on the smartphone. Thirty per cent fewer people meet family and loved ones multiple times a month now as compared to 10 years ago. One in three people feel that they can’t even have a five minute long conversation with friends and family without checking their phones. As many as 73 per cent respondents agree that if smartphone usage continues at the current rate or grows, it is likely to impact one’s mental or physical health.
The Vivo ad is simple, and direct. More importantly it is honest. Very honest. Which is why the truth of the communication hits you hard. Aamir is understated, but the young boy shines. Not because of what he says but for what he symbolises: the family crying out for attention, and love.
There have been other campaigns too in the past couple of weeks: the Zomato campaign about on-time delivery (nothing exciting really); multiple ads for Bajaj water heaters (tepid creatives); a ‘dramatic’ Bollywood ad featuring Vicky Kaushal for Red Chief shoes (highly exaggerated); a fan endorsement ad by Kashmir FC, the football club (intense but confused). All pretty average, and forgettable. There’s also the ‘do-good’ Virat Kohli campaign for Star Sports. Nice, but more about Virat than about sports or Star Sports.
In any case, it is time to bid goodbye to 2019, goodbye to creatives both good and bad. And welcome 2020 with the hope that more creatives in the New Year will be: 1) Fresh, 2) Fun, 3) Focussed and 4) Fearless. Hallelujah!(The author is an advertising veteran)