Space To Pray – a bold, contextual idea in Sri Lanka

Given the dwindling sales of printed newspapers across the world (except in countries in India, of course), there is already a running joke on using newspapers for additional purposes besides reading news. So, using them to wrap things in shops, as a cover for your head in the sun, like a mat to sit on etc. We already use newspapers for all these purposes, jokes or not.

Recently the Salvation Army released a full-page blank-looking ad in the newspapers in the US to showcase one such usage – of using newspapers as a blanket. That was more like a figure of speech that helps you towards a call-to-action (donation).

What AIA, the insurance brand, did in Sri Lanka is a whole lot more impressive. I believe this was in 2014.

Watch the video explaining their idea and ad.

In the ad and the concept, there are a few things worth reflecting upon.

1. AIA’s focused reference point to one event that is hugely important to the people of Sri Lanka. It is a genuine need, and the way they explain it (colored newsprint leaving the marks on white clothes used during the prayer ceremony) is a nice nuance to specifically focus on. It’s not earth-shattering (since people can bring their own piece of cloth if need be), but it is also a practical use-case (people already buy newspapers).

2. AIA is willing to let people use their ad with relative disrespect. They could look at it as, ‘Oh, people are going to literally sit on our logo/ad? That’s bad!’. But they understood that the brand endears itself better by letting people make practical use of the 2-pager after reading the, highly functional call-to-action (Sit on this!). That’s smart.

3. Not only sit on it, but AIA also knows that people, after using the sheet as a mat to sit on, are more likely to junk it as garbage. I may have mentioned this earlier, but I had pitched to a client an ide to advertise in tea/coffee cups of a particular airline’s first class section because the target audience profile is a perfect match for the service the client was providing. One reason why the client didn’t go with it was because of brand safety guidelines – the brand had a rule that their brand should be mentioned/advertised in any disposable media. Ironically, print advertising too is precisely that, though a lot less visibly disposable than paper cups, I agree. But today’s newspaper’s is that day evening’s garbage, no matter how else we argue that.

For AIA to be cognizant of this fact, and yet go with the idea is good thinking. It means they are more keen on having people remember the brand that gave them a stain-free, free mat inside something they already buy (a newspaper). That utility value is what is likely to have people remember the brand.

This is truly inspired work by TBWA, the agency.