Advertising IRL

I write so persistently about advertising narratives, but I also am acutely conscious that people do not take advertising as seriously as the advertising world does about itself. Advertising exists in the service of a product or service, and not necessarily on its own.

It’s like a film’s trailer – is it about the trailer or the actual movie? Of course, if the trailer is so impressively mounted, edited and put together, we can marvel at it too, but we also need to wonder what the trailer was intended for, if the film does not release at all.

And even as advertising mirrors what do in real life (called ‘insight’ in ad agency parlance), what we do end up doing is not necessarily centered on the brands that espouse such real-life behavior!

A recent experience where I became aware of this, once again.

My son’s unit tests in school started last week. School is digital for now, so the tests are too. He has to switch on the video in his laptop and write, then scan the answer sheet and upload it.

He woke up early that day and since I usually wake up first in our home, around 6 am, I saw him awake too, and made him a hot cup of coffee.

He was moved to coffee only recently – his staple drink so far has been Bournvita (while my daughter prefers Boost). But he felt grown-up enough to start demanding coffee, so we started giving him coffee (just 2 cups a day) only last week.

As I left the mug of coffee at his table, I moved to the hall and started reading the e-newspapers on my laptop. I looked at his room, with him sitting in his desk and the steam coming out of the cup, I felt that I have seen this scene in some coffee ad – the parent giving a hot cup of coffee to a son/daughter early in the morning.

The closest I came was this Nescafe ad from 2017.

Was it only this, or was it Sunrise? Or was it Boost, Bournvita or Horlicks?

I don’t remember, but what I do know was that the coffee I gave him was Cothas, the filter coffee that we buy regularly in Bengaluru. It doesn’t have the glamor quotient of Nescafe-level advertising narratives, but that’s what we use, even if the situations are straight out of some other rival brand’s advertising! Nescafe is perhaps right on the user behavior and even got the feel right in its ad, but the insight is probably appropriate for the entire category, not Nescafe alone, in specific.

The holy grail of insights in advertising would be to find a user behavior that is specific to your product!

A rudimentary example is this ad for Dabur Honey that I had written about in another post recently. The ad shows a couple writing with honey, on bread slices! Considering Dabur Honey is the only brand that comes in that inverted squeezy pack, no other brand can use that user behavior about writing on bread with honey (till other honey brands catch up to that pack design)!

Back when Maggi was the only instant noodles brand in India, the only noodles that parents could indulge their children with when they ask, like in the ads, “I’m hungry” (after school), was Maggi. So, at that time, they induced the user behavior accurately.

Many years later, Knorr used the very same theme to zero in on a user insight that was unique to their product – “Cup a soup”.

Or even this other Knorr product that created the ‘soupy noodles’.



1 thought on “Advertising IRL

  1. “The holy grail of insights in advertising would be to find a user behavior that is specific to your product!” I love this statement. Thanks for sharing.

    Product innovations in packaging & consuming experience help create greater advertisements that are specific to the product.

    It will be interesting to know how much of a brand’s advertisements contributes to the brand’s growth and the category’s growth.

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