Print advertising as TVC’s after-thought and extension

Sometime last year, my cousin brother pinged me on WhatsApp with the photo of an ad on the front page of The Times of India and asked me, “It is supposed to be Aamir Khan? If yes, why would he do this?”.

This was the ad!

For context, he is in the PR industry and doesn’t have satellite TV at home – only assorted OTTs. That perhaps explains almost everything.

To him, it looked like Aamir allowed Ceat to use a bizarrely illustrated version of his likeness and allow it to be called a ‘dummy’.

I gave him the background context – about how Ceat’s print ad is a variant of their TV ad where Aamir’s bizarre likeness plays a digitally created crash test dummy who is paranoid about being ‘tested’ in a car that crashes!

If you see the TV ad, you may understand the narrative better – the crash test dummy is not a dummy (when it comes to intelligence)… that it is somehow sentient enough to be scared of being in a crashing car and runs away from the queue of crash test dummies. Later that night, when the humans are gone, it tests a car that has Ceat tyres and then tells the audience, “This is about safety. Don’t be a dummy”.

Even at the TVC-level, the suspension of disbelief needed to comprehend this ad is reasonably high. How did the dummy get smart? Or, why is that dummy smart? Because it has Aamir’s likeness? A dummy’s job is to simply sit in a car the human puts it in, so why is it fighting the assigned task? Oh, because this Aamir-dummy knows that a car without Ceat tyres is unsafe? Wouldn’t at least one human in that set-up realize that they have a dummy who has turned sentient and understand the evolutionary miracle they are sitting on? I know I’m riffing, but you get the drift, I’m sure.

When you see the print ad in isolation, without having seen the TV ad, all you see is a dummy that has Aamir Khan’s likeness telling us not to be a dummy! That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, least of all trying to sell safe tyres!

This is a standard template for most advertising campaigns. Imagine the whole campaign as a TV ad first, and then run snapshots of it in other static forms like billboards, print ads, and riff it further for radio ads. This is, incidentally, not very different from Mumbai-Delhi headquartered ad agencies conceiving an ad in Hindi and merely using English script to write Hindi for all of India. Because, “Hindi chalega”.

“Lost in translation” is so perfect a statement to explain what’s happening here.

When TV ruled the roost in terms of appointment-viewing and being the only purveyor of entertainment, this template made sense. But when TV is losing its status fast, this process hardly makes any sense. Even if one assumes that TV is not going anywhere and there are still X Billion Indians glued to satellite TV, there is no harm in rethinking the old template to suit a new reality. What is that reality?

That’s the assumption that someone could be seeing the print ad without having seen the TV ad no matter how many marketing media had written about the glorious tie-up between Ceat and Aamir Khan and no matter how many Lakhs the brand spent to promote the YouTube version of the TV ad and no matter how many times the ad was repeated during IPL 2020 on TV. It may be useful to imagine that people are consuming IPL without the ads unlike the only form earlier available – TV broadcast.

With that scenario, the print ad needs to be thought from the ground up while retaining the same narrative – Aamir plays a paranoid, sentient dummy who takes a Ceat-tyre fitted car for a safe crash test! That’s not impossible to imagine, but something that is outside the scope of the agency that thought TV-first and retro-fitted the print ad.

If you have seen the new Asian Paints ad featuring Ranbir Kapoor, you’d notice the same template and the same problem.

Here is Ranbir looking really old for no particular reason in the front-page ad for Asian Paints.

Of course, the assumption is that you have seen the TV ad where Ranbir plays a dual role. If you haven’t, like Aamir’s dummy, you have old Ranbir.

Incidentally, the day I noticed the Ranbir ad on the front page of Hindustan Times (Delhi), there was also the Aamir-dummy ad on the front page of The Hindu (Chennai)!

It is coincidental that both these ads are by Ogilvy. But the same agency also has the new Dove campaign where the print ad is completely stand-alone, as also the TV/digital ad. Both explain the context in great depth and detail (whether you buy into it or not is a different topic) and doesn’t make any assumptions about the audience seeing one and then seeing another.

And this template is not unique to Ogilvy alone.

Recently, Ambi Parameswaran pointed to the use of mixed metaphors (dazzling white teeth and bad hair days) in a print ad for Colgate featuring Kiara Advani.

Most people were left confused until someone posted the video version of the ad where Kiara is seen with literal ‘bad hair’ (frizzy hair) and she gets over it by smiling her dazzling smile (thanks to Colgate, of course). The agency was WPP’s Red Fuse Communications.

Eventually, Colgate changed the print ad!

Or, consider the Hamdard Joshina ad by the agency M.O.M. (Mortals On Mission), pointed out by Suprio Guha Thakurta.

For context, the agency intentionally used the same guy who played the famous Onida devil in 2004 (Rajesh Khera), uses our (possible) recollection of that campaign to imagine just the devil all through the ad till the last scene where his shirt has the text, “Mr. Sardi Zukaam” (Devil no more!).

Isolated to one ‘key visual’ from the video, to the print ad, it looks incredibly odd. Why is the Onida devil wearing a t-shirt that has “Mr. Sardi Zukaam” and seen standing behind a lady holding Hamdard’s Joshina? Watch the TV ad to know the full context!

There are a lot more examples of this!

Here’s Haier AC!

And General AC!

Or Zoho!

To summarize, it is perfectly okay to presume that people may have seen your TV ad (either on TV or YouTube/social platforms) and then see your print ad that has a snapshot from the video. But, considering a brand is spending a LOT of money, why leave it to chance? Why not think afresh for the print ad and think from the view of those that may not have seen the TV ad? Now, with that awareness and consideration, use the same elements of the TV ad and recreate that print ad so that even those who haven’t (or aren’t going to) see the TV ad would understand the communication.

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