The Kerala Snake Boat race between Snuggy and Munch

Well, well, well! What are the chances!

Two new ads, released almost back-to-back, have quite a few unusual coincidences!

Let me start with the broad coincidence: both are national brands.

Brand 1 is Snuggy, the diaper brand from Nobel Hygiene, known for Rio sanitary napkins and Friends adult diapers. Snuggy is one of the first India-made diaper brands, originally launched in Kerala in 1987 by ‘Goodknight’ Mohan. Godrej eventually bought the brand that had a strong regional presence, and Nobel Hygiene acquired it from Godrej in 2018 with the aim of taking it national.

Brand 2 is Nestlé Munch.

The agencies involved:
Snuggy – Womb Communications. Ad release: March 16, 2022.
Munch – Wunderman Thompson. Ad release: March 25, 2022.

Now, for the campaign level coincidences!

Coincidence No. 1: Both ads use the famous Kerala boat race (Vallamkali) as the setting! Both ads seem to be showcasing a Chundan Vallam, the beaked boat.

Snuggy doesn’t showcase a race – it’s just one boat, but with the requisite oarsmen working on the boat’s movement.

Munch goes for the whole hog – full-fledged boat race, multiple teams, and the works.

Snuggy has so far released the ad in two languages – Hindi, and Malayalam (owing to the brand’s Kerala origin and strong presence, I presume). Munch has released the ad in the 4 southern languages – Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada.

Coincidence No. 2: Both ads feature a woman as the commander/captain of the boat. This is entirely unusual given how Vallamkali is largely a men’s domain. There are dedicated women’s teams but that is quite different. Featuring a woman as the captain is out of the norm (as dictated by the sport in Kerala), but it plays well with the new-age sensibility of inclusivity and diversity.

In the Snuggy ad, the woman is a captain and that’s that. How and why did she become the captain of a primarily man’s sport in Kerala? She’s a captain only because the product being sold would involve mothers/women as a decision-maker and decision influencer. That’s contextual reason enough, I reckon. She does seem like a new captain given how she momentarily loses balance as the boat picks up speed.

For Munch, placing the woman has no specific context product-wise. But that she is introduced as the daughter of the earlier captain (Santosh), Manjula makes for an interesting background plot. Where is Santosh now? Why isn’t he the captain? How did the men accept Manjula as their captain in a sport that is generally notorious for not involving women at a player level? These could easily make for a prequel or even a Munch-sponsored TV series/movie 🙂 (it also sounds straight out of the recent Paramount+ movie, Rumble!)

Coincidence No. 3: Both ads use the respective products as the lever to make the boats go faster.

In the Snuggy ad, a guy (Moorthy Man, from the ACKO ad!) asks the woman what is the need for going faster since they are just one boat anyway and not in any race. The woman captain in Snuggy’s ad identifies the need for the single boat to go faster and within this context, the script showcases the product’s feature – a ‘susu meter’ that turns from yellow to blue if the diaper is full! The diaper of the baby in the distance has turned fully blue and that becomes the need for this boat to go faster.

In Munch’s ad, the need is far more superficial.

There is no doubt that the rhythm is extremely crucial to these boat races. In fact, boat songs are a separate genre in Kerala, called Vanchipaattu. The famous ‘Thithithara Thi Thi Thai’ tune is famously associated with this genre.

For more context, watch this engaging short film featuring A R Rahman, made by Bharat Bala.

So, the 3 captains in Munch’s ad, one of whom is Manjula, are in charge of the rhythm (or ‘thaalam’). The other 2 captains are in full form with their musical rhythm. Manjula is stuck, like the classic Disney underdog who is taking a big step for the first time. We don’t see what is stopping her even as the voice-over helpfully offers a mere, ‘Are you losing your confidence?’ as if Munch, a chocolate-coated wafer is somehow related to confidence or the lack of it.

But the confidence angle does play well with the fact that there is a woman at the lead and given how unusual it is, she seeming less confident is a logical element in the script. However, such a lack of confidence may perhaps play up much before she gets on the boat as captain, because she seems already accepted by her team as the captain and that can only happen if she exuded confidence during the team gathering stage.

One can argue that when the big race starts and the world’s attention is on her, she could suddenly lack confidence and in typical Disney underdog style wonder, ‘Am I the right person for this at all?’.

It could be ‘gale mein kich kich’ too. And Vicks could enter the script!

Or it could be Sprite, with their ‘Clear hai’ positioning. The men go nuts with their singing and Manjula brings her own brand of rhythm to power her boat.

Or, it could even be Glucon-D. If you notice Samantha closely in the ad, the lighting seems very off – there are patches of light on her face. Perhaps that could be explained as the harsh sun and hence she’s tired… and not able to start her tune? Enter… Glucon-D!

But Nestlé is paying for this ad. So Munch it is, however improbable it may seem or outlandish it may feel to connect lack of confidence with Munch.

It may help if you have seen Munch’s other recent ads where they are trying hard to connect Munch with confidence.

In March 2021, Samantha was not Manjula, the daughter of captain Santosh in Kerala. Samantha was then Shreya, a college student who wanted some confidence to ask for a time extension to submit her paper. Enter Munch. Confidence gained.

And in December 2021, Ishaan Khatter is lacking confidence amongst his classmates. Enter Munch. Confidence gained and Ishaan even raps impromptu, rhythmically!

So, if you have seen those ads, and remembered the positioning Munch wants you to believe why you should buy and consume Munch, you may seem less skeptical about Manjula requiring Munch to boost her confidence to set the thaalam. I had not seen those ads, so I had tremendous difficulty connecting Munch with confidence. After watching them, I played an agency-client meeting in my head where the agency pitches ‘confidence’ as the zone Munch should own and it made sense (within the meaning of how marketers and agencies use that word, not in the way consumers use that word).

Two national brands using the narrative device of Kerala’s snake boat race is interesting enough, but both place women at the center (by itself, a welcome thought) of the idea at the same time even as the sport’s convention says otherwise. That kind of a coincidence is rare! It almost looks like there was perhaps a common root/source for the idea even though both agencies don’t have any linkages whatsoever!

There are other such recent coincidences too, incidentally.

Pepsi started it first (March 7, 2022) with Salman Khan meeting his younger version, Prem, from Hum Aapke Hain Kaun (written by Devaiah Bopanna, Puneet Chadha, and Deep Joshi; directed by Ayappa KM).

And on March 21, 2022, Sachin Tendulkar’s 11-year-old self in the new Ageas Federal Life Insurance ad (agency: VMLY&R India)!

The Pepsi ad had some chutzpah in the way it got the 2 Salmans to chat up, but the chat itself seemed less interesting than what it could have been in terms of exploiting the potential. The Ageas Federal Life Insurance ad is a bit better in terms of using the potential of digital de-aging (including the VHS effect) – it gives a strong context of why we are seeing and hearing a younger Sachin. However, the script, with its ‘why does everyone keep talking about the future?’ tone, sounds less like an 11-year-old’s perspective and more like it was written with the hindsight of Sachin’s eventual spectacular success and making the 11-year-old kid mouth lines that are beyond his age.

The digital de-aging itself seemed a bit rough around the edges. I recall seeing a considerably better version of this in the film Gemini Man (Will Smith de-aged digitally), but I do understand that the budget of a Hollywood film would be far higher, to produce superior output.

Were both Pepsi and Ageas Federal Life inspired by the Crypto dotcom ad featuring LeBron James 2003 meeting LeBron James 2022 made by the agency SpringHill?

But that ad was out on February 14, 2022, while Pepsi’s ad was out on March 7, 2022. A mere 3 weeks seems way too less for agencies in India to contextually replicate a creative idea, particularly when it involves unusual digital work.



1 thought on “The Kerala Snake Boat race between Snuggy and Munch

  1. It’s great to see brands incorporating (almost genuine) regional elements in their ad campaigns. There are ad campaigns in the past that were too stereotypical and cringy when it comes to adding regional characters and atmosphere.

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