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Dipstick: Should topicals be treated differently than commercial ads?

Brand strategists on how much creative freedom could be taken when dealing with topical ads

Amul Butter was recently trolled heavily on social media platforms for its take on the deadly attack on CRPF jawans in Chattishgarh’s Sukma. Amul’s topical ads have always been sarcastic of certain current issues and people have always taken the Amul girl in zest.

But this time, consumers were angry with the ad because of its timing and the sensitive nature of the topic and took on the Amul girl.

It is the nature of such topical ads to have an opinion on everything, irrespective of the subject. At times, they face backlash as they end up hurting sentiments of someone or the other. But definitely there is need for topicals to take into consideration the sensitivity of an issue. Normal commercials, in contrast, tend to refrain from being opinionated at all.

BestMediaInfo.com caught up with industry experts to understand the extent of freedom topical ads should or should not get and even if they should be treated differently from normal commercials.

Ambi Parameswaran

Ambi Parameswaran, Founder at Brand-Building.com

There is a fundamental difference between a topical ad and an ad that is a long-running campaign. The former is temporary in nature and has a very short shelf life. The latter is more strategic and is often strongly linked to the brand promise and positioning. So we need to judge these two very differently. Topical ads can take some liberties from the guide rules of a big brand and make fun at customs and practices. That said, brands need to evolve some braid rules for topical ads as well. For example, in the US, all brands stay away from religious themes. In India, we are comfortable seeing a Korean car calling out to us on Janmashtami.

I feel it is difficult to implement rules on topical ads and so it becomes a problem. If you apply too many rules you may end up with boring messages. If there are no rules you may end up hurting people's sentiments. It is a tough call. That said there are some things you should not do -- insult any specific nationality, religious or regional community. While politicians, cricketers, film stars are the butt of many jokes, armed forces, the national flag, some offices, national symbols may be off limits.

Lulu Raghavan

Lulu Raghavan, ‎Managing Director at Landor Associates

The main purpose of advertising is to create more demand for the product or service in question. Topical advertising is a great way for brands to stay current and on top of the mind with consumers while sharing a point of view or being humorous for example. The issue with topical advertising is that it needs to be dealt with great sensitivity and the brand must have a pulse on its consumers and present a point of view/funny side of the issue that will fully resonate and not be offensive in any way. The potential to go wrong is also much higher than with traditional advertising. A brand like Amul has made a virtue of topical advertising and this has worked very well for them.

Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, Brand-guru and Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.

Ads are ads. Some tend to get dog-tagged 'topical', others get called 'theme' and of course, there are eight other tags. A topical ad is no different really from theme or scheme or commercial or whatever. All advertising must, therefore, show and share consumer sensitivity. Brands, however, are not their consumers. Brands are manufacturers and think consumer-centricity. 9.9 times on 10.0 they succeed, but at times they fail. In the case of the Amul topical, this is exactly what happened. Nobody at DaCunha possibly wanted to fault purposely. Neither did Amul the client do it purposely. But happens. Quick correction can always help as this one has.

Ambarish Ray

Ambarish Ray, Director and COO, Metal Communications

Today, the social media 'publish' button is the same as an automatic weapon in the hands of an epileptic person. We rant and froth at the mouth just because we can and we know that someone will watch and do the same too. Making a song and dance is no longer enough to get attention (like in the good old days). Today, you also have to scream, throw punches and act righteously enraged. Specifically, in the Amul case, the brand’s advertising is a part of people’s lives and has been so for a long time now. Their storytelling style and narrative kink is their signature. Their subjects have always been topical -- which means they will be immediate and they may not always be pleasant. All this comes with the package. In my opinion, there is no harm done here at all. The born-on-social-media generation isn’t perturbed at all. No one is really concerned about this except some advertising people and peripheral commentators. Forgettable like yesterday’s newspapers.

Naresh Gupta

Naresh Gupta, CSO and Managing Partner, Bang In The Middle

Topical or not, advertising is advertising. It has only one role to play, make the audience seek the brand out, create preference, create a competitive advantage. There is no other role advertising can play. However hard advertising may try, it cannot become news or an opinion piece. Topical ads in today’s time need a far more careful handling. Done well, they will force people to look at the brand, even if they didn’t want to. Done badly, the whole world will troll the advertising.

In the case of Amul, it may have never got it wrong, apart from this time when it did border on being controversial. The problem with doing topical ads is that it is never easy to do it consistently in brand tonality, quickly. The banner that Nana Chudasama used to put out Marine Drive was sometimes sharper than Amul. Topical ads are like the cartoons newspapers do, they are clever, incisive and quick. Till the brand remains to be clever and incisive they will work, if tends to get cleverer than needed, the troll army waits, ready to pounce.


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