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It is high time for pan masala brands to reinvent their ads, say experts

Brands need to look back and focus on research and insights to create meaningful communications instead of showing the typical, old ads that show a larger-than-life lifestyle and film stars

A big movie star, an exotic foreign location and a larger-than-life lifestyle— this is a go-to recipe for almost every pan masala ad.

From Ajay Devgn and Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘Zubaan Kesari’ ads that led to a meme fest, to Saif Ali Khan showing us the ‘pehchaan kamiyabi ki’, all the commercials follow more or less a similar concept and it is often difficult to tell these ads apart.

A few examples:-

Though some players such as Rajnigandha have kept away from Bollywood stars, they do bank on foreign locations and show people living a lavish life.

Brand experts, however, caution that this concept is dead and in order to connect to a wider audience, the pan masala players need to understand their audience’s aspirations at a time when everything is evolving.

A recent ad by Kamla Pasand featuring Amitabh Bachchan and Ranveer Singh, though, seemed a little different.

On the other hand, alcohol brands seem to have cracked the code when it comes to surrogate advertising and are increasingly using branded content, on-ground activations and IPs to further reach the audience. 

Experts say pan masala players must be open to unfamiliar concepts. 

Pallavi Chakravarti

According to Pallavi Chakravarti, Creative Head, West, at DDB Mudra Group, pan masala brands have not been able to shed the trappings of ‘the good life’ it sells to consumers across the country.

While there have been some attempts at deviation such as the controversial Pierce Brosnan commercial and the reasonably memorable ‘shauk badi cheez hai’ featuring Manoj Bajpayee, most pan masala brands find themselves in one giant blind spot of ads featuring yachts, castles, mansions, power brokers in suits, choppers, pearls, damsels in gowns and foreign locations, she said.

Asked if this is because the makers lack creativity, she replied, “I don’t think it’s because the makers lack creativity. I suspect the category is finding it hard to break free of imagery-driven, aspirational advertising because the big players here have a why-fix-it-when-it-ain’t-broke kind of mindset.”

Samit Sinha

Samit Sinha, Founder, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting said the quality of advertising that is finally released is dependent upon the buyer. “If you pay the money, you can hire the best creative talent in the world. If you are not open to out-of-the-box ideas or you're not open to doing anything that is out of the ordinary, it has to do with the client’s mindset, which is very traditional. They tend to make decisions themselves based on the little insights they have and, therefore, they tend to imitate each other. They are not short of money. It’s just that they themselves don’t have the receptivity to do something that is not tried and tested.”

Just changing the mindset might not be the only solution. Speaking to, a leading pan masala player that runs ads said the category is traditional and owner-led and have an increasing presence in tier-two towns. They said many a time the investors might want a tried-and-tested kind of communication.

So, what’s the solution?

Harish Bijoor

Harish Bijoor, Brand-Strategy Specialist and Founder of Harish Bijoor Consults said the category needs to crack legitimacy. “The pan masala category is about legitimacy. The first thing to crack is legitimacy on the ground of health and wellness. Cracking the code of wellness, and basing all of the efforts of this industry (at the industry level) and at the level of the company and the brand is a possibility. I do believe this effort has not been attempted at all over these decades. The category is caught up in the vortex of filmi-brand ambassadors, who deliver the short-term fix but are not long-term solutions. This industry needs disruption and disruptive strategy to gallop ahead. The industry needs to wake up and attempt strategy. Not mere advertising,” he said.

Nisha Sampath

On similar grounds, Nisha Sampath, Managing Partner, Bright Angels Consulting, said brands need to go back and understand the consumers to who they are catering. “These categories (alcohol, cigarettes) don't sell on the product; they sell on the symbolic value that we have understood since the days of the Marlboro Man. So to be able to create symbolism in a category, you have to understand the consumer, their aspirations and where their aspirations are heading. Pan masala as a category is stuck in aspirations, according to me, of the past.”

Sampath said the brands need to know if people still want to be a ‘hero’ or if the meaning of heroism has changed. “Even before they spend big budgets for ad films and creatives, I would suggest to go back and understand who is consuming, what are the barriers, and I think maybe have a more honest representation of the category because what you show today is not an honest representation of the category and the consumers. I bet big agencies work with such big celebrities but the category itself needs the kind of research and the rigour. It needs marketing thinking.”

Bobby Pawar

Bobby Pawar, Chairman, Chief Creative Officer at Havas Group, said these brands need to figure out what do they stand for. “What is my raison d'être, why do I exist? What is the value that I bring to people, not just as a product, but as a brand? These days, especially with increasing commoditisation, people are not just buying the brand; they also want to buy into a brand. This means they buy what they stand for. So when you know this, you will create content around it. Otherwise even if you do collaborations with stars and influencers, it will be forgotten because there’s nothing about the brand that revolves around the idea.”

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