Spoofs mean business!

They mean business!

Adapted from a report in India Today

A little dry humour, lots of sarcasm, with opportunities for one-upmanship and liberal doses of nastiness. From biscuits to colas, from life insurance to a movie rental business, everyone is tuning into spoofs.

Sometime early this year, when Akshay Kumar was giving television junkies an adrenaline rush with his Bourne Identity-esque car chase for Thums Up, the boys at JWT, the advertising agency for Pepsi, were thinking of their own little joyride-a spoof on the Thums Up commercial, which they now fondly call the ‘uncle’ ad because that is what the two youngsters call the fractured Kumar substitute.

That Pepsi decided to take on Thums Up and that Sprite takes on everyone within hitting distance isn’t news because this war, on and off air, has been well-documented.

But advertisers are now taking the spoof route for everything from wafers to cookies, from movie rentals to life insurance.

Getting attention is probably what BigFlix, a movie rental company and portal, also had in mind when they decided to replace Shah Rukh Khan’s Dard-e-Disco six packs with a paunchy man and to give Ranbir Kapoor’s towel dropping scene in Saawariya a whole new twist.

“The idea is that films have a magical quality and we all emulate them in real life,” says Vinayak Upadhyay, senior creative director, Law and Kenneth, adding that they knew the ad had to be funny because if something makes people laugh, only then is there repeat viewership. The ad isn’t high on quality, but it certainly has recall value, especially Kapoor’s flasher stand-in.

That, at some level, is also the problem. An advertising professional points out what BigFlix has done is actually what advertisers call the first right answer.

One chooses whatever comes to mind first and doesn’t go beyond the obvious. The real trick is to create a spoof for a product that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to humour.

“Advertisers either use spoofs when they have a great product or when they want to create buzz,” says Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and national creative director, O&M.

If Bingo chips spoof the bizarrely dubbed late night tele-shopping commercials, Parle 20–20 cookies make fun of the long-drawn-out process of announcing winners on reality shows. Both these brands don’t do it while taking on competitors but play on a genre.

Besides, Parle was launched during the Indian Premiere League (IPL) and the cookie’s tagline ‘short main niptao’ fit in with the format of the matches.

“The idea worked because reality shows were always on our minds,” says Vipin Dhyani, creative director, Everest Brand Solutions, the agency that handles the account. It doesn’t hurt that their commercial, which plays for at least three months, cost about Rs 50 lakh while a single episode of a reality show costs almost the same.

But considering that the cricket extravaganza really was the father of entertainment, Channel V’s purpose wasn’t served. “In advertising, creating spoofs is a lazy proposition. It’s almost like one is trying too hard,” says Anand Halve, co-founder of brand consultancy firm chlorophyll.

He explains that since there are multiple channels and advertising avenues, there is a race to belt out ads every month. “That leads to boredom and in a bid to try something different, advertisers spoof,” he adds.

Professionals say the increase in advertising by lifestyle and enjoyment-oriented brands has also led to the step-ups in spoofs. While earlier, detergents and bathing soaps were considered serious products, today these have been replaced by colas, breath fresheners and candies that lend themselves to humour because of their fun character.

Sometimes this means making the audience laugh with them as Mentos and Centre Shock do and sometimes it means making viewers chuckle at the competitor’s expense like Pepsi did.

What makes the advertisers smirk? The money. While Thums Up spent close to Rs 2 crore on shooting their Kumar car chase in Malaysia, Pepsi aired their version in about Rs 20 lakh.

Viewers have also lightened up and matured, leading advertisers to explore satire. “Earlier the audience was narrow-minded and believed in brawn.

But today’s youth believes the brain is the only muscle,” says Soumitra Karnik, vice-president and executive creative director, JWT, the agency dealing with Pepsi’s Youngistan campaign.

They seem to have connected with the young target base even before the Kumar spoof could be released, “We had originally posted the ad on Yahoo Pepsizone as is done with all creatives. But someone downloaded it and put it on YouTube even before the television release,” says Hari Krishnan, vice president, JWT.

But spoofs also have their limitations. Products like an acne cream or a dandruff shampoo are serious consumer products and making fun of them will get the advertiser nowhere.

“For instance, you can also never take a chance with celebrities, like Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan as they are icons and the viewers might not take it lightly. People have done it but one has to be very careful,” says Pandey.

But if it works, it has the whole nation rooting for it. No one minds the wind being taken out of someone else’s sails.

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