India Transcends the Jingle

4 11 2011

When I was actually in India I didn’t post much about Indian advertising. Maybe I should have done more. A significant contributory factor was our conscious decision not to have a television so that we actually experienced India rather than watching endless re-runs of Friends. This meant that, aside from the ads I was working on, I wasn’t actually exposed to a huge amount of (TV) advertising. In contrast,when we were on our six month travelling stint, most hotels had a TV. Even some of the real cheapies (INR300 a night) provided one. Our narrow channel profile coupled with the Chinese water torture approach of Indian media planning (again, again, again, again – same ad break? don’t worry, drip it again) means I’d rather gouge my eyes out than see most of ads I was (over) exposed to in that period ever again, let alone write about them. But some, including the two discussed here, were more than worthy of recollection.

These two ads stand out because of the way they use jingles. Given that when I talk about jingles in the UK you probably think of terrible local commercial radio ads from your youth (in my case, T.C. Harrison and Stechford tiles, I’m sure you can think of your own examples) or at best the sort of Go Compare! and WeBuyAnyCar.com stuff that makes it to the national TV stage, it seems almost disparaging to describe the music in these two ads as mere jingles. They’re certainly “short tunes used in advertising and for other commercial uses” and whilst they may not go so far as to include “one or more hooks and lyrics that explicitly promote the product being advertised” – there’s some pretty heavy hooks with implicit promotions going on which is probably as close as it gets for service brands.  Whilst irritating memorability has long been the raison d’etre of jingles like those in the UK ads above, these ads go way beyond that, seeking to use a jingle to for genuine brand impact – repositioning and strengthening the brand as opposed to just making people remember it.

The first is from Airtel:

Now, Airtel are India’s biggest mobile network providers. They were amongst the first movers and had long been associated with having the best network coverage and all those boring but essential type of things. They felt fairly austere to me. They seem to have been aware of this and with increased competition in the market started to push the relationship button. They did so in what I felt was a fairly gentle, wishy washy and ill defined touchy-feely family kind of way (e.g this and this) – all very nice but not especially coherent nor consistent. India’s demographic is such that there is quite a rush to target the “youth” market. It’s a sensible policy seeing as there’s so many of them and for a brand like Airtel they’re far and away the heaviest users. So in comes the beast of an ad above. All of your friends are important. They might be cheeky, gossipy fucks some of the time, but they’re still your friends and that matters. It does ‘relationships’ in an instantly more engaging and resonant way than the earlier efforts and shakes the Airtel brand back to life. It does so almost exclusively through a catchy jingle which manages to sidestep irritation which even manages to incorporate and refresh Airtel’s sonic brand mnemonic.

The second example is an altogether more epic affair from Hero Motorcorp:

Hero-Honda was India’s largest motorcycle brand. Hero took the decision to end the joint venture and fly solo and needed to relaunch.  To help them do so they convinced legendary singer-songwriter AR Rahman to take time off from helping to besmirch the reputation of one of my heroes (no, not Joss Stone, Jagger, you cheeky scamps) and pen them a tune. He did not disappoint with this number that gradually builds and suggests more before eventually resolving itself with a lovely drop around the 1:38 mark (or course, we get there much sooner in the more oft seen cut-downs). The lyrics talk about there being “a hero within us” – stirring up India’s easily inflamed patriotic fervour. Alongside the images of everyday Indians rising heroically to various personal challenges it makes for pretty powerful stuff. It’s also nice because it eschews the typical macho stuntsmanship of this category in India. Even when Hero motorcycles are featured they’re not pulling mad stunts, they’re enabling the bravery and heroism of the rider (cf. the bloke edging across the dodgy bridge) rather than themselves being the hero.  Again, the jingle here is an absolutely integral part of the story-telling – with the brand a direct and memorable reference point throughout it.

There may be more seasoned ad-watchers than I out there who can think of British work that has jingles that transcend the traditional understanding of the form in the way these two examples do (please shout if you are one) – personally I’m stumped for anything that comes close. I strongly suspect the reason for this is that the India’s film syntax beyond advertising relies so heavily on music and dance as storytelling devices. Songs in Bollywood movies are often employed to suggest (regularly without much subtlety, but still) what cannot be said explicitly due to cultural sensibilities. People are used to hearing and decoding from narrative songs in a way our audiences aren’t. There are also fewer people around who could execute songwriting for ads of this type credibly and of those that could fewer still would agree to do so.

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