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The power of disruption

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

Traditional ads still dominate, but quite a few are going off the beaten track.

India’s first “talking ad” seems to have hit the bull’s eye – at least it has got everyone talking in the office, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on blogs.

Readers of and were in for a surprise last Tuesday when they were greeted with an audio message on the “best-in-class German engineering” that has gone into the making of the new Volkswagen Vento.

The message actually blared out of a chip stuck to the newspapers. “The chip is sensitive to light,” says Madhukar Kamath, managing director and chief executive officer, Mudra Group, whose agency conceptualised and executed the campaign. “The moment light fell on the chip, the pre-recorded message began playing,” he says.

Lutz Kothe, head of marketing and public relations, Volkswagen India, says, “We wanted to do something different. Innovation is after all at the core of our brand.”

Kothe is not the only one to be speaking this language. While the traditional route of simply outshouting competitors on mass media is still dominant, some are indeed going off the beaten track. For example, Rexona deodorant ads. Remember the life-size stickers of people on automatic sliding doors at malls? When someone approached, the doors moved apart and it felt like the people on the doors were actually moving away. The person enters to find the message “People move away when you have body odour”.   

Disruptive innovations, says Amin Lakhani, principal partner at media agency Mindshare Fulcrum, is slowly but steadily catching on. 

Lakhani should know what disruptive innovations are all about. He was the architect of the famous Vodafone ‘roadblock’ three years ago - the first of its kind on television in India. Vodafone commercials played across all channels of the STAR Network for twenty four hours between September 20 and 21, 2007. Since then the strategy has been replicated by many advertisers including fast moving consumer goods major Hindustan Unilever (HUL). The latter attempted a roadblock last year on the STAR and ZEE networks respectively.

But a roadblock in print? That is something that was done by Volkswagen in November last year. “Every page of carried an ad from Volkswagen that day,” says Kothe. “This was a brand campaign that set the ball rolling,” he says.

And there has been no looking back. Volkswagen followed it up with the popular Polo launch in February this year. On print, the advertiser had cutouts of the Polo in the top panel of every page of the newspaper on the launch day. The image of the car was finally revealed on the last page. 

In outdoor, the actual car was displayed in the centre of giant billboards, catching the attention of people around. This was done in some of the key met ros. There were more visual fireworks on display with heli-banners dotting the Mumbai skyline on the launch day.

Volkswagen, incidentally, has not been the only one to indulge in disruptive innovations of late. Hollywood studio Sony Pictures and TV channel UTV Action have followed suit, this time partnering with tabloid Mid Day.

For UTV Action, for instance, Mid Day executed a three dimensional or 3D advertisement, which readers could view with the help of goggles. “This was done in the anniversary edition of Mid Day on June 21,” says Manajit Ghoshal, MD & CEO, Mid-Day Infomedia. “Basically, we wanted to get the genre of 3D to advertising,” says Kunal Mukherjee, head, marketing, UTV Action.

For Sony Pictures, on the other hand, Mid Day pulled off a Quick Response or (QR) Code ad that began in end-May this year prior to the release of the studio’s much-awaited film, Karate Kid, on June 11. A full-page ad for the film in the newspaper carried a bar code at the bottom left-hand corner. This bar code led readers to the site that had the trailer of the film. “When an internet-enabled camera phone that had the required software to be able to download the trailer, was placed in front of the bar code, it would immediately start downloading the latter by linking up to the site where it was located. Within three days of the launch of the campaign, there were over 2,000 downloads,” says Anjali Malhotra, marketing manager, Sony Pictures. 

Mid Day has replicated the QR Code for allied advertisers such as Ford and DB Realty, says Ghoshal.

Clearly, print is emerging as a medium where disruptive innovations such as these are catching on. “This is because the medium is tactile,” says Bharat Kapadia, board member, Lokmat group of newspapers. “Publishers are also open to the idea of playing around with ads these days. Technology is aiding this phenomenon in a big way.” 

But it comes at a steep price. Volkswagen’s “talking ad” is said to have cost the advertiser nothing less than Rs 10 crore, say print media sources. “This is good money because advertisers can’t beat you on rates, which they do with traditional ads,” says an ad sales head with a publication, on condition of anonymity.

That also means that some of the big spenders in FMCG, telecom and education are not biting the bullet yet, when it comes to disruptive innovations, but nobody seems to be complaining yet. Kapadia says, “FMCG is more TV-heavy than print-heavy, that’s one. Second, telecom operators are grappling with lower ARPUs. I don’t think they can spend this kind of money now, while education is more local in nature, with advertising that is largely admission-driven. They do not need disruptive innovations as such. The point is the connect has to be right”

First Published: Mon, September 27 2010. 00:10 IST