"Advertising during war?" - Indian admen offer mixed signals

MUMBAI: Was global giant Nestle justified when it decided to go ahead with is mega promotional campaign for Kitkat despite the ongoing conflict between the US and Iraq?

A majority of marketing and advertising professionals abroad have disagreed with the tradition of halting advertising during the outbreak of war through an instant poll conducted by and have called for a reassessment of wartime advertising traditions in an "era of terrorism".

Not just during war but also during recession or natural disasters, advertising gets impacted. Marketers hesitate to place their commercials against a background of devastation and they make several attempts to appear less commercially oriented during such periods. However, marketing functions which form the crux of the economy must be persisted with, was the general opinion of several global marketing experts.

The team has also got a similar reaction from Indian media planners and advertising professionals who felt that advertising must continue at all times. The Indian media professionals felt that the impact of the US-Iraq conflict is not so pronounced here in India and claimed that news channels revenues could, in fact, increase.

Here, we present some snapshots of foreign and Indian reactions:

Foreign media, marketing and advertising professionals reactions

The adage poll question was: "Does it make sense to shut down advertising, further weakening the economy during the new kinds of conflicts we're engaged in?" A total of 1,089 visitors cast a vote and 11 per cent of those accompanied their vote with often-lengthy comments. Overall, 67 per cent of those responding voted 'no' to curtailing advertising.

The majority of respondents were in favour of both marketers and media companies maintaining their advertising in part to demonstrate that the country remained stable and strong in the face of threats.

Reactions from Indian ad, media professionals

The reactions from Indian media planners and advertising professionals included the impact of war on the revenues of news channels in India.

Ogilvy & Mather vice chairman Asia Pacific and executive chairman O&M India, Ranjan Kapur says: "Advertising must definitely continue. It is easy to say so while sitting here in India because there is no direct impact of the US-Iraq conflict as yet here. However, I am not a great proponent of using news channels during times of war to advertise our clients brands."

Percept Advertising CEO Rajesh Pant reacts by saying: "Yes, I do believe that the advertisers on news channels should be sensitive to the subject of war. The visuals consists of battle ground scenes, bombardment and this is not a place to put smiling models. There should be no impact of the war on advertising in India. Our soldiers are not out there. It is a different game. Moreover, news channels will not necessarily get more spend since advertisers are, on the whole, a very sensible lot and can measure / weigh audiences and their environment."

Lodestar India media director Arpita Menon says: "Certain categories of advertisers like airlines and the travel/tourism industry would certainly have depressed business and would look at cutting back on advertising. Most categories however would continue to remain unimpacted and it would be 'Business as usual". "It is a well known fact that viewership of news channels would definitely peak during events and this has been proved time and again be it the fall of the government, Kargil, the earthquake in Gujarat or 9/11. I think advertisers and media people should have the maturity to decide how and when to capitalise on certain events."

"When the government fell, we got Castrol spots overnight on to the news channels but we also recommended that client should not be on the news channels during the Gujarat earthquake. I think we need to look beyond the increased ratings to the sentiments of the viewer and state of mind when he is watching to take a decision," Arpita adds.

Arpita also sees a positive impact on news channels: "Definitely, as to the common man this war is far removed from his backyard and does not look like having an immediate impact on him. I am sure lots of advertisers would be looking at tactically increasing outlays on news to take advantage of the increased viewership."

"Even from a perspective that ignores the war, there is enough happening on the news channel front with some of the advertising dadas taking their news channel launches fairly seriously. With so much of money being invested and technology and content improving dramatically, I would expect viewership gains for news channels and (disproportionately) more advertising monies being channelled into news," Arpita goes on to add.

Initiative Media (IM) Integrated Communications Businesses president Ashish Bhasin says: "I don't foresee any immediate impact especially if the war doesn't last for a long time. However, if it continues for a longer duration and the overall economy (including impact on oil prices) goes down then it is bound to impact India. This in turn will affect Indian advertising.Viewership of news channels will go up but most ad agencies will advise their clients to stay off the news channels. However, if some advertisers have on-going campaigns or commitments, then it would be advisable to continue with the same."

Leo Burnett India MD and CEO Arvind Sharma adds: "To a certain degree, the war will definitely undo whatever positive impact the 2003-04 Union budget has had on consumer markets. Oil price rises will definitely not help and some tremors will be felt even in the context of the Indian economy. Advertisers have committed monies to the cricket World Cup and fresh reviews will only happen in April as 31 March will also coincide with the financial year ending for most listed companies."

Carat Integra CEO Shripad Kulkarni says that there are no visible signs of any immediate impact on the Indian advertising scene. "Any captive audience opportunity is a marketers dream. But sometimes, there could be a moral issue: akin to let's say advertisers directly or indirectly supporting the war by advertising on the news coverage of war. Practically speaking, what is critical is whether it is perceived to be so by the constituencies who matter - consumers and governments! Of course, they will. Maybe, its a God-sent opportunity for channels such as NDTV!"

MindShare India MD Ashutosh Srivastava says: "Some MNCs are asking for cancellation of ongoing campaigns in line with worldwide policy. However, most have specifically asked to stay away from the news channels.We always talk about the 'medium being the message'. The context is negative and therefore best avoided, unless there is a relevant message in the advertising linked to the war. Probably yes, as viewership will go up somewhat and there will be advertisers who will buy time. But I don't expect any dramatic increase."

A media specialist who has been directly involved in the decision-making process for several "worried" advertisers, Initiative Media vice president planning and buying S Yesudas, offers a varied viewpoint: "News as an option today, unlike ever before, forms part of most TV media plans because it focuses on the male consumer with a sizeable chunk of the investment pie - commensurate to the audience delivery. I expect some tweaking to be done to these plans, provided the viewing pattern completely changes. On the other hand, some brands might consciously avoid the unpleasant war scenario even if it means better audience delivery."

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