'The Block VI': Balki breaks some advertising myths

MUMBAI: 'Advertising is creativity personified'. A line that Lowe India's national creative director R Balakrishnan, better known in the ad world as 'Balki', would spout, right? Wrong!

For Balki, such oft repeated spiel is so much balderdash and he said as much while shattering that and other advertising shibboleths during a refreshingly different presentation at session six of 'The Block' - the 10 session creative workshop hosted by the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI).

For starters he kickstarted the session by confessing, "Nobody can teach anybody advertising." After that initiation, Balki got down to what it was he wanted to discuss --- understanding briefs. Not so much about being able to read a brief, but to understand the fuzzy picture a brief represents. Analysing the shortage of good ads, he says the core problem is that most people fail to understand a brief, and more importantly read the client's mind.


Balki's thumb rule for reading a brief: "Always meet your client". Imagine talking to your carpenter through a middleman, your furniture would meet a fatal end. The same applies in advertising. The end will be tragic, if the means is not a familiar entity."

"The best briefs are written after the ad is produced" says the veteran and adds, "Most ads are produced by sheer accident." In fact, most accidents are a series of accidents and that is most crucial to good advertising. Advertising professionals basically need to focus on the right accident."

Progressing on to ad campaigns that Balki had worked on, his stress was more on the complex "boring" brands and how to make a mark and connect to audiences, with products that have followed clichéd advertising. He also states that these brands would never fetch awards, simply because the nature of the product and the advertising pattern the brands follow would never qualify as great advertising. Even so, working on these brands could provide for great learning.

His first case study was Fair & Lovely. Calling it a conversational brand, he questioned how is one supposed to brief a person on a dream? The whole point being communicating a dream. The 'dream brand' essentially in concept is regressive so how does one make it look progressive and appealing to the TG?

Every ad is a solution to a problem and hence there is nothing like creativity in advertising. But the issue at hand is how to make a personal brand or more aptly, a closet brand a 'Big brand'. That would mean taking the brand beyond romance pre se. Then came the level of brainstorming of identifying the biggest problem a woman faces in the Indian society. The girl child has always been an unpleasant offering in this nation and so that was the key in conceptualizing the path breaking ads for 'Fair & Lovely'. (Cricket commentator ad/ Airhostess ad).

So the first major learning here is "Face the truth." Considering one to evolve this concept can never show a woman dark and suffering, simply because then the brand is portrayed in bad light, magnifying the angst which is coined as opportunity branding was out of the question. Also the product by itself was not an indispensable product, for that matter no product is. So essentially what it did, was just promise a slightly better lifestyle.

"All the great ideas are the ads that make you uncomfortable" asserts Balki. Creative people put nebulous sets of words into a fuzzy image. Fair & Lovely could have never been just a product proposition, could have never been a one line proposition. The ad had to have a halo around it."

"The business of advertising is a very instinctive business. Every brand has a fragrance, and it needs to smell right. Advertising is interesting because at every point one is looking at different fuzzy images and trying to make a connect.

"A brief need not be short; a brief needs to be understood. A brief must give one a picture and hence the brief needs to entail whatever is necessary to communicate that fuzzy image. Advertising guys need to also be good judges of advertising, so as to judge their own ads giving them a fair idea of whether the brand marries the idea."

Moving on to the second case study Vim; a brand that was stuck between dirty dishes and piles and piles of plates. Endorsing Vim as a superior product, he elucidates, "Advertising can have quite a long product window and still sparkle." Going through the same process of identifying the angst and then magnifying it, came the birth of the 'joota ad' addressing the concern of one and all to eat on a plate which is tainted with the leftovers of its previous owner.

'Hoodibaba' Bajaj Caliber was another trendsetter in terms of words coined with no real significance and meaning was born out of an accident. Somebody came up with the word out of sheer desperation of not having anything else to hold on to and a scratch film which turned out different from what was originally asked for.

Balki urges, "Grab the opportunity to work on big brands. They are most complex and most demanding. I see an increasing trend of the youth shying away from them."

Parker was an inspiration which was born out of a frustration. The client was unhappy about the elite and the rich carrying a cheap pen, a pen not looked at as a status symbol gave birth to the sarcastic parker ads with Amitabh Bachchan. Products like these operate on child like simplicity. They are complex brands which need to be dealt with in a simple manner. Creative people are the connection and have to keep the switching between complexities.

Surf Excel, had a unique history to it. A superior product, whose superiority was its biggest hindrance. Its USP being less lather, the product had to fight a mindset which translated more lather as more clean. So the product was launched in Chennai, which is a drought stricken city, and was pitched to save water. The brilliant strategy worked and soon the product became a raving success there. The product is now a hit in most drought stricken areas, but considering most of India is drought stricken, the product enjoys a good market share. "Sometimes gut is the best way of doing things."

"Almost all bad commercials happen because there is too much to be said. Clients come to advertising agencies to solves problems, if they could solve their own problems then we wouldn't be making half of the shitty money we are making today," Balki says animatedly.

Advertising is about doing things the way it's supposed to be done. One needs to keep increasing their role as a solution giver. "Creativity is a card advertising guys carry to earn some money. If you are good at nothing, then advertising is the place for you." Most creative people are frustrated because their ideas are not blasted or talked or heard about.

On a parting note Balki says, " Advertising is for yourself, always write for yourself. If you write for the majority, you're great, if you write for the minority, you are a loser.There are no evolved artists. You are as good as the audience."

"Sharpen the craft and get into our realities." A truly inspirational session. A man who tore to pieces all the celebrated myths of advertising. Now this is someone on who the term path breaker really rests well.

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