When a 'rangoli' and 'gully cricket' won Abby awards

Women climbing trees to watch cricket matches; a traditionally dressed South Indian woman replacing Sanskrit words with the names of cricket stars while drawing a rangoli or should we say - hold your breath - a cricket pitch;a Ganapati idol holding a cricket ball instead of a modak (sweet meat)!

Ads and TVCs (television commercials) which endeared themselves to all and sundry; better still won creative awards for excellence! Euro RSCG won the silver in the media category (best campaign) for its Gully Cricket ad - featuring MAX brand ambassador Kapil Dev - developed for its client Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and MAX. It also won a silver in the media category (in the single film ad) for the rangoli ad featuring a women who draws a cricket pitch instead of a traditional mystical design.

Meet the creative head honcho who was instrumental in conceiving such memorable ads. Euro RSCG vice president - creative Ashok Karnik. Karnik has been tapping his right brain (creative) as well as left brain (rational faculties to make his advertising sell more) since the last 15 years. He has been in Euro RSCG for five years. Prior to this stint, he was with Mudra and before that with Clarion (now Bates).

Karnik has worked on brands such as Peter England (remember Parveen Dabbas in the "honest shirt"), Van Heusen, Philips audio, Videocon and SET. Karnik is a TV buff and watches lots of movies and cricket (shades of MAX!!!).

Karnik loves all kinds of music, from Indian classical to reggae (Shaggy) and Anu Malik. He also makes it a point to travel along the Konkan coastline (like a true Goan) and loves eating fish. His dream is to own a Pajero and travel far-n-wide.

Karnik took some time out of his hectic schedule to talk to about his association with the MAX campaign. Excerpts:

The initial brief for the MAX cricket World Cup ad campaign:

It all began with the ICC Champions Trophy 2002 held in Sri Lanka. That was the rehearsal or pre-cursor. It was during the Champions Trophy that the MAX team changed its positioning.

In India, there are only two religions - cricket and movies - in which everyone is involved. Earlier, sports channels used to package cricket differently and target purists. MAX tried another route - appeal to mass sensibilities. After all, in India, every person considers himself to be a cricket expert. MAX also decided to demystify cricket and make it appealing to the female audiences. The key was to strike a balance between the masses, females and the purists.

It was then that we created the following print ads: Lord Ganpati holding a season ball instead of a modak (sweet meat); a small boy using beer bottles as stumps; a grocer using a cricket ball instead of weights. These are some of the scenes that we usually see in every day life. But more importantly, it happens only in India.

The World Cup 2003 was billed as the greatest cricketing spectacle of all time. The focus was on getting a bulk of the women audiences to view the matches which would start in the afternoon. The single point agenda was to make the whole of India "MAX Deewana!"

The Rangoli TVC for MAX:

It shows something which happens in many homes - a woman starting the day by making a rangoli. The original storyline had a woman - a housewife to be more precise - dressed in a traditional south Indian saree. One assumes that she is making a rangoli and the camera doesn't reveal the rangoli drawing till the very end. Finally, when she finishes, it turns out that she has drawn a cricket pitch. The client approved the story idea and liked it very much.

We managed to rope in ace ad film maker Prahlad Kakkar (Genesis Films). This, by itelf, was an achievement as Prahlad is normally associated with the Pepsi-type of ads (large canvas, mega stars, humour). Prahlad instinctively liked the concept very much and wanted to be a part of the campaign.

We found a 20-year old college girl who fitted the ad film character (who we had in mind) to a T. When he started shooting, Prahlad told me that something was amiss. He told me that the girl needed to do something while drawing. We realised that one couldn't merely focus on the girl in the initial stages of the TVC; something has to happen simultaneously. Since time was running out, I had to come up with something.

I realised that a woman drawing a rangoli would normally chant a slokha (hymn) or a mantra or a suprabhatam. The key was to connect the audio track to cricket. Within five minutes, I wrote the lyrics and used the names of cricketers. I ensured that the metre of the slokha was maintained. I asked the girl to memorise and practise the typical south Indian accent. She did a wonderful job and the results speak for themselves. I got calls from everyone praising the ad. It was done in a lighter vein and we we expected people to take it in that spirit. It was funny, different and grabbed attention.

Gully cricket TVC featuring the boy and Kapil Dev:

Kapil Dev was appointed as the brand ambassador of MAX. Kapil is a celebrity - a god who is idolised by cricket fans. But in our film, we didn't want to use him as the larger-than-life personality that he is! Normally what happens with film stars and cricket stars is that they end up portraying themselves rather than the character envisaged in the script. We came up with story ideas which would glorify gully cricket - which you have played, I have played and everyone has played at some stage of their life. Gully cricket is a part and parcel of our lives and something which only happens in India.

In the TVC, we wanted Kapil to be a part of the scene - to be weaved into the script. Kapil is not the hero of the film - the little boy is the hero. One of my team members saw this slum boy playing on the streets of Bandra (in suburban Mumbai) - the boy had real attitude. My team member brought him to me and we finalised him as soon as we set our eyes on him. The boy had the same attitude during the shot and scowled at everyone who goofed up during the shoot.

The TVC was shot in Kotachi Wadi (Charni Road, Mumbai) which itself has been declared a heritage spot. It had the perfect ambience - an earthy look with several houses and gullies (bylanes) fashioned exactly the way we wanted it. We didn't even need a cast as the people residing in those houses agreed to participate. It was sheer magic! We enjoyed every moment of the shoot and so did Prahlad.

Other print ads and TVCs:

We also had a third TVC featuring Kapil. In this TVC, we used Kapil as a celebrity and a personality. Kapil is seen playing golf (Kapil loves to play golf) and suddenly he starts wielding the golf club as a cricket bat. He starts playing cricket shots. We wanted to say that Kapil is a cricket lover - no matter which sport he plays. However, this didn't become as popular as the earlier ones. Perhaps, the two games - golf and cricket - are so similar (and so is the shot making in these games) that the message got lost.

For the hoardings and the print ads, we chose different vignettes of how cricket affects our lives. During every cricket match, one sees hordes of people outside a TV dealer's shop. These people cannot hear the audio commentary but they still flock outside. Also, we see people climbing trees in order to get a peek at the matches being played inside the stadium. All this happens only in India.

The only difference is that one sees men. In our ads, we showed women. We wanted to show that women have taken over from men - they can do whatever men did earlier; and do it much better.

Triumph at Abbies 2003:

Even before the Abbies, we received a lot of congratulatory calls from advertising professionals and our peers. More importantly, people (who we met in social gatherings) who didn't know that we had created the ads praised them in general conversations. At the Abbies, it was sheer ecstasy when we went up to the stage to collect the awards. It was victory for our entire team (12 people in the creative department and others in the agency) as well as for the client for being such a receptive one. It was teamwork!

SET executive VP and MAX business head Rajat Jain on the campaign created by Euro RSCG:

We wanted to position MAX as the ultimate destination for films and cricket. If you notice, movies are a mass entertainment idiom and we wanted to elevate cricket to the same level. The cricket shown on MAX had to appeal to the entire family rather than just the male members. We wanted all the family members to gather around the TV set and watch cricket on MAX - just as how they sit together and watch movies. We took up the entertainment elements of cricket and tried to convert them into mass fervour and hysteria.

The Rangoli ad, the Gully cricket ad, the women climbing trees - all of them were in sync with our strategy of going beyond the traditional and doing something different.

Abbies are the ultimate recognition of creative excellence and the awards are a tribute to our positioning strategy and our faith in our agency. We are happy that every aspect of MAX cricket during the world cup 2003 has won acclaim - from the viewers (in the form of TRPs) and the marketing/advertising fraternity (in the form of awards).

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