Times of India Chennai: the lemmings edition

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In 1985, Apple ran a TVC titled ‘Lemmings‘. It was meant to announce the launch of ‘Macintosh Office’. While writing about the creation of that TVC, Walter Isaacson writes in the Steve Jobs Biography:

“Lemmings” showed a dark-suited, blindfolded corporate managers marching off a cliff to their death. From the beginning, both Jobs and Sculley were uneasy. It didn’t seem as if it would convey a positive or glorious image of Apple, but instead would merely insult every manager who had bought an IBM.

The Lemmings ad crossed my mind when I saw the new campaign for the Times of India, Chennai edition. Watch the TVC here.

The objective is clearly to create dissonance among the readers of The Hindu by portraying their brand choice as boring. I feel it may make for interesting advertising but will fail to deliver the objective of getting the readers of The Hindu to switch. The character of Chennai has changed over the years with the growing IT/Services and automobile industry. For ‘new entrants’ to Chennai, TOI was an alternative to The Hindu. But for die-hard Chennai dwellers, TOI is still an outsider. Questioning their intelligence may end up being counter productive.

TOI’s image is that of a marketing-led paper which is ready to sell brand space at any cost (witness the hue & cry in Social Media about the unwieldy front page vertical ads, the take over of the entire newspaper by a brand, changing the background color of the paper to that of a brand color etc.). Add to it the needless skin-show (not just in the city supplement) even in the mainline articles, the celebrity gossip in city supplements and the prominence given to ‘Page 3 culture’ you have ‘sensationalism’ as a residual brand association.

If the alternative to sleep-inducing journalism was ‘stimulating, thought-provoking journalism’ the dig at your main competition may still have worked. But not with TOI’s current content and perceptions. What say?

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  1. TOI is still a new entrant into Chennai and the attempt to counter a really well established media house isn't so influencing. Most of their contents are either brand driven or of any campaign.

    The only change that TOI has brought to the chennai market is that it has reduced the price of The Hindu, beyond that there is no change.

    And TOI cannot bring their other city approach to Chennai. Hindu's Science & Technology page still attracts more reading.

    TOI should change their strategy for this crowd.

    – Karthik.

  2. Deepak Thammaiah Reply

    Going by all the comments on the Campaign India page about this ad, I infer Hindu readers in Chennai are pissed off. Understandably so. But I'm still rooting for TOI for the sheer size of their testicles. Because it takes some to say it like it is.

    To most (I might be exaggerating a little here) people my age (26, for those who need to know) this is exactly how we describe The Hindu: BORING. So this ad, I like. But for those on the other side of the fence I guess it's time to reach for the antacid.

    P.S: Don't kill the messenger.

    • Yes, it does tap into the 'boring', 'staid' perception of The Hindu. But if what's on offer in terms of an alternative is considered flaky or perceived to be low brow then I think people will continue with their 'staid' option.

  3. I like the ad. Branding-wise, it kind of….portrays the morningness of Chennai, giving the local feel. And a bit funny too.

    But thats all there is. An ad is only as good as its product. When the product doesn't promise its preach, the advertisement loses its stand.

    I say this because, I was one of many victims of the earlier ToI's advertisements. What I basically fell for is, the 'cool' factor. But then, I had to beg my paper delivery guy again… to throw The Hindu back at my door.

    What I get from this particular campaign is something very similar. The message that I decipher is, 'ToI is here to masalafy your morning and give the dopest news ever'. Which is ok, as long as we don't want to here any serious news or improve our vocabulary.

    Also, in my view, its not about being a local or an outsider. Its about respecting the reader. I recently read an online ToI article on Metallica's Bangalore tour. I, like the thousand other fans, felt that it was a disgrace to the band and the fans.

    As a personal choice, I prefer The Hindu. Because, unlike ToI, the content, the information, the language and etc…, in The Hindu are much richer. Although, I do accept The Hindu is a bit boring (a bit, it kinda is).

    I feel that Taproot did best with what they had. They masalafied the brand image for the people who expects not too serious news. Taproot could've worked in million different ways, but like I said before, their ideas are only as good as the paper.

    • Well said, Akshay! Agree that its not about being a local or an outsider to Chennai. My point was that TOI is likely to most appeal to new entrants to the city or those seeking a 2nd paper at home. I think hard core Hindu readers are unlikely to chuck that habit after seeing this.

  4. I don't agree with the point of view Mr Akshay. loyal readers of Hindu – just not from it's brand name but from contents and strong editorial coverage. Hindu in Chennai is very much strong as Times of India in Mumbai.

  5. I love the ad! Also like the strategy to go after the Hindu. But will TOI be able to match the Hindu for its hardcore news reportage? That's the question!!!

  6. I liked the campaign in terms of the position they took in the Chennai market, although the strategy is misplaced and lacks spirit. Sure, the campaign would be talked about in Chennai, When i did see the ad, it bought to me frustration and angst, that Times of India's stance to the Hindu is boring

    What it would do, is get the new readers in Chennai (People who are not from Chennai, move in due to opportunities) take the paper, although it would not dent the Chennai reader picking the Times of India.

    Thanks to social media, the perception of Times of India has blatantly changed, if the Hindu is criticized on social media, it is for the stance they take on the ULFA or the Maoists or Free Tibet and not for the glamorization and sensationalization they offer.

    If the Hindu and Filter Coffee is tradition in Chennai, they need a higher elevated strategy to counter Hindu.

  7. While Hindu & coffee is a tradition (used to be mine till I moved to Bombay), I believe that Hindu has lost it's edge lately. My father for instance (who used to be an avid Hindu reader) has switched to TOI. Reason? Cheap Subscription & absolute loss of faith in media. For him newspapers are Raddhi anyway, so it doesn't make a difference whether it is Hindu or TOI. Also their editorial strategy has been flawed. I blogged about it too. Sorry to plug it here (, but I think that the group in itself is dying a slow death. With respect to this campaign, ToI had to just highlight one of Hindu's flaws. I think they have done it intelligently!

  8. Sunayan Bhattacharje Reply

    As a former member of the TOI editorial in Chennai, I exactly know the way this paper functions. To substantiate my claim, let me tell you that I was one of the launching team members for the editions from Coimbatore (launched on 14th February, 2011) and Madurai (launched later, I don't really remember the date purely subject to utter boredom). The resident editor (I don't want to take names, people in the know-how would identify) often used to rebuff us by asserting and reasserting that TOI is a 'youth-oriented' newspaper and we should thus follow suit (Just to let you know that I was a part of the desk). By 'youth-oriented', he always emphasized on the usage of pretty face (women without an iota of doubt). For a case in point, please refer to the TOI Budget issue, people would actually appreciate my concern.

    Without going deep into the daily functioning of the so-called 'Largest circulated English daily in the world', let me communicate that the paper caters to popular beats rather than scholarly pursuits (barring a select group of editors who are more intent on producing real news).

    Any day, The Hindu is a far better option for any true newspaper reader. Take it from the horse's mouth! I know stuffs that I have done on the desk and I also know the amount of emphasis that is bestowed on design and looks.

    Rock on!!

  9. Hindu is a newspaper……. TOI is an entertainment paper……..

  10. I tried reading TOI in Bangalore, but it was TOI which was more boring than The Hindu because about 70% of their paper contained only ads. I switched to DNA India, and found this to be better than both. In Chennai though, I find The Hindu better. They have to be obviously strong on their home turf. I wish DNA India had a Chennai edition!

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