Cadbury Bournvita: forced to focus on awards?

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Bournvita, is a malted health drink aimed at growing children. In India, mothers of such children have been its core target audience. ‘All round development’ has been the brand’s focus for decades. My earliest memory of the brand is its association with the popular ‘Bournvita Quiz Contest’ on the radio . In the recent past the brand has invested in the campaign idea ‘Tayyari Jeet Ki‘ loosely translated as ‘preparation for success’ and created some memorable old-fashioned TV spots.

In this digital world, brands have realised (rightly so) that they need to get consumers and prospects to talk about the brand. The belief is that today’s customers are cynical, attention-poor and can easily switch off or block a mere ‘claim’ from a brand, if its in the form of a conventional ‘ad’. However, the chances of consumer talking about a brand increase when they create something remarkable – it could even be an ad which goes viral, a product innovation, association with a relevant cause or some interesting promotional activity.

Earlier, if a product’s performance was to be demonstrated, it could be done in a conventional TV commercial. In today’s world, such claims are effective if ‘proven’ through an act – like how Volvo did with their ‘Epic Split’ video featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Even FMCG brands known to rely heavily on mass media advertising have done some interesting ‘new media’ activities. P&G’s ‘Thank you, mom’ promotion (though not strictly a digital campaign) was about an act to prove that the company acknowledges and appreciates the role of moms in shaping the career of athletes. Febreze created radio spots which were good enough to blend musically into the playlists on popular platforms such as Spotify.

I think it is BBDO which speaks of ‘acts, not ads’ as a philosophy. Over the last few years, virtually every big brand seems to have adopted this approach with varying degrees of credibility and success. In the quest to be talked about and create a buzz, brands have experimented with ’causevertising’, moment marketing or being associated with a higher order brand purpose. Is there a difference between ’cause advertising’ and ‘brand purpose’? The former could be seen as a campaign idea and a tactical approach while the latter, a long-term strategic approach.

The irrefutable truth is that advertising award shows love campaigns linked to a purpose or cause. It’s natural that ad agencies see disproportionate benefit (in terms of visibility and recognition) if they win big with such efforts. This attitude has resulted in select creative teams chasing the next big ‘award worthy idea’ every year. Such efforts usually have a few common elements: a ‘societal problem’ (preferably with a doomsday milieu) and a solution in the form of a product, service or a creation that can be linked back to the category or brand (can being the operative word).

A new initiative from Cadbury Bournvita, #FaithNotForce, falls into the category of ‘acts not ads’ and has been discussed widely on social media by the advertising & marketing community. The intent is to get parents to recognise the true talent of their children and not ‘force’ a (conventional) career choice such as law, medicine or engineering. The creative idea is to dramatise how one is a misfit in a role that is forced upon them. And in a bold, very creative move the brand changed its familiar jar into things they weren’t meant to be: a tissue box, a toilet-cleaner, ketchup bottle and so on (there’s even a ‘store‘).

Those who perhaps had not seen the above film may have seen the below print ad to be aware of the intent:

The campaign received both praise and criticism on social media. My views:

The insight – a serious issue alright but how real and true to the brand?: is the career choice of an individual an important issue? Of course it is. In today’s India are parents still not open-minded about the issue? I have my doubts. Parents dictating the education stream and career choice of their children was a reality. But I feel today’s parents are a lot more ‘open minded’ and sensitive to children’s choices. In my view, it is no longer taboo if one pursues sports, music or entrepreneurship as a career. Also, I find the issue of ‘career choice’ bit of a stretch from the ‘preparation’ and ‘taiyyari jeet ki‘ platform.

Behavioural change through one store? The idea seems to have been implemented in one store in Mumbai. Obviously it wasn’t meant to be scaled to impact a wide audience. One might argue that brand salience and awareness (to the cause) can be built if the campaign idea goes viral. As we’ve seen with countless award winning case study films, the real on-ground impact of such is near zero and ROI is more to do with ‘millions of impressions or ‘billions of dollars worth of PR value’ – which are most commonly seen in case study films . And one wonders if real behavioural change was the goal at all or it was just limited to producing a case study film. The film also has perfectly captured audio of ‘customers’ reacting to the changed packs when one doesn’t expect that from hidden cameras (of course I could be wrong about the cameras & technology in use).

As I said before, despite debates on costs & scams, advertising awards will thrive – they have become an addiction with no fix.

Subliminal cues of the ‘forced’ products: the ‘new’ products were seen by a handful of people I would imagine. Even then, to associate a food product with categories like toilet cleaner does not conjure up positive imagery, even if meant as a tool to shock parents into accepting the message

Finally, preachy messages are getting tiresome (at least for me). Every brand is telling the consumer what is wrong in their lives and how they should be living. A fizz drink asked parents to ‘release the pressure’ in the context of tensions pertaining to performance in school exams. Again, a real issue but lacks credibility coming from a carbonated drink and makes one wonder why reforming attitude to exams is their business. Less said about case study films, the better. They have become predictable. They usually start with a morose, depressing ‘statistic’ or ‘fact’ (‘In India, 27.3 million women suffer from…’) meant to catch the attention of an unsuspecting award jury then boom…present a ‘solution’ from a brand to fix a deep societal malaise.

All of which has forced me to be cynical about such efforts despite a demonstration of creative thinking. Advertising is creativity with a business ‘purpose’ (as in objective not how ‘business purpose’ is bandied about nowadays). It is about solving a business problem faced by a brand or addressing a market opportunity with an intent to impact the business positively. Grey areas begin to emerge when creative ideas are used for dodgy ‘businesses’ or ’causes’ – as we often see in award shows.

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