Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Thursday, Aug 28, 2003
GLOBALISATION. It is a word that evokes a variety of responses in advertising people, ranging from delight at champagne and caviar conferences abroad to displeasure when `the foreign hand' shoves international campaigns down their throats. A friend of mine, an advertising professional let us call him Bharat recently experienced the whole spectrum of emotions while attending a regional workshop on a global brand.
As an inevitable corollary to globalisation, India is considered a part of the region called Asia Pacific, which is often referred to reverentially as The Region. What is worrisome is that The Region is seen as homogeneous by some of the Western architects of globalisation and their local stooges. While countries such as China, Taiwan and Singapore have a shared Chinese heritage, India is like chalk to their cheese, a force-fit in The Region. We look different, we think differently and we respond to very different kinds of advertising. But, as my friend Bharat came to discover, the globalised world does not look kindly upon those who are different. It expects you to fall in line, especially after you have been allowed to partake of its goodies.
Which brings us to a resort located on a lush tropical island in the heart of The Region, where the aforementioned workshop is held. As soon as Bharat checks in, he is handed a complimentary coupon for the resort spa (to connect with his inner self) and an invitation to drinks and dinner afterwards (to connect with fellow participants at the workshop). The first day of the two-day workshop, it is apparent, is devoted to pleasure and indulgence.
Being a good desi, Bharat had never been to a spa before. And so he arrives with a slight sense of trepidation. He is told to enjoy the amenities of the spa but, like Cinderella, to be sure to reach the parlour in time for his back massage appointment. Hoping he does not turn into a pumpkin, he ventures into the spa garden which contains such delights as `soothing mud pools, refreshing outdoor pools and cascading waterfalls', and gives himself up to the joys of mud, water and sun. He even manages, miraculously, to get to his massage on time without the aid of a clock. Finally, floating on air, as it were, he arrives at the bar for cocktails with the regional honchos, who are at their charming best. The excellent Chardonnay and conversation take him higher still, and by the end of dinner he is in heaven. "Great workshop," he thinks, "Globalisation zindabad."
Day 2. Agenda: How to align the advertising for the brand in question in the different countries; how to convince concerned clients to let the agency make better ads. And, most importantly, how to improve their relationship with the client. Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and the rest present their current advertising on the brand. They all look the same the ads, that is. Their creators apologise for the lack of a creative idea, for the unoriginal executions. And for the fact that they had been unable to shoot with the best models. They blame it on their client. The regional honchos nod sagely, saying, "Never mind, we will help you improve. We will help you convince your clients to let you do better stuff. That is what we are there for."
Then it is time for the India presentation. It is the last one because Bharat's software seems to have trouble interfacing with the regional hardware. (In retrospect, this was ominous.) But finally, it connects. First, Bharat tells them that the Indian agency has a great relationship with the client. He then tells them how his latest ad film has surpassed the target research scores required by the client. (The biggest problem that many countries have is that their creative products do not achieve the target score.) He tells them how the Indian consumer loves the creative product, how sales have doubled from the same period the previous year since the ad's release. How they used one of the top directors to shoot the ad. And how they had no trouble convincing the client to use one of the top models. So basically, India is way ahead of the game a model for the rest of The Region to follow. And then he shows them the ad film.
At the end of it, expecting applause, Bharat turns triumphantly to his regional boss. But there is no smile of approval on his face. On the contrary, he looks highly displeased. He says, "This is Bollywoodish." It is said with an air of menacing finality that precludes any debate. It matters not that the commercial is very successful in India. It matters not that India is, well, Bollywoodish a culture that thrives on making a song and dance about everything. The message clearly is: "Who cares if the ad works locally? It is more important to conform to some global or, at least, regional norm."
This `conform or else' stance is all the more surprising when the whole world seems to be enamoured not just of Bollywood, but of all things Indian. In fact, the stance is downright disturbing. Bharat feels all his previous day's de-stressing coming to naught. Resentful, he wants to tell his regional boss that India is such a large and diverse sub-continent, creating a pan-Indian ad campaign is almost as tough as creating a global ad strategy. So perhaps, if a global campaign must be created, India should be given the task. We obviously have the expertise of dealing with differences. Add to that the primacy of the Indian market, and we emerge as the natural choice. Do the regional lords not recognise this?
There are at least three other regional conferences of multinational corporations happening at Bharat's hotel. He notices that all of them have Indian participants. He hopes they are faring better, and controls his urge to approach them for the purpose of inciting rebellion!
Thoroughly disgruntled and buzzing with violent plans for changing the global pecking order, Bharat boards his return flight. As he is wined, dined and pampered silly by business class stewardesses, he softens. He tries to keep his anti-G feeling top of mind. But these beautiful handmaidens of globalisation use charm, alcohol and a lowered oxygen supply to the brain to confuse him, and co-opt him back into the globalisation fold.
Postscript: The following week, the firang bosses of a different multinational client come down to meet Bharat. They approve of the way he has adapted their global campaign, and ask him to secure the world rights of the TV commercial he is making. They not only want to run it in The Region, but also elsewhere in the world. Now that is sweet: Globalisation on Indian terms. Bharat wants to call it Curry Globalisation. I say Mera Bharat Mahaan!
(The author is Senior Creative Director, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. The views expressed are his.)
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