Thursday, August 24, 2017
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The Beatles can teach you to make people smile


“This made me smile.” So said Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, on Twitter on Christmas Day, linking to a made-in-India video on YouTube.

If you’re reading this in the physical newspaper, search for ‘A Christmas Surprise’ + ‘Tata Sky’ the next time you’re online and you’ll find the video Trudeau links to.

It’s a simple, lovely video, with renditions of popular Christmas songs set to music by (obviously) Muslim musicians using Indian instruments. It’s impossible not to smile as the video carries on.

Why did Trudeau smile? Why did I smile?

The answer lies in the description that accompanies the video. “The world could really use some love and hope right now. And this video is just that – a message of hope. It’s a gentle reminder that though all seems dark right now, there is light still left in this world. And it’s time we let it in.”

The Tata Sky-commissioned video finds roots in the most obvious: what do people want to watch or hear? A few months ago, I met and interviewed Dave Trott, former chairman of The Gate London, who is also a celebrated copywriter, blogger, and author.

He spoke about how advertising had changed for the worse, in large part due to the disconnect of the creatives from the soul of each country – the middle classes and the blue-collared workers.

He spoke about how The Beatles churned out hit after hit because they knew the pain, angst, joy, and the happiness of the families of the blue-collared workers. That’s why they knew of the meter maid, which led to Lovely, Rita, Meter Maid; they knew of the pain of old couples, which led to When I’m Sixty-four; they understood what simple entertainment meant to working-class children, which inspired For the Benefit of Mr Kite.

And so on.

There’s no rocket science that led to any of these songs. All it took was for The Beatles to understand what moved the people around them. And Ogilvy (the creators of the Christmas Surprise) has ridden a popular wave – that in India, there’s a need for some promise of hope. Riding the ‘obvious’ always pays, and the Christmas Surprise is far from the first.

Tata Tea did this so well with their Jaago Re campaign, recognising that citizens were tired of politicians and their corrupt ways. The Hindu latched onto the anger against politicians with their ‘Behave Yourself, India. The Youth are Watching’ campaign. Idea Cellular has repeatedly done it with their ‘Get Idea’ series.

The inspiration for all these successful campaigns comes not from flashes of genius, but by creative directors looking around them and listening to what people were saying. There’s no great line required to be crafted – the line and the idea hit you in the face. The line and the idea are part of popular culture — already. None of these commercials (or films) attempts to ‘sell’ overtly. There are tangential connects between Jaago Re and tea, between the business of The Hindu and misbehaving politicians, and between the utility of Idea Cellular and their Get Idea series.

That’s what makes these campaigns memorable for ages – and not for the moment. We smile each time we see the ridiculousness depicted in The Hindu ad or witness the ‘victory’ of the common man over politicians in the Idea commercials or root for the upright voter in the Jaago Re movement. We smile when we watch these years after these were created. What does the Christmas Surprise have to do with Tata Sky? Nothing. They make people smile, just as it made Justin Trudeau smile.Often, that’s enough, as The Beatles discovered.

Brands need to discover that as well.

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