Saturday, May 30, 2015

Mr Murthy of Voltas

The Friday issue of BusinessLine had a puff piece on the TATA/Voltas television commercial featuring “Mr. Murthy” and his pidgin-Hindi speaking relatives.

Written by one Lavanya Narayan whose credulity-level is too high for journalism, it credits the witless ads with “humor” that represents the “ideals of the brand.”

She claims it is “proving to be popular with the masses.” (The masses!!!)

“Murthy represents their real consumer,” she writes earnestly, citing TATA/Voltas’ Head of Marketing Deba Ghoshal.

He is attributed the following Dumb & Dumber quote: “The whole chemistry of Murthy and his boss, Mr and Mrs Murthy, and now Murthy and his father in law, is very consumer centric, and the target audience can easily relate to this. We have always believed that consumers are our biggest ambassadors, and with Murthy our customer is right up there, right in the middle of action and gratification. The character of Murthy cuts across multiple segments, entry, mid and high-end, and appeals to a broad spectrum of customers.”

She adds that “industry experts appear positive about Murthy as well,” citing “Ramanujam Sridhar, Founder and CEO of Brand-Comm, a communications consultancy.”

“I like what Voltas is doing with the character of Murthy,” he says; “it continues to develop him year after year, bringing in new elements and characters to support his appearance.”

And finally, the article claims that “According to Ghoshal, since the summer of 2012, Voltas has had the highest market share in the AC category.”

All this is very enlightening but does not address the key issue: why did Voltas choose to make Murthy “comic” in just the way the British used to ridicule Indians?

If you did have to use an accent and speech pattern, wouldn’t it have been much funnier to go with a feringhi Mike Tully affect, something along the lines of his deathless “One thing is Cliah, Benaziah is hyah!”

Those are not rhetorical questions.

Seventy years after independence, TATA continues to hunt with the hounds while pretending to run with the hares, a game it perfected under colonial rule.

Its corporate biggies play a sneaky game we pidgin spouting Murthys are not supposed to notice: using/being used by foreign agencies to subversive ends while pretending to engage in “humor” and entertainment.

It’s not just Voltas.

Last year I pointed out how Aquaguard was almost the only major advertiser on the new television channel EPIC as it conducted a full scale assault on India. (Mercifully, it has since withered on the vine.)

The latest sneak attack is a commercial from Tanishq that dumps quite gratuitously on Punjabis. (It  might be intended as a comforting pat on the back for Southies to make up for Voltas, but that does not alter its political point.)

Is there a larger meaning to all this?

I think there is, and you can see it in what has happened to the annual Goafest gathering of the Indian advertising industry: over the last two years, foreign agencies have abandoned it and now have a rival conference.

If we are to look for a difference between the two, it is that Goafest is at heart Indian; its natural focus is the national market. The foreigners want to bring provincial identities to the fore.

Why do that?

Especially when the Internet, Worldwide Web and social media allow finely targeted and economical approaches to smaller audiences?

The only reasons are political. The national market offers huge efficiencies and, as demonstrated by the runaway success of the IPL, gives the country massive clout with global brands.

That is something foreign interests would like to weaken.

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