| Pran and Amitabh Bachchan in Zanjeer
Jaipur, Nov. 11: Break the rules. The rubric adopted by Ad Asia 2003, which began here today, was turned on its head by Bollywood superstar and Brand India’s best-known icon Amitabh Bachchan who gently tweaked the ad professionals’ collective nose out of joint by pointing out just how pretentious such an objective was.
“Let me put before you a somewhat iconoclastic proposition,” said Bachchan who has done a fair share of advertisements — some successful, some not. “We never break rules. Not you, not me, not the best creative or the most inventive marketer.”
The truth is that rule-breaking is a myth which is done to ensure “you get noticed because you are against the norm”.
“But where does this norm come from' It must have been born out of someone, somewhere, someplace, breaking an earlier rule to begin with,” said Bachchan.
The point that Bachchan was labouring to make was that rule-breaking is symptomatic of an already existing need within society that the rule-breaker seeks to fulfil in some way.
He illustrated this point with events in his own life. The first was the myth of the Angry Young Man he portrayed with his movie Zanjeer — and then the makeover that came with his television gameshow, Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Zanjeer was an expression of the political angst of that time with the man on the street incensed with the events that snowballed into the Emergency, which Bachchan termed “the most depressive period in the history of our country”.
“We didn’t do any market research, but the culture and society at the time needed, and wanted, an angry young man. We did not break any rules of cinema,” he said.
Much the same thing happened in the 1990s when economic liberalisation swept across the country.
“Indian tradition and values, as well as our colonial and socialist past, have never held the pursuit of wealth or consumerism as a morally desired value system,” said Bachchan.
Until reforms, that is. Kaun Banega followed.
“Norms and rules in society, science and advertising are always changing. What was an icon yesterday, is not an icon today. We have not broken any rules, or set new norms: we have just given the children what they wanted, and needed.”
But while the megastar was quibbling over the mythic slogan of rule-breaking, management guru C.K. Prahalad went a step further and put forth the proposition that companies did not control brands any more; consumers did.
The good professor — most famous for coining the concept of core competence that businesses embraced with gusto in the early nineties — said companies would no longer sell products or services; they will have to sell a consumer experience.
“It’s rather like the Lego blocks. Every child plays with just a finite number of blocks but recreates myriad shapes which is part of his experience. If he likes the experience, the consumer will buy the product. The product is deeply embedded in the experience — not the other way round.”
He said consumers had become co-creators of brands and their experience with products would shape the way these brands developed in the future. Any company that disregarded this would do so at its peril.
Core competence, consumer power, brand-building and all the loopy advertising concepts are under the scanner at Ad Asia which is being held in India for the first time in 20 years.
As Bachchan says: “The masque goes on”. And the blindfolds of pretence and prevarication will presumably come off.