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Thursday, May 06, 2004

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Retro-fit. `Wakaw!'

Ramesh Narayan

Will the Vanilla Coke commercial appeal to its target audience? Would today's youth be able to relate to a spoof on cine stars of yesteryear?

THIS is no plain vanilla advertising. It happens to be for Vanilla Coke, the latest offering from the Coca-Cola stable. A friendly debate I heard forms the core of this column. Actually, when some communication is debated, it is a very good sign. Most advertising and the consumers it is aimed at slip by each other like ships in the dark.

A topic of debate at least ensures that whether you like it or not, it has made some impact on you.

The topic was, of course, the `wakaw' advertisement for Vanilla Coke created by McCann Erickson, starring Vivek Oberoi in what is probably the zaniest role of his life.

The hero is dressed as some kind of a cross between Jeetendra, Tariq, Rishi Kapoor and Elvis Presley. His clothes, his hairstyle and his exaggerated mannerisms complete a crazy jigsaw featuring the names mentioned earlier. So does the tune and the word `wakaw'. Anyone who is forty-something will smile when he sees the hero playing badminton in the corny way that only Jeetendra could pull off. Or, dance like Rishi and Tariq.

The only ones who might not be amused are those who might say Jeetendra who? Or Rishi who? Generation X and Y who have grown up thinking that re-mixes are original and probably confuse between Mohammed Rafi and Mohammed Ali. Teenagers, and those in their twenties. Strangely, the target audience of Vanilla Coke is precisely this group. Strangely, because the debate I had talked about earlier was whether this retro-mega-blockbuster would make any sense to its target group at all.

Unless you have grown up seeing and enjoying the stuff that is being spoofed, you might be left feeling like a batsman facing a wayward Shoaib bouncer that is so short, you don't even have to duck.

On the other hand, what would be your reaction as a young person? Well, that was the other part of the debate. Imagine something described as retro, as zany, as an obvious spoof and carries imagery you are unfamiliar with but has freaky music, some loud gibberish and some attractive animation where sundry hearts come blowing out of the generous lips of this mind-blowing character.

Well, the description, devoid of the memory cells, is precisely what the younger generation might describe as `cool'.

In that case you have a win-win situation. Those who remember and recognise the characters will no doubt talk about it to as many people as they meet. Those who don't might be just taken up by the very nature of the communication and it would work.

Prasoon Joshi, the creator of this advertisement, says he is not too bothered whether the youth would not relate to this. He says the idea was to show someone who really has not changed for anything, but is willing to try this all-new product. "The commercial has many layers," says Prasoon. Surely each time you see the commercial you realise or grasp something new. Makes for great repeat value.

The jury is still out on the effect this advertising will have. Yet one is fairly sure this is not supposed to be a product that will garner a huge market share. It is a niche product that makes the Coke bouquet more complete.

One is also sure that the advertising is bold and brave and definitely walks the creative path less travelled. As for me, I'll just nip across to the neighbourhood café and order a good old Coke float. Wakaw!

(The author heads Canco Advertising.)

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