A washerwoman who looks the part or an airbrushed model washing clothes – which image would strike a chord with you?

The date: June 22, 2011

The place: Wimbledon

Forty-year old Date-Krumm was battling 31-year-old Venus Williams. They were evenly matched: One set all, and then 6-6 in the third set.

Said the commentator: “The crowd is cheering for Date-Krumm because she’s not afraid to show her emotions. Venus is hitting so powerfully that you wonder how her opponent would handle it. But then Date-Krumm would absorb it and return it with interest !”

Finally, Venus overpowered her opponent and won the last set 8-6.

But that’s another matter.

The Question

If a brand were to be like Date-Krumm, unafraid to be honest, showing its warts and all, would it be more endearing? Would consumers relate better to a brand with foibles and character than an unnaturally ‘perfect’ brand?

This year, when the girlish Sabine Lisicki (whose emotions were on full display) beat the shrieking ice-maiden Maria Sharapova, not too many people killed themselves. Years ago, when David Ogilvy reviewed detergent ads in India, he exclaimed that most of the models looked like princesses. He showed us an example of a detergent ad from France that showed an old washerwoman, replete with wrinkles and even a faint moustache.

Happily I notice that Indian brands and advertising are increasingly using people that we can relate to. Whatever happened to the fear that if the consumer did not see a gorgeous apsara or an Adonis promoting a brand, then the brand was a goner? Some soft drink brands are already dumping megastars and engaging average looking Joes and Janes.

Just the fall-out from smaller budgets? Not really. It seems to be coming from a deeper understanding of the changing consumer.

We are informed that ‘the new masculinity is about changing the status quo and not about brawn’ (sic) and that ‘It’s about moving ahead with self-belief’ (sic). Planners appear to be delving deep into research, unearthing insights, engaging with consumers and starting conversations.

Clearly we are talking about empowering individuals rather than making them ape superstars.

Ok, now let me bowl you a doosra.

Speaking of empowerment, remember the time Nike changed its slogan from ‘Just do it’ to ‘I can’? It was extremely short-lived. Evidently the Nike customer likes to be urged to perform.

Self-belief and self-confidence didn’t seem to get off the starter’s block. Was the experiment premature? Was it a case of ‘another time, another place’?

I leave it to you, dear reader, to figure out.

Mohan Menon, ad man, is a founder director of the Chennai Business School.

(This article was published on August 30, 2012)
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