Ganesha has six-pack abs

Prasad Sangameshwaran | Updated on September 04, 2014


Setting an example: Health Cha Shree Ganesh in Mumbai. - PAUL NORONHA

In an era when everybody talks fitness but few practice it, a marketer in Mumbai is seeking divine intervention

Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, is often synonymous with his pot belly. In Mumbai, some marketers want to desperately change that. During the current Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations advertising agency DDB Mudra Group came up with a thought that even gods ascribe to a strict fitness regimen. To hit that point home, the bulging belly of Lord Ganesha was replaced with a six-pack abdomen.

When most Ganesh festival organisers call themselves as the king of that region – the most famous among them in central Mumbai is called Lalbaugcha Raja – this pandal in the western suburbs of Mumbai calls itself “Health Cha Shree Ganesh” (also means the beginning of good health). Go there and position yourself before the lord and you will find an entire campaign unleashed to make you go back with a vow to live healthy.

Right in front of the lord, where most devotees position themselves in a prayer stance, one can spot a weighing scale on the ground. Go ahead to collect some healthy sugar-free modaks as prasad and you will find a priest with eight-pack abs and bulging biceps handing over the prasad. A few feet away one can spot a big transparent sacrifice box. To help one overcome their bad habits (chocolates, cigarettes, alcohol, and such) the box is set up for people to drop their chits of written promises or things that they wish to give up. During the evenings, one can spot health counsellors or dieticians giving tips to devotees to stay fighting fit. Devotees can even get their diabetes and blood pressure checked.

The immersion of the lord will also be unique, say Mudra executives. In processions that are otherwise unruly – not unusual to find drunk revellers – this one will have a unique workout marathon with a trainer who will choreograph the Visarjan (as the immersion is called). Even the usual drums and cymbals will probably be replaced with beats used for aerobic workouts.

Despite all this noble thinking, finding a client to back this idea was difficult. The agency approached nearly twelve clients before healthcare major Zydus Wellness agreed to come on board with its margarine brand Nutralite. The concern from many clients was probably that the idea will backfire as consumers might be offended to see a Ganesha without his trademark belly. But as Aneil Deepak, Executive Director, DDB Mudra Group and Head of Ideas, DDB MudraMax, points out, “We are not the first ones to give a creative interpretation to Lord Ganesha.” In the past, Lord Ganesha has been shown in various forms, from donning cricket gear to becoming a superhero by Ganesh pandals across the city. What DDB Mudra planned to do was just give a marketing twist to the festival. According to a Zydus spokesperson, “When the whole world is looking at fitness, it was a great way to connect with consumers, particularly with the lord himself showing the path to a healthy lifestyle.” Deepak says the starting point of this idea came from the World Obesity Day report that highlighted the fact that India and China accounted for over 15 per cent of the obese and overweight population in the world. Not that people don’t try to stay fit. Most take a health vow every New Year, but by mid-February, 60 per cent of those resolutions are broken. Deepak says that consumer insight, particularly in India, was that when people made a promise in front of god, they adhered to it. This was borne out by tradition, one example being people giving up what they liked after going on a pilgrimage to Kashi.

Hence, the sacrificial box was put up. The act signifies a binding promise to Ganpati Bappa that one will not look back until he/she meets their goal. Till date consumers have been depositing various things ranging from cola cans to chocolate bars. Someone even dumped a pack of Amul Butter inside – not sure if that was a DDB Mudra ploy as Nutralite is positioned as an alternative to butter. But the biggest challenge of them all was to spot a priest with washboard abs. After looking at nearly 20 options the agency nearly gave up, till this priest with an eight-pack abdomen came forward – the agency insists that he’s not a model but a priest who knows his mantras. “Women ogle at him and the priest enjoys the attention,” says Deepak jokingly. The agency has tied up with the organisers for a period of five years and expects that with the encouraging response it has received so far – 20,000 visitors over the first three days of the festival — next year, the sponsors will queue up to be a part of the fitness movement. Will Lord Ganesha nod in approval?

A unique recipe

Call it mixing religion with social responsibility. A lady in a Mumbai suburb, Santacruz, came up with the idea to carve a Ganesha idol out of chocolate. Not a bar of chocolate, but 24 kg of it. The immersion of the lord has been planned in such a way that when other idols head towards the sea or the local ponds, this chocolate installation will be immersed in milk. And the chocolate milk will be distributed to underprivileged children. Now does this consumer initiative hold a lesson for brands that make chocolate and source milk? Are Amul and Nestle listening?

Published on September 04, 2014

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