New Delhi: "Words are all I have to steal your heart away," went the lyrics of a romantic ditty that, even today, gets zillions of women, go weak in the knees. Gifted writers are fully cognizant about the world in which words dwell; recognize the fact these precious creatures have a life of their own and need to be passionately wooed to help this breed to attain the magic and mystique that only their (wordsmiths and words) 'combine' can bring to stir up emotions and feeling buried deep in the human heart.
My kill-joy friend smirked and dismissed summarily this sublime line of thinking while brazenly holding forth on his own views. He believed that in these fast-moving, impatient, digitally-driven times, words are swiftly being replaced by memorable sounds. "So why should a profession and calling which aims to control brands with end-consumers play cute, traditional and romantic and shy away from something offering ready-made customer-connect and not pull the trigger?
What is so damn sacred about words anyway? Will it wake the dead? Sounds are the new short-hand of communication and those who cosy up, recognize and master this form of bonding are the guys - and brands - that'll rock. They don't need to either make calls or a trip to the hot seat or exchange pleasantries with a certain bearded 70 year old celeb.
Much as I was sorely tempted to strangle my young irreverent friend and check out, in sadistic detail, the 'sounds' that would emanate from his throat, I had to agree - as a communication practitioner - that he was not totally off his onion. 'Jhingalala', 'Toing', 'Ooolalalalaa', 'Waku Doki' and 'Wakow' were indeed some sound-driven brand identities that had, over the years, made waves with their target group, offering large doses of entertainment value, novelty and effectiveness.
How did this issue resonate with the guys involved - the Ad frat?
Chairman and NCD of BBDO, Josy Paul, fires the first salvo. He believes that in these fast and furious clutter-driven times "memorability powered with authenticity are the key factors. Hence new, interesting, innovative, clutter-busting ways to accomplish this in an exciting, people-friendly manner is the challenge.
All these 'sound' ads that you referred to, delivered brilliantly on that score. Why Ads, go to Bollywood - remember 'Yahoo', 'Sukoo Sukoo' or 'Oye Oye' to name only three? Didn't they grab popular imagination and even today retain high recall value." However, Paul warns that there must be a legitimate brand-fit to add value and connect with the target audience in a way that is spontaneous, fun and memorable. Otherwise, it can never work. Hot-shot NCD of Leo Burnett, N. Sridhar, begs to differ.
"I think sounds like 'Wakow' even 'Waku Doki' are unlikely to go beyond the gimmick stage, because they appear to be created for novelty and nothing else. What on earth is 'Wakow' and what does it mean? 'Waku Doki' (Toyota) emanates from a totally Japanese narrative that means, heart pumping and adrenaline racing, but does anyone know this, or care?" He cites the brilliant cases of 'Kataak' - hot shot cameras of the eighties - or 'Wassup' the Budweiser Beer signature, a smart-talk shot at the stylish generation next coloured section in the USA, brilliantly, customer-focussed and driven.
"At the end of the day, it's a tricky route to traverse and one has to be totally sure and confident about the sound unleashed. It shouldn't be all sound and fury, signifying nothing, to quote our friendly Bard of Avon."
Pravin Singh Mann, head of creative, R.K. Swamy-BBDO Delhi, comes to the party with his own spin. He is of the opinion that it works only if the brands are "truly iconic and powered with real deep pockets", otherwise it just can't click. A little-known brand taking the 'sound' route with limited budget is bound to fall by the wayside because of lack of sustainability.
"All the ads mentioned, 'Tata Sky', 'Pepsi', 'Toyota' are monster brands with big budgets to go the distance and guarantee high visibility and frequency."
Words of gentle dissent comes from NCD, Dentsu Marcom, Titus Upputuru too, "I am not sure if making words out of sounds and using them as slogans or signatures really yields benefits to brands. I think there is a risk in remembering the sound and forgetting the brand. The sound has to capture the brand essence and value and communicate it in the desired manner. It's therefore both tricky and chancy and unless you don't get it just right, it either backfires - disaster, since it ends up sending the wrong message - vanishes, or is dismissed as a one-day novelty till another sound ad comes along."
Veteran Communication Consultant Asha Sarin totally agrees and concludes this debate firing on all cylinders. She believes that most of this category, especially in the Indian context, is highly over-rated and deserve to be safely relegated to the dustbin. "Except the Kingfisher 'Ooolalalalao' and 'Toing' of Amul Macho, most others are eminently forgettable and irrelevant, adding zero value. The corny 'Googly Woogly Woosh' (Ponds), 'Wakow' (Vanilla Coke), 'Jhingalala' (Tata Sky) may provide entertainment to a brain dead viewership, but what the hell does it do for the brand? They are so painfully dumb and childish. Do these Ad gurus believe that their 'Jhingalalas' and 'Googly Wooglys' will wash with their target audience and in any way influence the purchase intent? Clients may buy but hey, on a clear day you can see forever and baby, that's when bad news knocks, okay?"
It's really a tough call. It's an exciting, path breaking but genuinely risky route because here the 'sound' aspect - unlike in Bollywood movies - must be both meaningful and memorable. In an information-overkill space and ads blitzing our senses every which we turn clutter-busting, unique and special are the real hot buttons to press and if sound can provide that lucky break, why not give it a try?