Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Airtel Ads

The one ad that I have probably loved more than any other is the TV commercial Airtel aired in late 2005 that went dil ki baat bata kar to dekho. (The entire script is here.) The idea of expressing yourself was simple. They shot it beautifully without showing phones at all. The ad just put up the idea of people reaching out and speaking up. No overt pushing of the product, but an attempt to forge an emotional bond with the audience - this was advertising at its best.

But there's one more reason why I loved the ad: it came at the right time for me. You see, this ad came around the time the Guy and I decided to be together. But we were living in different cities at the time. We used to talk on the phone for at least a couple of hours every day, and around half a dozen hours on holidays. Yes, we both used Airtel. 

So it seemed like it was our story that was implied through that commercial. The Guy and I had been friends earlier, but while we had enjoyed each other's company tremendously we had always kept a certain emotional distance. It was then, when we were in different cities and could talk unself-consicously on the phone that we discovered more and more about each other and realised just how compatible we were. Neither of us earned a lot then, and the phone bills we rang up amounted than to more than the house rent we paid (both of us combined). We even had a sharing arrangement in which the Guy would always call me, as his STD charges were lower, and I would pay him half the amount charged on his bill as calls to me. We recognised that learning more about each other was an investment in our future, even as talking to the other gave each of us more pleasure than anything else. So cash-strapped as we were, we made little effort to cut down on our calling time.

But Airtel has since failed to live up to the quality of that ad, or in fact anything near it. When I first saw the Madhavan-Vidya Balan ads, I thought, Finally! They're telling our story! But it turned out nothing like it. The first two were quite nice. (The first one on long-distance calls is ironic though, considering that the Guy has had STD calls at Rs 1 on his phone for over four years now.) But they got progressively worse. They were also surprisingly sexist. The husband doesn't care about preparing dinner (salad!) or tidying up before guests get home - he's watching a match! The wife has to nag him to please do some housework. (After all, that's her job, not his?) In the latest, the husband brings in the newspaper, and the wife is only interested in the horroscope. (Surprising, really, because in an earlier one she seems to be reading the Economic Times.) 

In all of these ads, it's the husband who activates or knows more about the service. The wife also uses Airtel, but of course cannot be expected to figure out its many features without male assistance. 

This one was just baffling. The Guy suggested Airtel is saying, "Give up on our network, use toy phones and pretend to talk."

And then came the ad for Airtel Broadband. With the mantra, "Impatience is the new life", it extolls the "impatience" of young people - growing up without many of the restrictions the older generation had seen, these young people - us! - want a better, faster life. The ad says it much better than I do - and here's a detailed description. 

We have used Airtel Broadband - not this super-speed one, but even the connection we had was great. Hardly any problems, and excellent customer service. It sucks that we had to move to BSNL because Airtel doesn't service this area.

9 comments:

saima said...

yeah those ads were amazing! I like the Zoo Zoo ads now...refreshing and adorable !! brings a smile to ones face! :)

ramblingsbybones said...

I've always had a problem with airtel (both my husband and I had airtel mobiles as well as landline and broadband) and so I hate watching their ads...Their customer service sucked and even though we have moved out of the city, they are refusing to disconnect our lines because they don't want the no. of subscribers to fall...Their service in Gurgaon was bad and there was a lot of call dropping...I think their ads have succeeded in attracting customers but they haven't upgraded their infrastructure...

Unmana said...

Saima: I liked the first few Zoozoo ads but they're annoying me now.

Sraboney: I found Airtel okay when I lived in Gurgaon. Maybe they got worse later.

indianhomemaker said...

Unmana I blogged about Lietel customer service, when I try to register to pay the post paid bill online, I face is the same problem (Date/Month/year can not be typed and without that you can't register)with the site for past three months, so I paid the bill with the "easypay" option, so I can pay but can't check why the paid bill is not showing in the next bill....

The ads are irritatingly sexist.
Everybody in my family still uses Airtel, the service has been fine.

Unmana said...

IHM: The Guy pays his mobile bill online, and he says he's never had a problem. I remember reading about your experiences, but I've always found Airtel's customer service better than that of competitors (whenever I've had the chance to compare). I suppose individual employees make a lot of difference to such experiences though...

Sujeet Pillai said...

I think they know how to make ads better than they know how to run a phone company.. Well actually all of them are the same in that sense..

Airtel is the less worse one in customer service though. Everytime I see that Vodafone dog saying "Happy to help" I keep thinking "But are too incompetent to be able to help"

Unmana said...

Sujeet: But they don't make their own ads, do they?

I agree with you on Airtel's customer service.

Re: the Vodafone ads, I can't resist linking this post by Jai Arjun: http://jaiarjun.blogspot.com/2007/10/cell-yourself-short-tips-for-phone.html

D said...

My friend was working with Airtel at a relatively senior position and did quite a bit of ideation on those ads. Interestingly, the ads did come up with experiences like yours (and his as well). But the ads lack that zing now. Don't blame my friend; he's not with that company anymore :)

Unmana said...

D: That's great! Does that mean Airtel actually came up with those ideas, as opposed to an ad agency doing so? And will you tell your friend that ad is missed?