Imagine a high-profile smartphone advertisement with no reference whatsoever to the phone’s display, processor, RAM or any other service or app on it? Sounds suicidal? Well, two very high profile phones have walked the no-spec way in the past week or so. And in very different ways.

On the one hand, you had the iPhone 6 (with its distributor Ingram Micro) from Leo Burnett India, whose TV commercial, which revolved around a traditional Indian wedding, in which the groom and bride correspond with each other using an iPhone 6 as they come closer to the moment of their wedded union.

On the other, you had the Micromax Canvas Sliver 5 TV ad by Lowe Lintas and Partners, which showed Hugh Jackman breaking out of prison in a foreign locale, with just a little help from a super thin and rather tough phone – the Canvas Sliver 5.

Cue the contradictions:

  • We had a phone from the US highlighting an Indian tradition, we had an Indian phone whose ad had very little Indian about it.
  • We had a US phone ad with no celebrity. We had an Indian phone ad with one of the biggest names in Hollywood.
  • We had one rather quiet commercial, trying to highlight a slice of life in a very important day of every Indian. We had another that was way out loud Hollywood with thrills and action aplenty.
  • One commercial tried to create a slightly rosy hued version of something that one sees every day. The other was blatantly over the top and unreal.
  • It is a simple human story beautifully told and it is as Indian as it can get,” read the note that accompanied one of the ads. “Wolverine star…in a spell bounding storyline…shot like an action packed thriller” were the words in the release that came with the other.

And most important of all:

  • One of the ads was fun to watch. The other just a trifle predictable.

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Yes, we never thought we would ever say it but we actually think that the Indian brand might have stolen a march over an international brand of almost iconic status. The reason? Well, in one word: entertainment.

The Hugh Jackman ad is right out of Bollywood’s over the top stunts and drama – from using the phone to unlock a jail door to dropping it with the King of Hearts on the display on to a card table to the fisticuffs that follow. There is even a flash of wit at the end, as Jackman refers to the whole jailbreak as “Simple,” and then pauses and adds, “Slimple,” highlighting the one greatest asset of the phone – its slimness.

On the other hand, the overwhelming streak that comes across in Apple’s iPhone is one of deja vu – the Indian wedding theme has been done to death by car brands, operators and even chocolate manufacturers. And the “we know how hard it is to wait for something special, which is why we offer the iPhone 6 on easy EMI” line at the end somehow seems a bit out of place because whatever the ad shows, it does not show impatience or the agony of waiting – if anything, it shows eager (and very refined and restrained) anticipation.

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Yes, we are going to say it: the Micromax Sliver 5 ad is innovative, while that of the iPhone 6 tends to tread a well-trodden path. “There is no wit, no real humour, no…well, magic,” one of my blogger colleagues complained. “It could be an ad for an insurance company, an airline, a watch, an operator, a soft drink manufacturer…anyone! Even the simple ‘shot on iPhone 6’ ads had an element of magic. This is routine.

Of course, we do know that Leo Burnett (the man after whom the agency that did the iPhone 6 Ingram Micro ad is named) famously remarked that he wanted people to say “that’s a hell of a product” instead of “that’s a hell of an ad.” And the great David Ogilvy also clearly stated that he did not regard advertising as an entertainment or art form.

But then, the man they called the Socrates of San Francisco, Howard Gossage, also did remark: “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it is an ad.” An ad is an intrusion, our teacher, who was a creative director at HTA told us – “it had better deliver very important information or be very interesting. Ideally, both!” (yes, yes, I confess that I did a post graduate diploma in management and communications and ended up writing on technology – it is a rum world).

Well, neither of the ads delivers any utterly important information phone-wise – there are no tech specs or offers highlighted. But let’s be blunt about it: the Canvas Sliver 5 ad is MUCH more interesting than the iPhone 6 on EMIs one. Of course, people do not need to be told about the iPhone 6, such is the iconic status of the product, and they do need to be told about the Canvas Sliver 5, which enjoys nothing like the same status at the time of writing. That said, we are not too sure too many people will rush to grab an iPhone 6 after seeing the EMI offer in the ad. But there are some who will wonder about the Sliver 5 after seeing Hugh Jackman twist, punch and tumble out of prison.

No, it does not mean that the Sliver will outsell the iPhone 6 in the country (though you never know), but it certainly will strike a chord with more people – the non-geeky sort, who want to be entertained by an ad, and know not much about brands.

People like my mum. All of seventy, she uses an iPad, blissfully unaware that it is an Apple product. She is just happy using technology and was surprised to know that the Kindle does not come from Sony!

She has seen both ads. She did not say a word on seeing the iPhone 6 ad, but when Jackman said ‘Simple. Slimple,” she turned to me and asked:

Ye kaun sa phone hai…” (“which phone is this?”)

A lesson there somewhere for tech companies…


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Editorial Mentor

Nimish Dubey has been writing for more than a decade now (well, Windows 3.1 was around and Apple was on the verge of being finished when he started). He has been published in a number of publications including The Times of India, Mint, The Economic Times, Mid-Day and Femina on subjects that vary from tech write -ups to book reviews to music album round ups. He managed to interview Michael Schumacher once and write two books for young adults along the way.