Brand Ambassadors: SLT goes for a Ride

I have been meaning to update my blog for a while, but never got around to doing it. So here goes, starting with something along the lines of my work: advertising.

Advertising in Sri Lanka is still at its infancy, with a rare gem popping out once in a while. Our advertising has not evolved far from its beginning. The age old “viridu kaaraya” (man beating a hand-held drum and singing along – typically promoting an event or relating a story) is still very much alive, albeit inside the television in a 21st century outlook. Turn the television on – and one will be amazed by the countless number of ads that are jingles. We seem to take pride in producing them by the numbers. Lack of talent, lack of understanding or lack of inspiration... I fail to understand the reason why we cannot go beyond the basics and evolve with the times.

In the beginning of my career, one of my mentors once whispered in my ear when I was having a creative block: “If you don't know what to do, just sing it...!” he said, with a cheeky grin on his face. Singing, or a jingle, is the way out for creative idiots.

For those pea-brains who can evolve a step from the jingles, there's a neat trick called the testimonials. You don't do anything creative - just get someone else to endorse the brand or the product. Period. This was a dream come true for the watchmakers of the world and they discovered brand ambassadors.

Then, a zillion years later, someone somewhere in Colombo got confused with the pin-up model and the brand ambassador, because his pea-brain didn't know any difference. But since he had a MBA at the end of the name, he was dogs bollocks and now everyone in the paradise isle thinks, a model is a brand ambassador.

So much so, big brands like Dialog is confusing itself with the number of personalities attached to a particular product or service, and unfortunately the ambassadors seem to have overshadowed the brand. Ideally, the brand/product should be piggy-back riding on the celebrity to catapult to reach a wider audience and gain mind-share, not vise versa.

A few months earlier I saw a press release, as well as a few articles announcing the appointment of the South Indian film star Pooja Umashankar as the Sri Lanka Telecom's "Broadband Brand Ambassador." To me, this was a shocker – for I, could not fathom how did that combination work.

Even though I could think of many, this weird communication strategy was total failure in my eyes for three obvious reasons:

1. If I were to define the personality of the product SLT is offering (ie. broadband), i would be scribbling down a list of adjectives that include words such as speedy, fast, quick, hi-tech, revolutionary, reliable, masculine, strong, competitive, powerful etc – and I won't be thinking of petite, feminine, delicate or pretty for sure. I do not know if Pooja is hot or not, or fast or not, but she is definitely not masculine, nor is she strong and competitive. Pooja and broadband are a chalk-and-cheese combination, a total mismatch, a huge mistake.

If it were up to me to pick a brand ambassador to represent SLT Boradband, I could have named a dozen personalities starting from the racing champion Dilantha Malagamuwa and the speedster in the cricket pitch Lasith Malinga – whose characteristics would have very well complemented the core values of the product SLT is offering.

SLT Broadband is not a pretty face with a delicate touch. What were they thinking..?

2. Usually, someone who endorses a brand/product is a loyal user, and they would not, ethically and morally violate the trust (or the agreement signed) by using a competitive product. As I understand, Pooja is an Indian, living in India, probably using.... SLT Broadband to surf the net...?

How can a brand ambassador endorse one product/brand and use another..?

3. Never lose focus, glorify the brand not the brand ambassador. Media loves Pooja they wrote about her more than the brand. Not only she got the money, but free publicity too, at SLT's cost.

Spend millions to promote Pooja and not SLT - who's running this campaign - morons..?

Is this some kind of a sick joke played on SLT? Or is it an amateur work or a genuine blunder? I do not know. Understanding brand values is key to successful brand building, and the giants in advertising and the giants in spending don't seem to know this. Obviously.

But then again, I may be wrong. Twenty years with international agencies working with FMCG giants overseas could be wrong, because the Marketing and Sales Officer of SLT said in a press conference "Pooja is the perfect ambassador and also she is also an enthusiastic user of the wireline broadband services..."

How? I wonder.

God bless the ad industry in Sri Lanka.