And why an Indian cricketer is angrier than ever before
Ads go viral for various reasons. But like any good advertiser will tell you — active emotions, whether positive ones like humor or surprise or negative ones like anger or panic are important ingredients in making ads viral.
But if it were so easy, every ad would be viral. After all, it isn’t difficult to make an emotional advertisement. There is always a secret ingredient (or many) that distinguishes viral ones from just the mediocre.
So, when CRED, an Indian fintech start-up that rewards users with points on payment of credit card bills through their app, decided to team up with Rahul Dravid, a legendary Indian cricketer in a nation obsessed with the game, but one who is known as a stoic dependable character (thing Roger Federer as against Nick Kyrgios, no offense to either), no one thought that the combination would lead to such fireworks.
But it did. It pretty much broke the Internet, being shared, tweeted, and retweeted. It hit a million views within the first hour of being released, and over 3 million in a day.
What did CRED get right that advertisers in India have spent their entire lives attempting, whether with the help of Bollywood celebs or with the cricketing elite?
There may be several factors that combined to make this 23-second ad the perfect storm. But first, the ad
I’m going to divide the factors into three categories: the advertisement content itself, the savvy use of social media, and then the post-publishing reactions from other people that led to its virality.
Subversion of expectations
The first and major reason for the initial appreciation this ad got, was that it subverts expectations and the public image of Rahul Dravid, and how. Rahul Dravid’s moniker is “Mr. Dependable”, another is “The Wall”. That should give you an idea of how the man has built and upheld an image of being cool, calm, and collected, of being the good man in the storm, of being polite and polished in the face of heckling and taunting. This image has been capitalized on by other brands who have partnered with him, most notably Pepsi (where he saves his team’s Pepsi from a lion) and Gilette (where the tagline is “Inner Steel — the best a man can get”). For this image to be turned on its head within 15 seconds was a masterstroke.
During each shot of aggression, however, Dravid would cringe a bit.
That’s how subversive it was, it subverted even his own expectations.
Contrast with sophistication
The target audience for CRED is the young, sophisticated user of credit cards. This audience was smoothly targeted by contrasting Dravid’s unruly antics with the appearance of a sharply dressed Jim Sarbh relaxing in a premium lounge. The humor from Dravid’s “goonda” or thuggish behavior is enjoyed but also distanced from, because the user is like Jim Sarbh, watching from the sidelines the “uncouth” guys.
The target audience, as I explained before, is the upmarket, urban crowd that is comfortable with credit cards. As it so happens, this is the exact audience that lives in India’s metros, and is intimately familiar with long, frustrating commutes, with the average travel time (one-way) is close to an hour. The ad hit them exactly where it hurts — reminding them that though they are globalized and digitally savvy, they also have to bear the day-to-day inconveniences of living in a country finding its place in the world.
At first blush, it seems like an innocent ad. A man getting frustrated at the traffic.
But if you really think about it, it is also equally an acclaimed hero normalizing violence because of a minor inconvenience and destroying property and threatening other people who are victims of the same inconvenience but who are admittedly handling it much better than him.
“#RahulDravid, #CRED: stop normalizing violence.
It didn’t strike me too, but a friend pointed out.
Its not OK to scream at a fellow road user.
It’s not OK to gesticulate violently.
It’s not OK to promote violence.
Finally, it’s not OK for the likes of @imVkohli to promote this!”
While most of the audience focused more on the humor, there were others who found issues with the underlying premise.
I’m not saying one is right and the other wrong — the point is that the ad succeeded in being discussed, which was exactly its purpose.
Savvy Use of Social Media
The original tweet
The marketing genius is not just in the ad. It is also in how it was introduced on social media — through a tweet by the current captain of the Indian cricket team, Virat Kohli, someone who is, ahem ahem, not very stoic (now is when you can think of Nick Kyrgios).
Never seen this side of Rahul bhai 🤯🤣 pic.twitter.com/4W93p0Gk7m— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) April 9, 2021
The cheeky “never seen this side of Rahul bhai (brother)” which increased curiosity, as well as tacitly acknowledged his own angry disposition, was the very epitome of “brevity is the soul of wit”.
Add it to the fact that Rahul Dravid isn’t even on social media, the brilliant idea of getting Kohli to share it was just the chef’s kiss to the whole ad.
Retweets, reactions, and memes
There is a golden rule of digital advertising — memes are the road to posterity.
The ridiculously angry clip was there for the taking, applied by social media users for scenarios like annoying bosses and family drama. The tag line “Indiranagar ka Gunda” (I’m the thug of Indiranagar, a famous locality in the Indian city of Bangalore, home to both Dravid as well as CRED), became a meme template.
Reactions from other companies
The ultimate hat-tip to a successful ad is when other companies — including your competitors start hopping on the bandwagon.
Here are some of the better hoppers-on:
1. Zomato, a food delivery app
2. Cars24, a used-car dealer
3. Amul, a dairy products manufacturer
Amul is known for its topical advertisements. It didn’t leave this chance too, putting up a new ad based on Jammy (another nickname for Dravid) being stuck in a traffic jam.
Stating that their butter would calm the angry Dravid, it advised him to take a deep bread (breath). Clever advertising right there!
4. Various police forces
The police forces in India have a strong social media game. While some took the opportunity to caution citizens against road-rage, others used the meme to remind them about the importance of masks, implying that the masks would behave like Dravid in running the coronavirus out.
Overall, CRED and Dravid hit all the right spots, from content to the social media game, to the targeting of the correct audience.
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