NEW DELHI: The latest Maggi noodles TV commercial features two wrinkled old men, with hearing aids, flying kites on a roof as they argue in trembling voices about the flavour of instant noodles. The commercial comes as a surprise to viewers used to watching kids shout “Mummy bhookh lagi” (Mom I’m hungry), with the mother replying, two minutes.
And Nestle’s Maggi is not alone. In the food and beverages sector, top companies such as Pepsico (Frito-Lay ), Kraft Foods (Cadbury) and Hindustan Unilever (Kwality Walls) too are now using adults for TV commercials . So, where have all the kids vanished and why? The answer to that query lies in a European Union Pledge undertaken by 11 food industry giants such as
, Unilever, Coca Cola, Pepsico way back in 2007. Under that oath, the MNCs agreed not to use children under the age of 12 in advertisements shown in the European Union countries.
“Post these discussions, we joined a group of global food and beverage manufacturers to adopt a worldwide voluntary commitment to advertise to children under 12 only products that meet specific nutrition criteria ,” said a PepsiCo India spokesperson via email.
In May last year, eight food MNCs such as Nestle, Hindustan Unilever, Pepsico, Kellogg’s extended that oath to India in what was called the India Pledge. They, however, had missed their December 31, 2010 deadline to put up the details of their new child-friendly policy online for review. What we are witnessing now are the first steps of putting that pledge into practice.
The move has made wideranging impact in the advertising industry. Media planners feel that with persification in the product lineup, it makes sense to steer the conversation away from children. “Every category is trying to expand market share by reaching out to a wider range of consumers, like whole wheat noodles for adults, or ‘dahi’ for kids as flavoured yoghurt ,” says advertising copywriter Sudhir Das.
Pepsico’s Frito-Lay , once marketed aggressively with the children’s toy “tazos” , has now signed up Saif Ali Khan, a 41-year old father of two, as brand ambassador. The “Meethe mein kya hai?” campaign from Cadbury’s Dairy Milk does feature children, but tries to position the product as something of a family dessert. Even Kwality Walls products like Cornettto feature youth in their television commercials.
There is also the feeling that the client has finally loosened up enough to consider creative solutions that go beyond what marketing research dictates. Copywriter Utsav Khare thinks it makes sense to reach out to a wider demographic. Nestle spokesperson Himanshu Manglik agrees when he talks of the recent Maggi campaigns. “The storyline consciously reflects the very strong connect of the product with consumers across all age groups in the family,” he says.
However, not all signatories have made a complete transition. HUL’s Knorr, with its “khao piyo” campaign for noodle soups with Kajol can still be seen on air. But as most adults would agree, children today are not what children once used to be. You don’t necessarily need to spin fantastic tales around a creature who can stretch its limbs for kilometers to sell them gum, as in the case of Big Babool. For Center Fresh, also from Perfetti (not a signatory to the pledge), a grown man telling his father that he has failed his exams yet again did just as well. “A 12-year old is really 18 today. You don’t need to speak to them in a different language. If an ad can entertain them or make them laugh, it works,” says Khare.
Adman and Hindi film songwriter Prasoon Joshi too points out the difference between selling to children and using children to sell a product . He cites the example his Alpenlibe commercial starring Kajol and a crocodile. “Children loved it! It’s a very adult view, that children would like different things. They like the same actors as the adults, for example,” says Joshi. So the next time you see middle-aged men and women trying to sell you the latest brand of candy, you can rest assured they’re not kidding you.