Eat, Pray, Ads during Cricket – An Unforgettable Journey in India

Sofia Martinez in IndiaAmusing, eye-opening, heart wrenching. All three adjectives used to describe my latest adventure in social service, this time taking me to Bangalore, India. The Abhayadhama Human Development Center hosted our group of ten university students for a total of two weeks. The children in the all-boys orphanage exude an amazing spirit; despite their past troubles, they showcase how kids are just kids no matter what nationality they may be. While I have plenty of stories to share from the experience, there was one particular element that I found quite distinct – Indians’ perspective on advertisements and marketing in general.

During introductions, I informed the little ones that I worked for a marketing agency. Confused about what that actually I meant, I explained that it’s a type of company that develops and produces ads and billboards, for example. Their eyes instantly lit up – for a week afterwards, they asked me continuously about the entire process, from ideation to account management to actual campaign execution. Granted, I don’t have years of field experience to relay a completely effective response. However, just imparting this minimal knowledge to these kids, who ranged from seven to 21 years of age, made them want to learn more about the marketing realm in general.

The 30 boys at the center share one television equipped with satellite cable. If Indian culture seems too exotic or complex for you, just know this – cricket is the sport admired, cherished, and deeply loved by the youth of India. The cricket championship game was on, and the boys were as moved by their sport as they were by the commercials that followed. It’s as if they are looking forward to the newest ad as much as they are to their team’s victory. Many of them were purely in Hindi or Tamil, but for those that had English subtitles, I caught a glimpse of the amusing dialogue or lyrics. The CocaCola advertisement with cricket god Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar inevitably stands out as a poignant tale (found here). But those which caught the attention of these young boys the most?

The Vodafone commercial with the catchy Zumi-Zumi tune.

I could probably sing it to you in the native language by now – that’s how much these boys would chant it every time they saw me.

The pivotal lesson taken from this particular experience expands on my established notion of international marketing. Believe it or not, commercials cannot be skipped in some places – DVR isn’t available globally just yet. To enhance regular television programming, people around the world turn to and fully enjoy commercials. The eight year-old boys were already quite adept to the messaging, even if they don’t fully know what exactly a company is trying to sell. Where is on-screen marketing headed next in India? Product placement will come to dominate another traditional Indian program: the vibrant and highly respected music video. I saw the initial traces of it for two weeks, and I’m sure this trend will only keep flourishing. After all, what better way for these boys to continue chanting their favorite commercial tunes than by giving them an actual song to which to sing it?

To learn more about the Abhayadhama Human Development Center, please visit http://vimeo.com/60917023