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Smell the coffee

Innovative ads get brands the necessary eyeballs, but  sustainability is in question

Coffee is clearly the flavour of the season — at least for advertising innovation. In the past few months, The Times of India (TOI) printed two front-page advertisements that did more than extol the virtues of two coffee-related brands — they also smelled of the stuff. In effect, early morning readers in major cities literally woke up to the smell of coffee. In February, Hindustan Unilever printed scented ads of Bru Gold in three editions of Sunday Times. The previous fortnight it was Parle’s turn, with the launch of a coffee variant of its Hide & Seek biscuit. The ad appeared in five editions of the daily newspaper.

Scented print ads aren’t new: foreign glossies have been carrying scratch-and-sniff ads for their latest perfumes for decades; some have even made their way in Indian magazines. But these ads are different — the fragrance is in the paper and it lasts for days. For newspapers, which are the worst affected by the drop in advertising, innovations like scented ads are a way to bring back marketers and, hopefully, revenues.

What does the brand get? “Eyeballs, word of mouth and better recall,” says Samir Chonkar, executive creative director, Everest Brand Solutions, the agency that helped Parle get the coffee aroma onto paper. “Viewers are being bombarded with so many ads, it’s easy for an ad to get lost. However, if the ads are presented innovatively, they have a good life span in the viewer’s memory. They also get much talked about,” he continues. 

Innovation in advertising doesn’t come cheap, though. “It’s expensive and sustaining the cost in print is, ironically, 10 times more expensive than reaching out to consumers on TV,” points out Ram Gudiapati, MD, Brand Harvest Consultancy. Remember the ‘talking’ ad for Volkswagen a couple of years ago? The buzz in agency circles is that the one-time execution cost the auto company a staggering Rs.6 crore. That included the cost of importing the audio device and advertising in all editions of TOI (2.5 million copies).

No numbers are available for the recent coffee-scented ads but they would have certainly come at a premium to regular advertising rates: a regular half-page ad on the front of a single edition of TOI has a rack rate of about Rs.6 lakh. For the company the issue is more about how the ad fits into its marketing strategy. “We focus on the creativity rather than the cost. It doesn’t matter if the ad is a one-off, as it has undoubtedly helped us in gaining brand visibility,” says Shalin Desai, group product manager of Parle. 

Certainly, ads like these get customers to sit up and take notice. But their prohibitive costs act as a natural barrier to their use in a sustained, long-term campaign. Looks like these ads will be savoured like a demitasse of the finest Colombian coffee, not quaffed like a mug of joe.

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