Express call

Mumbai: An irate mob battling riot police amidst burning debris. A couple seated on a sofa, backs turned, the air taut with miffed silence. A copy of The Satanic Verses being consumed by flames. A just-concluded child marriage, the three-foot something groom looking way out of his depth. A physically challenged girl painting a canvas, brush clenched firmly in her teeth...

There are many more expressions and renditions of expressions in the campaign, stretching across media. For instance, the 'child marriage' hoarding bears just one word: 'Oppose.' The Satanic Verses hoarding says: 'Provoke.' Another hoarding has the picture of an anti-abortion demonstration: 'Debate.' There are short-edit films as well; the pick of the lot perhaps being the one that shows a blind boy reading Braille. Suddenly, a big smile lights up his face lights. A simple 'smiley' appears as a super.

Not the sort of /companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures//companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures/images one would usually expect from the meticulously airbrushed world of advertising. Definitely not /companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures//companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures/images one would expect to see in the advertising for a cellular service brand — particularly when category advertising has, so far, been firmly anchored to feel-good imagery.

Of course, 'format breaking' isn't the reason why these /companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures//companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures/images find a place in the new AirTel campaign. There's a context to everything. Like there's a context to the /companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures//companies/companies_b/Bharti_Tele-Ventures/images of the bride at the altar or the three women huddled at a coffee table or the little girl kneeling by the bedside. And that context is 'expression' — the fundamental human need to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions.

So the long-edit montage film for the brand opens on a bride at the altar. 'Say yes,' reads the super. Then comes the shot of the mob fighting the police: 'Say no.' The cross couple: 'Say something.' A man standing by a tombstone in a graveyard: 'Say nothing.' A kid whispering into an adult's ear: 'Confess.' Three women at a coffee table exchanging sly glances and giggles: 'Conspire.' A penalised footballer making a fervent plea to the referee: 'Negotiate.' Children participating in a vigil holding up candles: 'Speak out.' A little girl praying quietly: 'Be heard.' The film ends with the slug: 'Express yourself.'

For, this is the first time that the brand has delinked itself from a generic category benefit (like staying connected) or an arguable value proposition (like better connectivity or superior clarity) to own a larger value — that of 'honesty of expression.' Once de rigueur, feature, or value proposition-based communication, is steadily losing its relevance as the category evolves and competition multiplies.