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Corporate Feb 9, 2012

Why the Birla Sun Life-Yuvraj Singh campaign should continue

By Anant Rangaswami

Now that Yuvraj's illness has been reported, will you withdraw the advertisement?

"No. Why should we withdraw the advertisement? A day after the commercial went on air, Yuvi tweeted that he is looking forward to the ad and wants to return to his form. In fact, when the ad was shot last September, Yuvi's mother was also present and was happy to see a brand presenting the story of her son."

This is the exchange in an interview of Ajay Kakar, chief marketing officer (financial services) of Aditya Birla Group, with The Economic Times.

The ad in question is for Birla Sun Life Insurance and stars Indian cricketer Yuvraj Singh, who was recently diagnosed with cancer,

You can see the ad here.

These are the events that lead to Economic Times (and other media) asking the question of whether it is appropriate to air the Yuvraj commercial now:

1. 2009 Birla Sun Life Insurance signs on four cricketers - Yuvraj Singh, Virendra Sehwag, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina - for a campaign that focuses on how, in cricket, careers are uncertain, and link the uncertainty to uncertainty in life, and underline the need for insurance.

2. 2011 Team India wins the World Cup and Yuvraj plays a major role in the tournament and is named the Player of the Tournament.

Here's a cricketer, through a real-life experience, telling you that life is full of uncertainties. Reuters

3. September 2011: New film shot with Yuvraj, with the key lines "Baath tho phir wahi aa gayi ke...Jab tak balla chaltha he, thaat hen. Warna..." "Injury hui aur team se bahar..."

4. November 2011: Yuvraj knows he has cancer. "Injury hui aur team se bahar..." doesn't ring true any more.

5. January 2012: Yuvraj flies to Mumbai to dub the changed line, "Injury hui aur team se bahar which becomes "health kharaab hui aur team se bahar".

6. 30 January, 2012 The ad with the new line breaks in media.

Before we come to Yuvraj Singh, let's take a look at the idea behind the commercial. The category is life insurance, and the script sees uncertainty as being a key driver for insurance. The agency, JWT, now looks around for examples of uncertainty in careers that consumers could relate to easily - and sport is an obvious example. If one uses sport in India, cricket is, again, an obvious choice; it's easy for Indians to identify with the often short, but always uncertain career life-spans of cricketers as we have seen so many. Take the current crop - what are the futures of VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar - how much longer will we see them play for India?

So they look for cricketers - that's how this campaign was originally seen - who could tell the story and sign on Yuvraj Singh, Virendra Sehwag, Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina. The campaign works.

Once the World Cup has been won, Birla Sun Life focuses on Yuvraj, a decision none can argue with considering his achievements during the tournament.

While the earlier script focused on the uncertainty that comes about as a result of form or injury, Yuvraj's cancer diagnosis presents an opportunity to highlight another cause of uncertainty - health. What could happen to a fit, young cricketer like Yuvraj? Nothing. Nothing? Cancer could. As could many other ailments.

What was once just a script is transformed into a "reality show". Yuvraj's health setback immediate raises question marks on his career - and the script becomes immensely more powerful.

There's only one question to ask: Was Yuvraj comfortable with the new script?

If he was, and he certainly was, the change is brilliant. It is not insensitive to Yuvraj, it brings out the need for insurance strongly, and, in a way, draws attention to cancer - and that's an unintended bonus.

Cricket, it's often said, is a game of glorious uncertainties. Life, too, is full of uncertainties, and here's a cricketer, through a real-life experience, telling you so.

by Anant Rangaswami

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