Remember Hari Sadu? Will that ad still work?

Storyboard18 got in touch with Info Edge’s Sanjeev Bikhchandani, Sumeet Singh and FCB Ulka’s former creative head, Sanjay Sharma, who spoke about the genesis of the Hari Sadu commercial, the controversies that followed and whether it continues to hold relevance now.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyJul 7, 2024 11:43 AM
Remember Hari Sadu? Will that ad still work?
FCB Ulka's former chief creative officer Sanjay Sharma explained, “When you write the script, the director's belief is very important. If your director doesn't believe in your script, the script doesn't go viral.” (Stills from the ad)

Two employees are present in the cabin of their boss. As one of the subordinates meekly prepares tea for him, the other angrily faces rejection when he submits reports.

As the hotel reservation desk comes online, and the boss tries to clarify his name to the desk, one of them chips in and expands the whole name through profanities, stating H for Hitler, A for Arrogant, R for Rascal and I for Idiot.

As it stuns the boss, which is played by actor Bobby Parvez, the meek subordinate adds: S for Shameless.

There is a necessity to connect with the audience at an emotional level. The addition to this was humour, stated Info Edge founder Sanjeev Bikhchandani in a conversation with Storyboard18.

This is exactly what reflected in the Hari Sadu ad (for Naukri.com) of 2006.

Genesis of the campaign

On May 1, 1995, Bikhchandani cemented the foundation of technology company Info Edge Private Ltd, which owns job portal Naukri.com, launched in March 27, 1997.

As Sanjay Sharma, former chief creative officer at FCB Ulka puts it in a conversation, online business was not popular then, and the medium was not taken seriously. They approached the agency with the intention of ‘popularising’ their online business.

Bikhchandani told Storyboard18 that, in the mid-2000, The Economist had conducted a survey on ‘why people switch jobs’ in collaboration with Egon Zehnder, a global organisational consulting and leadership advisory firm.

Post the survey, one of the data points highlighted that ‘career advancement’ was not the reason for people switching jobs. Eight percent of the audience cited their unhappiness with the boss to be one of the reasons. This data point, as per Bikhchandani, got stuck with the agency folks.

According to FCB Ulka, there are three great relationships in this world. One is of the mother-son relationship. The second is the mother-in-law, daughter-in-law relationship, which has been done to death in the Saas bahu serials.

The third is between the boss and the subordinate, which has been unexplored.

Hence, Sharma came up with the idea of doing a campaign around ‘bad boss,’ with the basic ingredients being humour plus emotional connect.

“My philosophy has been that consumers are not buying products but sentiments. If we approach consumers on a sentimental level, they will be ready to walk with the brand for some distance.”

Citing how ‘petrified’ they were when they took the concept to the client, he said: “The irony is that the business of Info Edge is to sell jobs, and they approach employers, too. And you are bashing the employer in your advertising?”

‘Hari Sadu’ is the third in the series of ads that were conceptualised around bad bosses.

The first was around an employee water squatting on the boss in the washroom. The second revolved around the birthday of the senior, where the cake is kept on the chair, and he sits on it. Both the commercials were done by FCB Ulka.

But the ‘Hari Sadu’ ad, as Sharma puts it, showed a bold move from the client side to proceed.

The script was penned by Sharma, and Vasudha Mishra, the agency’s copywriter, improvised it.

Sharma reminisced that four to five scripts were written and were presented to them.

According to Sumeet Singh, chief marketing officer, Info Edge, “Sanjeev (Bikhchandani) and Hitesh (Oberoi, then COO and director) have always had this way of calling a few more people internally, and observing their reactions on the scripts. We heard a few more and then there were two contenders, where one of them was Hari Sadu.”

Reactions were observed. Since the discussion here was on bosses, the thought process was the fear of backlash from the HR community. But team members were assured that it wouldn’t happen.

However, Sharma notes that it took eight months for the script to be green-lit. During this period, Bikhchandani asked him, “What is your conviction on this script?” Sharma responded by stating that it was ‘100 percent’.

After eight months, he said, “Let’s do it. Let us see what happens.”

Filming and marketing strategies

Rajesh Krishnan was the director of the film. According to Sharma, the biggest improvement to the film was given by Krishnan. The first two commercials were directed by Sabal Singh Shekawat.

Sharma was dismayed with the ending of the script he had penned. When Krishnan visited Sharma’s office, he shared his concerns. To sound polite, some other adjective was chosen for ‘S’. It was Krishnan who suggested going with ‘Shameless’.

Sharma explained: “When you write the script, the director's belief is very important. If your director doesn't believe in your script, the script doesn't go viral.”

“If you look at the lighting, it's very dramatic. It's like a theatre. That's the type of space it was shot in,” he said.

The ad was shot in December 2005, and was released on every television channel in February 2006.

Since the business of Info Edge was online, not much was invested in print. Experiments were done in the outdoor medium too, but, as Sharma put it, they did not derive ‘fun’ out of it.

The target audience were youth, followed by employers. “Since employers generate business, demand is created from the employers’ end,” Sharma added.

The commercial was critically and commercially acclaimed.

It won the Campaign of the Year award in 2006 at the Advertising Club Kolkata, Consumer Connect Awards, and a bronze at the APAC Effies Awards in Singapore in 2008, stated a media report.

The aftermath

In an era which was not social media or digitally savvy, the ad created a buzz, which got people talking positively. However, with every pros comes a con.

The Hari Sadu ad got embroiled in a few controversies. There was a controversy around the name Hari, which also means God. But it died down in a day.

Then there was a controversy related to a 11-year-old student named Hari Bhanot in Chandigarh. He was in grade five or six. According to Singh, the boy’s father claimed that his son was being humiliated in school and was being called these names. He began putting pressure on Naukri.com to take the ad off.

But Info Edge heard only positive reviews from clients, and the sales touched a positive figure.

The boy’s father had also gone to the media and Sandeep Bhargav, who was the head of Info Edge’s Delhi branch, along with Oberoi, had to go to give a lot of media interviews to explain their side of the story.

A case was filed with the Advertising Standards Council of India, and it was won by Info Edge. Then they visited the boy and the school principal in Chandigarh. However, the principal contradicted the claim, as given by the boy’s father.

Later, it came to light that the boy's father was running his own PR agency.

“Since people wrote to the media, we made sure that we touched base with everybody,” added Singh.

Why did it stand out?

According to Sharma, “Every creative agency gets a brief to make an ad. Since advertising is a very herd mentality industry, the client always tries to give a brief to create something around a successful thing. Hence, the creative head gets stuck here.”

Through this ad, FCB Ulka, which believed advertising is a serious business, learnt that it is not a serious business but a sensitive business.

It has been more than a decade since Hari Sadu graced the screen. While it enjoyed profound success, would it still be relevant in today’s times?

As Bikhchandani notes, the ad has not been run since 2011.

“Today, bosses are not that authoritative, right?” said Singh.

Post Hari Sadu, the next ad was on ‘Drag yourself to work’. Info Edge would conduct surveys once in a year or two. Before COVID-19, what was realised was that bosses were the highest reason why people were leaving jobs, like it was in the past. The relationship between a superior and a subordinate changes with time.

Five to six years ago, when Info Edge conducted a survey, people leaving organisations due to ‘bad bosses’ did not have a majority vote.

“While the Hari Sadu ad still gets a smile, and since we all have good days and bad days with our bosses, maybe it's not as relevant as it was in those times,” Info Edge’s CMO concluded.

First Published on Jul 7, 2024 7:59 AM

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