An elegantly decorated house is brimming with guests, indicating it is a ‘Shaadi wala ghar’. The bride’s father is tied up in greeting guests, and the bride in chatting with her friends. The younger sister is admiring her bridal glow when she sees her father gesturing at her with an eye. The sister rushes down and starts playing the tune of Mozart’s 25th Symphony on the piano. What follows next is not just heartwarming to the viewers, but proves pivotal to brand Titan too.
Titan played a distinct role in changing the face of the watch market in India. When the brand started out with advertising and marketing its watches in the 1980s, catalogue advertising was the go-to strategy.
By the late 1980s, Titan had cemented its position as one of India’s pioneering brands, writes Vinay Kamath in his book Titan - Inside India’s Most Successful Consumer Brand. As the brand realised the approach of catalogue advertising had become redundant, it was trying to humanise its communication strategies.
Titan was a longstanding client of OBM, renamed Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) in 1989. C. K. Venkataraman, who worked as Titan’s ad manager in the early 1990s, was their client. Ashok Sarath was the creative director of the agency then. The brand's mandate was handled by the Bangalore branch of O&M.
Niranjan Natarajan, former creative supervisor of the agency, reminisced in an interview with Storyboard18 how there existed an emotional reason for people to connect with the brand. Titan exhibited the ‘joy of gifting’, and tapped the softer emotions of life. The agency was looking at positioning Titan as an integral part of one’s life.
Making of 'The Wedding Film'
According to Kamath’s book, Titan had conducted detailed research to understand the consumer’s purchasing behaviour in order to plan its products and advertising campaigns. Based on the results that were obtained, what the brand discovered was that people were gifting Titan watches during significant occasions in their lives.
Through its commercials, the brand was seeking to capture varied emotions when it came to gifting.
Filmmaker Rajiv Menon, who is also a leading advertising director, recalls how he, along with Sarath and Natarajan, would get into detailed discussions with the client. The storyline was building around a father, his two daughters, the wedding season and the idea of gifting.
Because the plot had the presence of a father, the narrative emphasised the emotional value of a bride taking something with her as she steps into a new chapter in her life.
But doubts persisted if the idea of gifting would strike a chord with the audience. The discussion became heated when it came to one point: Where is the mother? In a traditional setup, when a daughter gets married, it is the mothers who feel the sentiment deeply.
“The argument would be: Mother is dead,” laughs Menon.
This was not the only challenge the team faced. The presence of a piano and playing of a Western melody on it too posed a question mark. It is here that a thought popped in their minds. What if a cute girl played the piano? How do we design the household in a manner where on playing the piano, a warm moment between the bride calling her father ‘Papa’ is created?, added the filmmaker.
“Would it come across as a very Goan or a very Christian setup if a piano was seen in the household during such an occasion?" this question too was raised during the discussions. However, the team was very clear it wanted to highlight the affection between the father and the bride without making it look overly sentimental.
Now, O&M’s attention shifted to how differently they could introduce Mozart's 25th Symphony into the plot. Slowly, it began to weave around the little sister, who would play the tune on the piano. This is how ‘The Wedding Film’ was put together, a story of a father and his two daughters in a large crowd.
After the script was penned by Natarajan, then began the hunt for suitable casting. For the role of the bride, the requirement was for a face that was composed and reflected maturity. For the father, the team was sure that they wanted someone with an aristocratic persona.
Nisha Nithyanandan, who Menon said had modelled for a few commercials he shot, was roped in for the role of the bride. Amar Talwar, who tasted fame with DD National’s 1994 television series Shanti - Ek Aurat Ki Kahani, played the part of the father.
For the part of the younger sister, the team wanted someone who could exude a child-like sense of humour, said Natarajan.
The shooting of the commercial commenced at Velachery in Chennai. The house of Kamal Gupta, who was a partner at Southern Investments, was chosen as the locale.
Menon recalls an incident. After the ad was shot, it was shown to the late Xerxes Desai, Titan's managing director. He is supposed to have remarked, “What is this commercial you have shot?” But, to his credit, he added: “If you all think it will work, please go ahead.”
In the mid-1990s, the commercial was released on Doordarshan, and on a pan-India level. As Menon puts it, on its release, the ad film was well received and turned out to be a 'superhit' among the audience.
In the entire ad film, there is only one word spoken: Papa. Its script writer felt it was important to narrate a story visually, and remove the spoken track. The audience would understand what the advertisement intended to say.
“That is the beauty of retaining only ‘Papa’ as the single (spoken) expression in the commercial,” Natarajan adds.
He says the commercial was just one aspect of the purchase. The brand sold on the strength of its product, experience, design and other parameters. Retail channels of the brand had penetrated deep into the market and a customer could buy a Titan watch across India at an affordable price.
Although the presence of the piano and the absence of the mother and how the audience would react to it loomed as concerns, the main challenge for the filmmaker was to capture the emotions right.
“We were very clear that we did not want to shoot a Hindi film’s ‘Bidaai’ like scene. Our focus was on highlighting the joy of gifting. We had to tone down the intensity of the emotions in a lot of close-ups. It was a beautiful mix between Indian sentiment and Western melody in an Indian family set up,” Menon said.
Apart from television advertising, print and in-store advertising were explored.
Mozart’s 25th Symphony
In ‘The Wedding Film’, when the younger sister leaves the watch for the bride on the dressing table, there is an element of surprise.
When the former begins to tap the piano keys to the tune of Mozart’s 25th Symphony, it is a cue for the elder sister to recognise what it is all about. It is one of only two symphonies Mozart composed on G minor, considered the key in which he best expressed sadness.
On an occasion like an Indian wedding where normally, the musical instrument Shehnai is played, what is Mozart’s 25th Symphony doing as the background score in the commercial?
When Titan’s initial launch advertisement ‘Titan Quartz from Tata’ was released, it showed a series of watches one after the other. Mozart’s 25th Symphony, which was played in the background, was adapted by the late Suresh Mullick, O&M's then-well-known creative director. The track was picked from the 1984 American biographical drama film Amadeus which was based on the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s symphony.
Natarajan reminisces how the Ogilvy & Mather's founder David Ogilvy had once said to Mullick: “How very civilised of you to pick a Mozart tune to sell a watch in India.” The ad film tasted terrific success.
Natarajan adds, “The part of the brief given to us always included, ‘How do we use the tune, and how differently can we use it?’” Since then, the tune has become synonymous with Titan which still generates great brand recall.
Then v/s Now: What has changed in Titan’s advertising?
It was in the early 2000 when the brand first started tapping celebrities for endorsements by roping in Bollywood actor Aamir Khan. Khan was seen in the brand’s ‘What’s Your Style’ ad and ‘Be More’ series. The commercials worked in Titan’s favour and generated tremendous brand recognition.
Over a period of time, actors like Katrina Kaif, Kriti Sanon, Nimrat Kaur and Rajkummar Rao too had a role in Titan’s ad films.
‘The Wedding Film’ attained the status of ‘iconic’ without the presence of any celebrity or well-known face. The ad film's script writer makes his point here. If the agency had cast someone prominent, the advertisement would be remembered by his or her name. This would have distracted the audience from the theme of the commercial. Communicating the emotion of ‘The Wedding Film’ was far more important than featuring an established personality.
Although it was the client’s decision to not cast known faces, for the brand, it was the watches that were the biggest celebrity in its communication strategies, Menon says.
Natarajan highlights one more point. Today, a lot of buzz is being generated on the amount of content being produced. This is excess when compared to the past. Hence, the pressure to break the clutter and be visible among the crowd for a brand is tremendous. Although the challenge for any brand is to be in step with the times, the decision-making process on the part of the consumers is a lot more complicated today.
Here, he is also quick to add: “If a story is able to invoke drama or if there are sudden bursts of emotions, people notice it within a few seconds. But, what has remained common between then and now is: moments, little expressions and the constant search for joy.”