Pretty girl goes out on a date, chews Happydent gum, her teeth shine, she has a great date.
That is what Italian company Perfetti had in mind when, many years ago, it spoke to its advertising agency in India, McCann Erickson. The brief came armed with an Italian ad film that showed the girl-gum-teeth-date routine. All that McCann needed to do was shoot the same thing with an Indian model.
Nothing could have prepared Perfetti for what was to follow.
“India is a paan-chewing country,” said Prasoon Joshi, who was the creative head and CEO of McCann in India. “We are not obsessed with shiny teeth.” On his own, Joshi went ahead and shot a commercial that showed a photographer using a couple of men with shiny white teeth, instead of flash bulbs, to take pictures. Joshi was convinced that was the way to go: a little funny, a little irreverent.
Perfetti liked what it saw, took the flash bulb ad, and told Joshi to do more of the same.
The next in the series, known as the Happydent Palace ad, has now been rated among the 20 best this century, by The Gunn Report, a global journal of the advertising industry’s most awarded work. It’s the only one from India in the list, which has the likes of BGH Silent Aircon’s Dads in Briefs, Budweiser’s Wassup, Cadbury Dairy Milk’s Gorilla, Nike’s Writer the Future, and others.
Happydent Palace’s storyline is as incredible as the story of its making. It is about a bunch of human bulbs employed to light up a king’s palace by their shiny white teeth.
“Are you serious?” asked Perfetti’s Sameer Suneja. Joshi was. And Suneja chose to go with Joshi’s instincts, paving the way for several awards, including winning two Lions at Cannes, the first Indian ad film to do so. Joshi’s fantastical world of an old king, people employed in the oddest of jobs, and the exaggerated benefits of Happydent clicked with the audience and jury alike.
“I have seen people do the oddest of jobs, including one who was employed to scratch the back of a qawwal,” said Joshi, who is now McCann’s chairman for Asia Pacific and continues to be the India unit’s CEO and chief creative officer, over the phone from Hong Kong. A qawwal is one who practises a type of devotional music called qawwali.
A place among the Top 20 is music to Joshi’s ears.