Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Mather of all ads

Prakash Kurup of Identiti transformed real estate advertising in Kerala with his innovative campaigns for Mather

By Shevlin Sebastian

It was a chance meeting, but it changed the fortunes of two people. Prakash Kurup, 51, the director of Identiti Advertising, approached Raffi Mather, 36, the Director and CEO of Mather Projects and Constructions, to get permission to use his bowling alley at Esplanade for a Coca Cola commercial in 1999. They got talking and Raffi said he had ventured into the real estate business and needed to advertise it. “However, he said, the advertising agencies he had approached wanted a bank guarantee of Rs 25 lakh,” says Kurup. “He told me he could only afford a budget of Rs 2 lakh.”

Kurup took up the challenge and made an ad with the catchline, ‘Get Comfortable, Get a Home’. Two advertising boards were set up, one at Aroor, at the entrance to Kochi and the other in Alwaye.

When the ads appeared, Raffi was able to sell a few apartments in the Whitewater project in Thevara. Enthused, he increased the advertising budget to Rs 5 lakh. Soon, the team – then copywriter, Shailaja Prashanth, Art Director, Sunil C.K., Account Manager, Saji Jose and Kurup presented another idea with the same copy, but, instead of showing an apartment, they showed a family—a husband and wife in a happy situation.

This, according to Kurup, was a first in real estate advertising in Kerala. “Till then, market leaders, like Southern Investments and Skyline Builders, made the building the hero, but we decided to focus on people,” says Kurup. “Somehow, it clicked and Raffi received lots of enquiries. We were the first one to put the emphasis on lifestyle. Now everybody is following us.”

Of course, the turning point was the catchline, ‘Work Hard. Live Easy’, coined by the talented Shailaja, 30, Associate Creative Director. “It had to do with the kind of mind-set that was starting to appear in Kerala,” she says. For a long time, people could buy houses only when they retired, after saving money for years. But now, because of easy home loans, the owners were becoming younger. “And these people liked to work hard and party harder,” she says. “We were trying to say, ‘Yes, there is passion for your job and for life, but, at the same time, you would like to chill out when you go back home.’”

But the moot question is, do ads really influence people when they have to make heavy investments like a flat? “If you have your positioning and target audience right, it does influence people,” says Shailaja. “Very often, the agency or the client is confused about who they are speaking to, or what the product is.”

Mather, she says, had its focus clear: it wanted to sell a lifestyle. Raffi confirms that his target customer is the young professional, be it a doctor, engineer or a chartered accountant, who is a member of the emerging middle class. “My projects are aimed at these people, because they show so much excitement when they own a house,” he says.

Prakash Kurup says the hype of the ads matched the reality. “Raffi is a sincere builder,” he says. “He would look into small complaints and rectify it immediately. If a customer did not like the colour of a particular tile, he would get it replaced.”

Today, Mather is one of the leading brands in the state, and its image has been enhanced by the association with cricketer S. Sreesanth. The agency and the client discovered that Sreesanth was living in a small house off Thammanan Road. “We told him if you stay here, as a celebrity, you are not safe and secondly, it does not suit your image,” says Raffi. Mather offered him a villa in Kings Brook in Maradu, along with a three-year advertising contract, which Sreesanth accepted.

Essentially, the cricketer was hired to appeal to customers outside India, since 80% of the premium villas and the flats are bought by the NRIs. Also, in places like Saudi Arabia, where there are restrictions on female models, Sreesanth, as a male celebrity, was a safe bet. “Recently, we held a press conference in Dubai,” says Kurup. “It was the first time Gulf News covered the event on the front page, the sports page and the media page, all because of the presence of Sreesanth.”

Like Sreesanth, Kurup is flying high. Following his B.Com from Mahatma Gandhi College in Thiruvananthapuram, he did his post-graduation in advertising from Davar’s College of Commerce in Mumbai and joined Clarion in 1981. Thereafter, for the next 18 years, he worked in top-notch advertising firms in Mumbai and Bangalore, before he came to Kochi and set up Identiti.

When asked why the word, Identiti, ended with an ‘I’, he says, “I wanted to create an identity through the word, because people would ask about the ‘I’. Also, I wanted to give a sense of innovation in the name itself.”

Today, apart from Mather, which has an annual advertising budget of Rs 3 crore, Identiti has other clients like the Joy Alukkas Wedding Centre (Rs 3 crore), the Kumarakom Lake Resort (Rs 2 crore) and the Shriram Group, Bangalore (Rs 2.5 crore).

Thanks to his innovations, Kurup has forged his Identiti in the Kerala market.

(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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