[RECALL] Inside the Times 175 years’ celebrations

 

It’s celebration times in Indian media as The Times of India completes 175 years of existence. The exercise was kicked off in right earnest last fortnight with much fanfare. We posed a few questions on the celebrations to Rahul Kansal, Executive President of BCCL. And since it was Mr Kansal who was giving us a low-down, we also spoken on branding issues and asked him for finer details… beyond what’s already carried in the announcements.

A veteran adman (Deputy Managing, Leo Burnett – 2000-02; Exec Director, Mudra 1994-2000 and Exec Director, Ogilvy 1989-94), Mr Kansal has been with BCCL since 2007, initially as CMO and since last year as Exec President.

 

Excerpts from an interaction of Mr Kansal with Pradyuman Maheshwari:

 

Q. One still remembers the 150 years sesquicentennial celebrations of The Times of India. What can one expect from the 175 years’ celebration? We’ve been seeing a celebration in the paper in the form of culling the best of the last 175 years…. Could you share a few specifics?

Well, we’ve started with celebrating India’s journey over the past 175 years, and of giving readers a glimpse of how we’ve helped lead the change in the country over this period. We’re doing daily editorial spreads mining the best material from our archives and presenting them in a contemporary context.

 

We’re also doing seven books on various themes, covering the defining moments over the past 175 years in sports, cinema, society and politics. The books are being anchored by acclaimed journalists and authors like Bachi Karkaria, Jug Suraiya, Santosh Desai, Boria Majumdar, Sandipan Deb and others. The first, Sporting Times, authored by Boria is being launched on May 23 in Mumbai, by some of India’s sporting luminaries like Sachin, Abhinav Bindra and Mary Kom.

 

In a few weeks from now we’ll get into the heart of the 175 years’ celebration: a powerful activation programme called ‘I Lead India’. Being launched on a scale bigger than any of our earlier such interventions, the programme is basically an exhortation to India’s youth to stop whining about all that’s going wrong in our society, and instead start doing something about it. It asks our youth to say: Enough of pointing fingers, of blaming the ‘system’, of wanting them to change. I must be the change I wish to see in the world. I (will) Lead India.

 

‘I Lead India’ will peak in early November. This will be followed by a round of celebrations covering 25-odd cities, including, hopefully, some marquee programmes in some of the larger cities.

 

Q. It started on April 23…. Till when will it continue (given that the ‘birthday’ is in November).

The ‘I Lead India’ programme will reach a crescendo on November 10 – the actual birth date. And then we’ll go into a month-and-a-half of celebrations (musical and other cultural events across various cities of India)

 

Q. Other than the ads in TOI group publications, we see a Ranbir Kapoor TVC, hoardings across Mumbai . Could you share some details of what the playout is going to be? Any more TVCs being planned?

For the 175 years’ celebration there are several print ads, the Ranbir Kapoor film, various radio and outdoor messages. Besides, we are developing seven books, some very interesting merchandise (t Shirts, mugs etc) and some other interactive ideas. There will also be a stamp from the Government of India.

 

‘I Lead India’ will have an extensive communication package including 3 TVCs and an intensive package of print, radio and outdoor advertising.

 

Q. It was good to see a TOI 175 years’ celebration ad take the HT Delhi Page 1 solus (and HT granting that to TOI). Do we see similar ‘tie-ups’ elsewhere?

HT and we always agree to take each others’ ads in our papers, so long as they are not directly competitive or denigrating the other’s brands

 

Q. The sesquicentennial had in many ways seen The Times of India (the paper) take a quantum leap, turning into a modern-day newspaper publishing company. Do you wish the 175 years celebrations to help you achieve a similar transformation?

In the past 25 years, the TOI has already become a very robust brand, at the cutting edge of technology and of modern journalistic and management practices. The 175 years’ celebration is more to dedicate ourselves to the future rather than wallow over the past. It will seek to further cement its position as ‘The Masthead of India’, and in particular, as the voice of young India.

 

Q. The Times of India footprint (@150) has increased much in the last 25 years. Do we expect a nationwide celebration or restricted to the publishing centres?

Well, our publishing centres are ‘nationwide’ now. We will have ‘I Lead India’ chapters as well as the subsequent celebrations in 26 centres around the country.

 

Q. While at one level you will be obviously talking of the 175-year history and heritage and at the same time you want to portray an image of a young, dynamic, forward-looking newspaper… is there a problem doing that? How are you looking at achieving the best of both?

To our mind, modernity and heritage must go hand in hand, if either of them is to be meaningful. A first-generation industrialist may be dismissed as nouveau riche; an aristocrat old patriarch as a bore. ‘Money’ needs ‘class’ to become a well-rounded whole; ‘success’ needs ‘breeding’. Neither is complete in itself.

 

Our 175 years’ campaign looks ahead even more than it looks back. Our archival stories are presented with a contemporary context. Besides, the centrepiece of the programme ‘I Lead India’ is entirely forward-looking.

 

Q. You are a brand specialist… if one were to build a brand personality for The Times of India brand, what would it be?

a. Sachin Tendulkar: old (in sporting terms), yet young and agile
b. Ranbir Kapoor: young, energetic, hardworking, flirtatious
c. Virat Kohli: young, brash, aggressive, streetsmart, a wtf-attitude to life
d. Any other

 

- Sachin’s track record is unparalleled, but his age is taking him to the end of his illustrious career. The TOI will hopefully go on for another long, long time.

- Virat is probably India’s brightest new cricketing star. But he still has some way to go to reach the stature of some of the greats that preceded him.

 

Amongst the above three, Ranbir represents perhaps a more balanced mix of proven achievement, heritage and a promise that ‘the best is yet to come’. To that extent I’d say he represents the values of brand TOI a little more closely.

 

Q. And lastly, some finer details:

How many people from BCCL working on the 175 years project. How many full-time on this? And at what levels?

The TOI Brand and Edit teams are anchoring the programme, but the whole company is actively involved. Each department is creating its own interventions and celebrations.

 

We saw the print ad was crafted by Taproot. Any other agencies?

Mainly Taproot. Shop (Freddy and Naved) will also do some bits later.

 

Any agencies for activation/digital/social media/etc.

Gopika Chowfla designs for our books, stamp and merchandise.

 

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