Sanjeev Kotnala: Communication. What to Say v/s How to Say It

27 Jan,2021

By Sanjeev Kotnala


‘You are wrong, and you know it’, thundered my mentor and consultant friend Vermajee. ‘Sometimes, what matters more, is not what to say but how to say it. You seem to have forgotten the Tanishq fiasco. The SMEAR index. Baat Niklegi Toh Dur tak Jayegi’.


I had just updated Vermajee of my meeting with a new client and the opportunity that came with it. We were debating the brand communication. The client wanted a creative according to what he thought should be done. And, I was insisting on doing a no negative research, if not one dedicated to find what to say.  The discussion pingponged between strategy and creative. I told the client: ‘We would be home, once we lock-in who we are addressing and what we need to say. That is the tougher part. How and where to say it is far easier’. The client, as you would have guessed thought otherwise.


Vermajee cooled down. Took a sip of hot steaming cup of tea and I knew another masterclass like ‘consultant dharma and loyalties to the  brand’ was in the offering.


He said, ‘It is always about balance. One needs to prioritise the resources. All must optimise all four to get the best ROI from the intervention. We often know what is to be said, but issues and constraints do not allow to say it clearly. Or maybe we are unable to find the best way to say it. Engaging and involving enough for the targeted audience’.


Vermajee added. “Error in getting ‘What to say’ wrong can lead to significant issues. However, knowing that is not a guarantee of success, if you end up not saying it correctly. The problems  may get magnified. Here are two examples. You may love or hate the creative. But hell I am sure, they knew what to say and have said it right’.



TOILET SMELL. #ShitSmellsBad


Toilet Smell. The subject is not new, and we all have faced the issue.  So, how do you address it, without sounding cheap or irritating? And how innovative is the hashtag #ShitSmellsBad. They took the call not to go the  logical hygiene and smell way—the removal of the odour. PeeBuddy’s ‘Before and After Toilet Spray’ is working on a higher plane. Damn it. Their purpose, saving relationships and marriage. Taking you on a  148 seconds tour to say #ShitSmellsBad.



UNWANTED. #ShhNotOkPlease


OH NO. OH YES. That’s it. Female Contraceptive. The choice and the message is clear. Control of unwanted pregnancy. Don’t hush and shh the discussion. Friends and relatives are in a hurry to hear the good news. Take it head. Don’t shh. The brand decided not to take the most obvious, the educative communication loaded with rational arguments. Instead, the brand introduced a song and dance routine for the UNWANTED 21 Days. But somewhere Unwanted21 branding is questionable. Are they not wanted 21 days!






Many brands have invested in how to say a lot more after what and who to tell. Always invest in creative.


Here, watch a few more brands taking on the challenge. was telling you about changing the job, Onida- neighbours envy for TV purchase, Maggi Sauce- its different, FixIt– water seepage solution, Erickson was showing how small the phone isFevicol demonstrating the bondM-seal doing a slice of death advertising, RIO pads using red instead of blue in advertising for sanitary pads and then Sunny Leone telling you not to smoke in 11 minutes. All, demonstrating the importance of ‘How to say’.




The jury is divided on the question: what is more important -what to say or how to say? While we are at it, another voice rises to question the importance of where to say it. But that is for some other time. Resources are always limited and you have to choose what to prioritise.




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