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David Blacker’s Blog

Build a Bridge, One Kevum at a Time — the One Plate Project

ads hand The One Plate Project is an initiative by Yamu and ad agency JWT to create a uniquely Sri Lankan practice online. During most religious and cultural celebrations such as the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year, Ramazan, Thai Pongal, and Christmas, people of all ethnicities look forward to the celebrations, regardless of whether that particular festival is one relevant to one’s community or not. And there’s one simple irreligious reason for that — Sri Lankans love food. As a Christian Burgher, I look forward to Avurudhu and Ramazan almost as much as I do to Christmas because I know there’s going to be a load of great Sinhalese, Tamil, and Muslim food coming my way from the neighbours.

In multi-ethnic neighbourhoods — mostly in Sri Lanka’s bigger cities, it is considered a common — and neighbourly — practice to send your neighbours — especially those from other communities — a plate of food if you’re celebrating something. So at Ramazan, some biryani and wattalappam is pretty much guaranteed; sweets and milk rice will be loaded onto a plate for Avurudhu; and at Christmas, thick wedges of breudher are piled onto plates and dispatched to the neighbours. Everyone gets to enjoy everyone else’s party. What makes this doubly cool is the fact that no one wants to return an empty plate to its owner, so usually there’s a frantic scramble to find something tasty to fill that plate for its return journey.

This is precisely the experience the One Plate Project replicates in a virtual neighbourhood. Hosted on Anything.lk this Avurudhu, the project allows you the chance to buy a plate of food — ideally one belonging to your community — and have it delivered with a personal greeting to a random person from another community. In return, you yourself will receive a surprise plate of food from some other neighbourly stranger off the net. How it works is that one selects one of four plates, each belonging to one of the four major ethnic communities of Sri Lanka — Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, and Burgher — and pay for it. All plates are priced the same at Rs 500. That’s it. Your address will be saved on the site, and on delivery day you’ll receive something in return.

The project was launched by Yamu and JWT this New Year, and is planned to run throughout all the major festivals for a full year, culminating next year with the Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. To simplify matters, the organisers have decided to stick to just sweets for now which are less perishable and therefore easier to deliver. They have also restricted the project to Colombo for now, but if all goes well we’re likely to see both the menu and the areas expand rapidly over the next year. For now, the Sinhalese plate consists of aasme, konde kevum, kokis, and thala karali; the Tamil plate has jelebi, rava laddu, sweet murukku, and boondi; the Muslim plate is actually a bowl of legendary watalappam; and the Burgher plate gives you the equally famous breudher.

Speaking to me, Indi Samarajeeva, one of the owners of Yamu, said that the “One Plate [Project] is an experiment to see if online food sharing can help bridge divides between communities. Sri Lankans traditionally share food at holidays with their neighbors. One Plate is an attempt to extend that behavior online.” At a time when Sri Lanka has been experiencing a new wave of ethnic tension, Indi went on to say, “We hope that people will take the chance to do something concrete to promote fraternity and goodwill among all the communities of Sri Lanka.”

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May 13, 2013 Posted by | advertising, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Loving Mr Grey

Ask Sri Lankans born in the ’70s to tell you which cars they remember growing up with, and you’ll hear about Austin Cambridges, Morris Minors, “Upali” Fiats, and Beetles. All of which are rubbish. Yes, I know people will put out a fatwah on me for calling a Beetle rubbish, but it is. And yes, I know Upali Wijewardena’s Fiat 128 was the Micro of ’70s Sri Lanka, but you’ll be better off if you put wheels on a Ceylon Tea crate. Plus you’ll be faster. Doesn’t anyone remember a Karmann Ghia, or a Datsun 240Z, or a Mercedes 300? Or at least a Mk1 Golf, for God’s sake? Why do people seem to remember the bland? Somehow, though, I doubt that Sri Lankans in the year 2040 will look back fondly on the Nissan Sunny.

While you’re about it, ask a Sri Lankan to name a great ad from the early days of local television, and it’ll be a pretty predictable choice. The original Airlanka jingle (above) will certainly feature among them, with people still able to sing bits of it or at least hum the tune. There’s one of those dodgy old massage guys on Hikkaduwa beach who sings one part of it (“Blue voters, smiling ice — Sri Lanka, pair of dice”) over and over, as he walks along the sand looking for customers. Then there’ll be the Dot toffee commercials (“Oyagey kate Dot, mage kateth Dot!”), the Thultex spot — the only reason I remember that one is because at 14 years old, I’d never seen that far up a woman’s leg. So we remember this stuff, but were they good ads — did they entertain us (OK, there’s that leg again), engage us? Fuck, no, but we remember them anyway. Mostly because there were far fewer ads around back then.

Now it’s pretty easy to see why people remember great cars and great ads — or great anything for that matter. Cars, movies, books, we remember the ones that were interesting, fun, touching — things that played to our emotions, that entertained us. But what makes us remember things that we have no reason to — why would we remember a packet of washing powder? We wouldn’t, because there’s nothing to remember about it. But somehow Sri Lankans manage it. We even remember the Austin Cambridge. Why?

Perhaps it’s because Sri Lankans, on the whole, prefer the bland and anonymous. We save our spice for our rice, and that’s only because everyone else does it too. Every other day of the week I’m up in front of clients, trying to sell them an ad that I think will do all kinds of wonderful things for their brand. Market share, brand building, top-of-mind, etc etc. And as I pitch that top-of-the-range ad out onto their boardroom tables, I can see them squirm and wait, hesitating over this Scirocco that’s going to have everyone talking and pointing — and believe me these aren’t Porsches; they really are Sciroccos, maybe even RS5s. But no, the client’s waiting for me to run out of revs so that he or she can buy that Toyota Allion that no one will notice. It’ll take them from 15% market share to 17%, smoothly and comfortably, and very very softly. And in an unfeeling, numb coma.

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July 8, 2010 Posted by | advertising, cars, Life | , | 9 Comments

Court Orders Chillies to Lift Ban on Phoenix Ogilvy

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A District Court today ordered the Trustees of the Chillies — Sri Lanka’s only advertising creativity awards show — to allow Phoenix Ogilvy to submit entries for the 2010 awards, scheduled to be held later in May. Judge Mohammed Lafar Thahir passed down an enjoining order that would prevent the Chillies from scheduling any activities connected to the 2010 awards without first accepting entries from the Colombo ad agency.

This followed a hasty attempt by the Chillies Blueprint Committee to change the rules in March — a scant two months before the awards show — thereby making the event exclusive to members of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and the International Advertising Association (IAA), which jointly organise and run the one-week annual event. This was a change from previous regulations which allowed any registered ad agency to nominate entries, and at first seemed merely a piece of pettiness that didn’t hold true to the Chillies stated vision of raising the bar of Sri Lankan creativity. Another year, another controversy. Perhaps an attempt to unionize the industry and exclude those that didn’t toe the party line.

However, on closer examination, a more sinister motive seemed to reveal itself. The fact is that 99% of Colombo ad agencies are members of either the 4A’s or the IAA, and in most cases, of both. The few exceptions are usually minnows or newcomers who haven’t paid much attention to either body. Except for one — Phoenix Ogilvy, one of Colombo’s heavyweights, and the local shop of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. In spite of the fact that the ad agency is a founder member of both the 4A’s and the Sri Lankan chapter of the IAA, Phoenix Ogilvy’s chairman, Irvin Weerackody, pulled out of both bodies in 1999, claiming “disagreements with other members over their private agendas”.

This enmity between Weerackody and the organisers of the Chillies has led to several conflicts over the past years, including the exclusion of Phoenix Ogilvy staff from many 4A’s- and IAA-conducted events. This cold war broke into open flames in 2010, with the Chillies appointing a Blueprint Committee consisting almost exclusively of senior members of rival ad agencies — Rohan Rajaratnam (CEO, Words), Laila Gunasekara-Martenstyn (COO, Grant McCann-Erickson), Chalaka Gajabahu (CEO, Lowe LDB), and Ranil de Silva (MD, Leo Burnett Solutions). The fifth member of the committe, Adrian Ferdinands, is a marketing consultant. Continue reading

May 6, 2010 Posted by | advertising | , , , , , | 19 Comments

Drop in the Price of Chillies in 2009

img00250I was hoping for a fairly uncontroversial ad awards this year, following on the heels of 2008’s scam issues; however that doesn’t look likely. Everything seemed very low key at first. There were no embarrassing judges telling us our work was shit in the forums. There weren’t any catfights between CEOs and C-oh-ohs over whose ads were scam. Everybody was ready to toe the line, divide up the Chillies, and go on home in the same sedate rowboat. Sound almost Slimmish, no?

And Slimmish it was. This year’s panel of local and international judges decided wholesale was the way to give out Chillies, doling out a record nine (count ’em, nine) Golds, a Grand Prix, and a Best of Show. That’s more Golds than has been awarded in all three previous years put together. And don’t even get me started on the dozens of Silvers, sackloads of Bronzes, and what looked like millions of those silly Finalists that were handed out. Couple this with a new scoring system that moved away from the so-called Olympic system to a point-based system, and you have a Chillies show that was fundamentally different from the previous years.

Now I have many questions for the Chillies organizers, but it all boils down to just one really: WTF?

Let me explain.

I’ll start with the two scoring systems that have been tried for the Chillies — Olympic, and point-based. With the Olympic system that was in place over the last three years, metal value won — a Gold beat a Silver beat a Bronze, etc. Pretty simple. A Grand Prix or Best of Show trumped everything and the agency that got that baby scored the night. Now, there was a bit of a fuckup last year. Leo Burnett won a bunch of silvers (relatively a lot by the Chillies standards of the time), and looked to be 2008’s most consistently creative agency. But not quite. You see, Triad (which had won next to nothing all night) suddenly pulled a Gold out of the hat and had the last laugh. So this time, the Chillies decided “that’s not fair” (and to be fair, it really wasn’t very fair), and decided to move the goal posts. Onto the cricket pitch. They also forgot to tell Triad, apparently (though more of that, later). This time there would be a point-based or tally system. It didn’t really matter whether you won one Gold or three Bronzes, because each award was apportioned a point value, and at the end of the night, you totted up the score, and the agency with the most points won. To make matters worse, a fourth place slot was created so that if your work was too crap to win a Bronze, you’d still get a point for it. Then, to add an element of farce to the night (and no, I don’t mean the drag show), the Chillies decided there would be a Grand Prix and a Best of Show! Now, ladies and gents of the Chillies, I hope you’ve noticed that Grand Prix means “great prize” in French — in other words, yup, the best of show. So while international ad shows have one or the other, we have both. Continue reading

May 5, 2009 Posted by | advertising | , , , | 41 Comments

Leo Burnett & Triad Win at Adfest

festival_index.jpgSo it’s finally happened. The avowed mission of the Chillies “to propel Sri Lanka’s advertising and marketing communications industry to world class standards” became reality last weekend with Leo Burnett and Triad winning a silver and bronze respectively at the Asia Pacific Advertising Festival held in Pattaya, Thailand.

In the rather vindictive aftermath of the Chillies, Colombo’s top agencies had awaited Adfest with baited breath, expecting the international ad show to exonerate their victories and vindicate their grouses. Whether these two awards will do so will only be told in time, but the fact that Triad has already taken out a full page ad in Monday’s papers gives some inkling of the need to speak with a louder voice when actions fail.
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April 1, 2008 Posted by | advertising | , , , , , , , | 29 Comments