Saint-Gobain: Concepts in clarity

Apocryphal stories of people crashing into clear glass doors and partitions are numerous, and are often narrated with much enthusiasm and mirth that accompany any conversation on the human frailty of absent-mindedness.

Now apocryphal though they may be, such stories at the same time bear the element of plausibility, considering ‘invisibility’ is one of the properties of clear glass. And it is this property of glass that has regularly been explored in the advertising for float glass brand Saint-Gobain (remember the ‘restaurant’ and ‘door’ films for the brand, dating back to early 2001?). And taking the clarity of glass one step forward, the advertising for Saint-Gobain mirrors (best-recalled for the ‘painting’ film) has always talked about the life-like quality of the reflection.

The two new television commercials for Saint-Gobain (one each for glass and mirrors) that are currently on air are extensions of the brand’s ‘invisibility of glass’ and ‘quality of reflection’ themes. However, the ad for glass, in particular, puts a nice little spin on the previous advertising by reshuffling the advertising logic just a bit. Making it a very watchable film in the process.

The ad opens on waiter (of Far Eastern origin, judging by his attire and general appearance) bearing a tray walking into a cavernous hall. The moment he enters the hall, he pauses, blows a sharp breath of air (‘Ha!’) in the space just in front of his face, then takes a step forward. He repeats the strange action a second time, before taking another step forward. This routine catches the attention of two people (presumably those who are waiting to be served) seated at the far end of the huge hall. Perplexed, one of them frowns. The waiter, meanwhile, keeps taking slow, methodical steps forward, exhaling sharply before every step…

One more step, one more short exhalation. This time, however, the space he has just breathed into mists over. The waiter nods gently, takes one step sideways, and exhales again. Again the area in front of his face gets misty with his breath. The waiter once again gives a brief nod, steps sideways, and exhales. There’s no misting this time. A slight smile of triumph on his face, the waiter now moves forward confidently, bearing his tray to the table at the far end. ‘Clear glass from Saint-Gobain,’ the voiceover explains.

The film for Saint-Gobain mirrors, on the other hand, is about this guy in an office who gets this smart-alecky idea of scaring his colleagues by pulling on a hideous mask and jumping them unawares. The ‘boo trick’ works splendidly – till the hapless guy runs into an equally hideous apparition. Terror-struck, the man shivers at the sight, before a colleague comes to his rescue by yanking off the mask he is wearing. The man discovers he has been done in by his own reflection in a mirror. ‘So clear. So real. Mirrors from Saint-Gobain,’ the VO announces.

Speaking about the lead-up to the two commercials, Balki (R Balakrishnan, executive creative director, Lowe) explains that the brief for the glass film was to reinforce the generic ‘clarity of glass’ property, which Saint-Gobain has been attempting to own ever since its launch in India. “The brief was fairly simple; we had to do a new film for glass as Saint-Gobain glass had not been advertised in a long time,” he says. “While the communication had to stay focused on the clarity message, the only condition was that the idea had to match that of the iconic ‘restaurant’ film.” The brief for mirrors, on the other hand, was to create a film that demonstrated the life-like quality of the reflection in a way that would be remembered. “We could have done some better advertising on mirrors in the past, so the task was to create an ad that was as good as the glass commercials in terms of idea and execution,” Balki states.

The spin in the glass commercial lies in the fact that while the previous ads for Saint-Gobain glass worked on the premise that people (in the ads) don’t realize there is a clear glass door or partition, this one is based on the idea that prior knowledge of the existence of a glass door or partition has its attendant problems. Because clear glass can, at times, be invisible – even to those who know there’s a glass door or partition around. From this sprang the script for the film.

“When the glass is clear, theoretically, people might have to actually search for the glass,” explains Balki. “So we came up with the idea of a guy in a big room searching for the glass so that he doesn’t end up banging into it. The fact that it is a big room ensures that even someone who is fairly familiar with the room is not certain about the exact whereabouts of the glass partition, and hence has to work his way forward cautiously.” What really works in the film’s favour is the setting of the ad. The fact that the waiter is clearly an oriental, and the fact that he keeps going ‘Ha!’ (in the fine tradition of so many kung-fu movies) keep one guessing about the eventual outcome of the ad. You half expect a Crouching Tiger-like action sequence to unfold; it doesn’t, throwing the quiet but surprising ending into sharper relief.

The film for mirrors, Balki reveals, came from the thought that a life-like reflection in a mirror can result in giving people a scare. “At times, when you are in a strange place, you suddenly come across a reflection of yourself in a mirror and unexpectedly scare yourself,” he says. “We took that thought forward by creating this practical joker who is scaring people in office by wearing a mask. The joke, however, backfires on him when he sees his reflection in a Saint-Gobain mirror. The idea ties in very well with the ‘so clear, so real’ proposition of the brand.” Balki adds that the idea of revealing the mask at the end of the commercial was the client’s idea. “In the original script, the viewer got to see the mask that the guy is wearing at the beginning of the film, but Mr B Santhanam (managing director, Saint-Gobain Glass India) suggested we reveal that in the end to keep up the suspense. I think his idea works much better.”

600450 Saint-Gobain: Concepts in clarity
Date: 13 May 2004

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