In 2006, prominent advertising agency FCBUlka took a chance with the start-up job search site Naukri.com and came up with the ‘Hari Sadu’ campaign, which went on to become one of the most successful commercials in the country’s history.
Rude, heartless, ill-tempered – Hari Sadu was the epitome of a ‘bad boss’ whose rightful bashing on TV gave vicarious pleasure to the audience and was cheered by many wounded employees.
Two things became clear after the ad’s success – one was creative agencies started taking start-ups more seriously and humour turned out to be a great tool to engage viewers.
Hari Sadu was an ‘every boss’. His arrogant behaviour and tireless rants towards his employees resulted in even the most well-intentioned, earnest worker using expletives against him. In one instance, Hari Sadu struggles to book a hotel as the receiver at the other end isn’t able to comprehend his name. One of his employees takes charge of the call and spells out his boss’ name with a stream of abuses.
The ad had a confident tagline – Guess who just heard from us? The message was clear – you need not suffer Hari Sadus of the world anymore, Naukri.com was there to help you find another job. To date, no other online website in India seems to have been so well advertised.
It was not long before Hari Sadu became a pop culture icon. Sometimes he became the titular subject of a thesis analysing interpersonal dynamics at workplace, other times he was the case study for marketing blogs. Even in 2021, he was being casually referenced in articles lamenting work culture.
Its success also translated into material rewards, when it won the “Campaign of the Year” award in 2006 at the prestigious Advertising Club Kolkata, Consumer Connect Awards and a bronze at the APAC Effies Awards in Singapore in 2008.
“Response was fantastic…It was closest to the cult ad I have seen in India and it really helped the brand and made it a household name,” said Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder of Naukri.com.
Return of Hari Sadu and ‘The Great Resignation’
Ayesha Kapoor, former marketing head of Naukri.com, said in 2006, that Naukri.com was still a young-ish brand and it was when they first started to advertise on television, their department had picked up on insights that the primary reason why someone quit their job was that they don’t like their boss.
“It’s not the work, it’s basically that insight we had picked up on the emotion people feel – that the reason to leave a job is your boss because at the end of the day you cannot possibly escape your boss…The script was great but it came down to the execution, which was excellent…It really struck a nerve,” she said.
What is it that makes the ad from the 2000s resonate with the new generation? It seems to echo a phenomenon that has become much too common now. ‘The Great Resignation’ as it is called has churned out countless write-ups about employers who are losing their workforce in bulk. It is putting bosses once again on notice, as employees become more and more selective about not just where they work but also who they work for. Reports have found that tolerance for “dealing with jerky bosses” has greatly reduced, leading to mass resignation that is not being seen as a taboo but rather being celebrated as the beginning of a new era.
A report by Michael Page, a UK-based recruitment company, stated that nearly 86% of India’s professionals will be seeking new jobs in the next six months as the Great Resignation is set to intensify in the country this year. It was also found that while salaries, bonuses, and rewards were still top attractions for candidates, there was also a big swing towards “non-monetary motivators” as 61% of respondents were willing to accept lower wages or promotion in favour of better “work-life balance, overall well-being, and happiness”.
“Yeah, I remember the ad. I was quite young when it first came out. But I see how apt it was not just in those times, I see the situation has not really changed even today. Have heard of workplace horror stories from friends, who like me are also in their first jobs. It’s not at all easy when you have bad bosses — many had to leave either for other jobs or went to do masters since they just couldn’t work anymore. Leaving early is very common these days and I can understand their situation,” said 23-year-old Varun Rana who works at the Gurgaon branch of the SBI card office.
Whether it is 2006 or 2022, navigating toxic workplaces and dealing with grumpy bosses remain a major issue, making Haru Sadu a timeless presence.
“Even today if you watch it…it is one of those timeless ads that you could watch — in 2006 or in 2022 — because it just resonates,” Ayesha said.
Fame doesn’t always come with no strings attached. The breakthrough of Hari Sadu ad didn’t just make it a household name but brought with it an equal amount of controversies. An 11-year-old boy from Chandigarh named ‘Hari Bhanot’ claimed Rs 1 crore in damages from Naukri.com and demanded the withdrawal of the ad in a legal notice, alleging harassment by his schoolmates owing to the similarity in name.
Although the legal notice didn’t turn into a court case, it caused much annoyance to founder Bikhchandani, who had to come forward with a clarification statement about the nature of the ad as a work of fiction and that its characters did not “in any way represent a situation close to an 11-year-old”.
Naukri.com also released another ad in 2013. The 26-second ad showed a slew of profanities — acidity, ringworm, dandruff, hernia, underwear — written on an office cabin door with disgruntled employees asking: Who is this rakshas (demon)? The chorus replies Hari Sadu. Its end message “Jobs are Back” was unmistakable to draw the attention of jobs seekers to their portal under a positive reminder that the market has revived. Though the ad was a triumphant sequel, it never reached the great heights of its predecessor, whose legacy continues to be incomparable.
(Edited by Monami Gogoi)