Shh! It's classified

Shh! It's classified

In my last avatar, I was in advertising. For nearly five years I worked in JWT (then HTA of Mike Khanna days) as an art director and left as a creative supervisor. That’s the furthest I went there, but the memories of that place still entertain. 

Next to my workspace was a long corridor that led to the media-buying department. Every time I would raise my head for my routine stretching exercises I would view young men and women walking in with crisp accents and entrepreneurial smiles. Smartly apparalled and overloaded with their laptop bags they would be marching in towards the media dept.

Over some time I realised they were the space sellers from various media houses, trying to procure ads for their publications, make a killing and more than make a living. In a few minutes the performance would begin. I would hear the agency folks perform, at their highest decibels. Those Shylocks would be waiting for these young executives to squeeze every penny invested in their journal, get premium spaces, extra and more, pay less and if it all failed, even intimidate them for pulling out the brand, off their publication. Forever. The next day the same executives would come back for more, with more to offer.

To tell you the truth, we in the creatives were a shade better than our colleagues in media buying. We never harassed those poor executives. Rather we harassed the Shylocks themselves (and then brand them as Shylocks). “Why is my red not Red?” “What happened to gradient filter I spent nights on? This looks so flat!” “You must understand we are all working hard for the brand and not ourselves!” What the media buying friends would do is basically a repeat performance but with authority.
But then we are talking of big brands here with multi-crore budgets who don’t mind inserting a few lakhs for a half page every time Sachin crosses another landmark.

Common purpose

So what happens to our neighbour Ram Babu who has just manufactured the world’s best cockroach repellent but does not have the reserves to paint the town red? After all he too deserves a chance under the sun.

Thank God our newspapers have the classifieds for that. Thank them! There’s space for everything and it comes for a little change. Everything — services, sales, relationships, jobs, repairs, health and even death. The common man is empowered to advertise anything and everything. The next morning he reaches out to a million readers and the he is a star while making himself his morning tea. The medium is the massage! (call Assh for Bangkok style #9958874588)

For a beer bellied, mid-thirties, ex advertising professional who has seen this country go through radical transformations in every decade, I am only in awe of the change I see myself surrounded with. In that sense classified ads are truly one of the points of reflection. Reflecting the times we are living, times for they are changing (I know cliché, but couldn’t resist that. You know how it’s with getting there — middle aged morons).

I live in two Indias. The India I grew up in is not the one I live in. And every morning the newspaper drills that into my head. I am making peace with it and to educate myself I often browse through the classifieds. The only constant through the changing times is the font — Times New Roman. When I began I would often get shocked and surprised ‘how can they print such an ad?’ but now I am spoilt. I chase it for the surprise. The range of products and services offered were not there in the India of my growing up. And even if it was, it wasn’t there in print. Now it’s there in the newspapers, with email ids and contact numbers. Who calls them up I often wonder, but surely someone does. Some of these ads are repeated through the week and highlighted over the weekends. Surely business is happening somewhere there. And its not only matrimonials and real estate but tangibles like fitness, friendship and more too are on sale.  

To talk of the sarkaari parlance, classified would appropriate something of a secret, a state secret. Something that is not accessible. Something hushed up in the files somewhere. Something every television channel seems to cash on for their ‘breaking news’ and that only they would have their hands on it.

Years later, we the humble masses are gives tiny excerpts of the de-classified files to make sense of something that happened 40 years back. But in terms of everyday advertising, classified ads are a different story. The exact opposite. In that sense, classified ads are truly democratic and censor free. The petty entrepreneur is empowered.

My own tryst with classifieds began a few years back when I put up an ad to sell my car. My first attempt was disastrous. Nothing happened that Sunday. I realised I was writing good, conventional copy for the ad while classified ads have their own language. Keep it short, very short, using adjectives, use abbreviations. Each letter costs money. Each adjective sells! So in came Mr Punit Bhasin, a Delhi exporter, who often trades through these columns. When he read my ad, the first thing he did was throw it out of the window. Me, a creative supervisor from India’s biggest agency stood humbled. He rewrote the ad — ‘Dashing Gypsy in Shiny Silver’. The next Sunday, we sold my car. And the next time round I too was a pro classified copywriter!

So that’s how I started following the classified sections. Yes conventionally it’s a need-based-read but as I said, it’s a great way to know of the changing times, our society and the markets. Most of what is put up will never make it to mainstream advertising either because of the budget or the service itself, (for example escort services) or so I hope. But sooner than later I know I will have to take back my words. As for my collection, trust me it gets outdated everyday. And that’s why the award for the Best Ad in the Fitness and Entertainment category goes to: ‘REFRESHING you world class Bl*#b service by good looking charming beautiful girl full trained service staff Kiti # 9810860332 (K.B)’.

Yes it’s a real ad, but call at your own risk! Who said we live in politically correct and boring times? Shhh! It’s classified.

(Vishwajyoti Ghosh’s first solo graphic novel ‘Delhi Calm’ will be out this year. His first visual venture, ‘Times New Roman & Countrymen’ was published by Blaft)

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