When content sends wrong message

When content sends wrong message

World of commercials

When content sends wrong message

With the tagline ‘Coloured is better’, an Italian detergent commercial made news in 2009 for its racist content. While the advertisement was humoured on grounds of ‘reverse racism’, a Chinese detergent company’s recent take on the same caused quite a stir.

The video, which has gone viral, shows an Asian woman feeding a black man detergent and pushing him into a washing machine, after with he turns into a fair-skinned Asian to the pleasure of the woman. While this isn’t the first time a commercial has been criticised for its crass content, it does bring into focus the content they reinforce.

Vinit Beley, a young professional, says that such commercials exist for a reason. “The ‘intellectual’ crowd might not appreciate the content but there are people who find it funny because they don’t know better, and it’s this crowd that drive the advertisements.” This is why education of the masses is essential in the making of a good commercial.

Using stereotypes in commercials works as a good marketing strategy but it can also turn aggressive. Umesh Prasad, an advertising, corporate communications and public relations specialist, says it’s unrealistic to expect the advertising industry to not use stereotypes but it’s important to draw a line. “Advertisement creators can’t avoid using stereotypes because they have only so much time to create and establish a story. If they try to do something different, it’ll take longer to establish a story and hence, get clarity when delivering the message. But you can make ads that are in good taste.”

Umesh adds that creators have to look at 2 aspects when making a commercial — the demographic and psychographic. “Each ad caters to a specific audience. Take for example, household products; according to current social norms, it’s the woman who uses the kitchen more than the man. If an ad tries to break this gender stereotype, it’ll not have the intended effect.” He points out that while the visual medium is a powerful one, it’s not the job of an ad to make change.

“Films, books, music etc create these stereotypes, ads just utilise the existing stereotype to get the best result,” says Umesh. But this doesn’t mean they should incite hatred or create disparity. “There is difference between good and bad ads. The industry is largely unregulated but before, we used to self-regulate to keep everything in check. Now, with an open market people don’t follow these rules. The newer ads are just in bad taste. People can go to court but it’s a tedious process,” he adds. This is why he thinks there should be regulations.

Shivkumar Panicker, an advertisement editor, is of the opinion that people these days have become too ‘serious’. “They don’t know how to take a joke. I wouldn’t be offended if someone called me a ‘Madrasi’ because I know there are people who are ignorant, and they are the ones who fuel these stereotypes. The people who make such ads would have gotten a brief from the company saying the content should stand out. There are nth number of detergent ads that show kids dirtying their clothes and more, which is why none of them stick out. This is an aggressive tactic to stand out; for all those people who hated the Chinese detergent ad, there would have been the same number who found it funny and wanted to try it,” he says.

So unless existing stereotypes change, there is little hope for the quality of commercials. Umesh mentions that there are always people who will find racist, sexist, communalist ideas funny, which is what drives the industry. “Unless social norms change, ads won’t. And when the norms change, they will become the stereotypes of the future.”