Making a change

Making a change
Till even a few years ago, all public service announcements had similar, ubiquitous characteristics — they all tried to convey a good message in the most boring way possible. A depressing montage, a dry voice-over, a tear-jerker of a story, grainy images — all combined to render ineffective any message that the makers wanted to send. But now, this oft-neglected field is seeing a revolution of sorts.

Catchy tunes, glitzy ads and cinematography that can give movies a run for their money — innovative ad campaigns are being used to modify public attitude. The most notable one in recent times was the ‘Swachh Bharat’ campaign with Kangana Ranaut. And it seems that when it comes to grabbing eyeballs, the makers have hit the bullseye.

Says Ramya Menon, an advertising professional, “I personally feel this is a very good change as now people have started noticing such ads and taking it seriously. Earlier, the public service ads before were quite unconvincing. They looked more like a plain notice which hardly anyone cared for.” From subtle to ironic to practical — every trick in the book is being employed to capture that finicky little golden bird in advertising — the viewer’s attention.

For example, the high-on-drama ‘No Smoking’ awareness video that featured Deepak Dobriyal, Sunny Leone and Alok Nath. A dying man’s wish combined with a dose of smoking, ‘sanskaar’ and raunchiness was actually an effective campaign aimed at discouraging people from smoking. Another one was the beautifully touching ‘India needs a superhero’ ad which talked about the importance of the ‘Right to Information’ act.

“Public service announcements (PSAs) have conventionally been preachy and employ scaremongering tactics,” says Theresa Minu Dominic. “Though these are effective to make people stop and think, PSAs that used such conventional approaches alone are often overlooked. The story of Mukesh that plays in theaters is an example of this.”

“Recent ads like the ‘Swachh Bharat’ television campaign have taken a slightly different approach by introducing a bit of fun and story telling in them. This can make such ads more relatable or at least entertaining, making them stick longer in the minds of people,” she adds. While initially it was thought that the presence of a celebrity is more than enough, nowadays the focus is on the script.

The recent mental health awareness campaign by Deepika Padukone’s Foundation did not feature the actor; but the poignant video still touched many a heart and sent out a strong message about the ‘invisible killer’. However, Amitabh Bachchan still remains a popular choice in this realm. From the highly popular ‘Polio eradication’ PSA to awareness videos about HIV and Tuberculosis, the star has done it all.

“We live in a busy world nowadays so ads have less time to get into the mind of the audience,” says Anoop R Chandra. “Even though commercials have become lengthier recently, they are catchy and visually appealing as they are primarily targeted at the youth in the country. People pay attention when a celebrity comes on air so they will be an integral part of PSAs for a long time to come.”

The ‘Bell Bajao/Ring the Bell’ campaign struck a chord with millions of viewers across the country with its expressive video production called on men to take a stand against domestic violence. The PSAs depicted men and boys who hear sounds of women crying, falling objects and men shouting — indicating domestic violence. These people ring the doorbell and find some excuse to intervene, to hal the violence. Actor Boman Irani was the face of this campaign.

“With the changing times, it is no wonder that there is a desire to make an impact with creative ideas,” says Subha M. “The ‘Jaago Re’ and ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ ads were a step in the right direction. Some of the storylines are quite brilliant and for the first time people are taking note of the import of PSAs.”

So how successful are these drives? “Though measuring the effectiveness of PSAs can be done only by using proper research methods, ad makers are approaching them just the way they would any other ad. After all, a PSA, whether used to spread awareness about an issue or stop a certain behaviour, primarily needs to ‘sell’ an idea. There’s a problem. There’s a target audience. And a strong call to action. Just like any other ad,” sums up Theresa.

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