Cynics and gimmicks

Changing views

Cynics and gimmicks

That India is a bright spot in the otherwise lacklustre global economy is a firmly established fact. With rising disposable incomes and a young population, firms are making a beeline to this place. And with them comes that gilded, double-edged sword — advertising.

Though India is one of the fastest growing advertising markets globally, in a country with many beliefs and numerous sensibilities, it is difficult to draw lines. This results in failed campaigns, public outcry and an occasional legal battle.

“Advertisements and campaigns have to be very carefully thought out,” says Swathy, a professional. “While some campaigns are termed ‘unconventional yet brave’, others are seen as ill-conceived and controversial. Like the ‘Jack and Jones’ advertisement with actor Ranveer Singh that got attention for all the wrong reasons or the contentious ones by fairness creams. On the other hand, the ‘Bold is beautiful’ ad series by clothing brand Anouk smashed stereotypes on multiple levels.”

“Advertising for me is irrelevant,” says Karan Singh, a lawyer. “It’s created this atmosphere where you have to wear X to be fashionable or drive around in brand Y. That’s the annoying thing. But as a customer, I feel that marketing has its pros and cons,” he adds.

“The pros are that the campaigns have gone online and introduced us to niche products that we never knew existed — from custom stationery to artisanal coffee brands. The cons are that now it’s become more about marketing than the product itself. Marketing budgets have swelled while research and development has suffered.”

A huge chunk of these marketing budgets is concentrated on coming up with quirky concepts that grab eyeballs. Some of these are out-of-the-box innovations like the ‘Share the load’ campaign by Ariel that highlighted the need for equal distribution of household chores. The company turned it into a movement with famous personalities talking about the issue.

Then there commercials that reinforce prejudices and biases or are more of an exercise in objectification rather than marketing. Take for example the advertisement by a website that lets people hire maids online. They put out a disturbing ad that read, ‘Diamonds are useless! Gift your wife a maid.’ What was wrong with this was the portrayal of a maid as a commodity that a man can gift his wife.

“The problem is brands often do not reflect the progressive mindset, they reflect the dominant ones, and this helps them to be seen positively by the mainstream consumers. That is why we are being shown women swooning over men who wear a particular deo or drive a particular car and men smiling appreciatively at a meal that their wife makes,” says Swathy.

“A little bit of exaggeration is okay but ads should position themselves well,” says Neha Menezes, client servicing manager, Adverb Inc. “What some people find offensive, others may see as funny or cool. It depends on the location, the age group and so on. The person buying the product associates himself or herself with the person shown in the ad.”

Though target groups are fixed for every such campaign, there are a few that transcend these and strike a chord with just about everyone who watches them. The ‘touch the pickle’ campaign by Whisper is an example. It talked about the taboos associated with periods in the country.

Amrita Sadhu, vice president of Madison, the agency that worked on this idea, says “I did the ground research with the team for at least a month just to gauge the openness to this subject. The fact is that though we feel that we have come a long way, some things still hold us back. But we need to start talking about these. Once the ads were launched, we got a very positive response and feedback from consumers.”

Someone once said that ads are the cave art of the twentieth century. Maybe it is time for a little evolution?

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