Friday, March 16, 2007

Does Advertising Drive Reality... or Mirro it?

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri flings this complex poser to some champions in the communication business... the results are rather interesting!

From ‘The Permissible Lie’ to ‘The Hidden Persuaders’, ‘Dream-Peddlers’ to ‘Want-Makers’, the advertising business and its practitioners – over the decades – have been trashed, bad-mouthed and labelled mercilessly by their detractors. Without getting into an endless debate about the pros and cons of the profession, we shift focus to cover a rivetting but contemporary theme: Does this hydra-headed force called advertising, influence and pre-empt or merely reflect the life and the times we live in? Does it (vulture-like) feed off reality or create its own?

“Neither! The mandate of advertising is to single-mindedly create an alternative reality that cons you into buying the product or services they are trying to sell! Advertising is all about transporting you to a virtual world where you are seduced into making decisions – in terms of purchase intent – you wouldn’t dream of in the real world!” That was ex-journo, high-profile media personality and Chairman of PNC, Pritish Nandy. “It’s a dangerous road to travel on. After a perfectly satisfying dinner, you see a pizza ad and desire it. Ridiculous, right? And no guy in his right senses would want to gift his girlfriend that stupid bloody solitaire... but hey before you know, you’ve been took, baby! It champions the cause of promiscuity (brand loyalties go for a six) and makes mockery of a conventional morality.”

Priti Nair Chakravarti, Executive Creative Director, Lowe, and the brain behind some mind blowing adverts, including Surf Excel, brushes aside the glib pop cynicism of Nandy. “At times, advertising part-mirrors part-takes off from reality, but puts it in a context that you’ve never seen before, making it interesting & memorable,” she argues.

However, this attractive dynamite of talent believes that big brands are “perfectly capable of driving reality” citing the example of Surf Excel, which had the guts and confidence to declare that dirt was good! Could a Fena dare to announce the same, she asks. Would anyone believe them? “It has to do with what the brand stands for, where it’s coming from, values, vision... the entire package. It presented a new reality for people through real-life experiences via kids.”
K. V. Sridhar – the National Creative Director of Leo Burnett – believes that advertising rides both these boats, but in a unique fashion. He says that “Artists and creative people intrinsically endeavour to create and pre-empt reality born out of human insight drawn from the lap called life.” A brilliant example of the same (for him) are the Hutch commercials, which simply, but powerfully, establish the connect between a child and a dog. “It worked because it was rooted in reality. It was loved because it was given an unreal, but magical spin,” avers Sridhar.

Others like Mohammed Khan, Chairman of Bates, believe that advertising mostly mirrors reality. “It’s parasitical in that it feeds of the here and now, latches on to the current events of the day, dramatises it, makes it more desirable and sexy,” he says. At the same time, Khan believes that advertising has the power to alter perspectives and change mindsets “especially in areas of social advertising.” He gives off the example of various anti-smoking campaigns and how they have brought about an attitudinal shift in smoking.

Sumanto Chattopadhaya – a red-hot (creative) turk of O&M – toes Khan’s lines. He reckons that advertising usually tends to mirror reality but there are times when it goes beyond, creates something that catches fire and ignites public imagination, “An example would be the wah, sunil babu line from the Asian Paints ad, which became common parlance overnight.”

At the end of the day, it’s not really an either/or situation. Can never be. Advertising soaks up, and because it is a force, it re-enforces. Consider Valentine’s Day! Is it not a totally advertising-driven movement? Would we give a diamond on the day to the love of our life if Nakshatra or DeBeers did not flaunt that message repeatedly at us? Alternatively, would they have flashed those messages year after year, if lovelorn sweethearts did not take the bait?

After all, we do live in a hall of mirrors and who we are is shaped by what we think we look like! The reflection we see shapes the way we are. And since the mirror is both concave and convex, the magnifications and distortions are all part of the amazing package...


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