Thursday, September 13, 2007


Pretentious, Expensive Dramabazi or Passionate Corporate Patriotism?

It’s quite amazing, really. Like love (which the world celebrates in hysterical fashion once a year because that’s the only day allocated to it), patriotism is also on the freak-out mode every August 15th. Never mind the rest of the year, on Independence Day, our great political leaders & champions of trade & commerce, business & industry pull out all stops to demonstrate their passionate patriotism in all their tri-coloured glory! Pledging the sun & moon or waxing eloquent, these eminent figures with their (mock?) heroics through speeches and ads really turn on the patriotic charm full steam. The creators of ads, of course, are a breed apart! Combining ghisa-pita clichés with contrived, corny attempts to forcefully connect the product/service with the spirit, tone & tenor of the day, they offer specimens that make any sane person gasp with different degrees of amusement, shock & horror!!

Two questions that immediately zoom-in demanding answers are… Firstly, how can (so called) professional communication practitioners actually dish out this brand of inane, mindless, boring, predictable and amateurish stuff light years away from anything engaging, enriching or imaginative? Two, instead of spending billions in terms of ad-spend to celebrate Independence Day (or is it handcuffed to mediocrity?), wouldn’t it be a better idea to channelise the funds towards powering a meaningful cause or addressing a critical concern relating to the disfranchised disadvantaged children of a lesser God? Who, for Christ’s sake sees, notices, reads or recalls these ads anyway except the ad agencies who create them & the clients who commission them?

There are differing voices. Once upon a time - say 15 years ago or so – Independence Day ads were largely dished out by the government or PSUs. Not any more. Private sector, today, has also jumped into the fray, pumping in big bucks to push patriotism powered product/service ads through the roof. Why? Do they really (professionally speaking) consider I-Day as an un-missable platform to connect brands with big bucks? Arvind Sharma (CEO, Leo Burnett) believes that there is more to it than meets the eye. “Basically, it should be viewed as a public manifestation of corporate India’s new-found pride and confidence of being Indian and to that extent, it appears both legitimate and appropriate to tap into their pursuit of bonding with the consumers.” He cites the example of the classic Cadbury ad unfurling the flag and some infrastructure ads as good “fits.” As for others, “It’s cashing in on the mood of the day irrespective of focus or perspective… nothing unusual in this genre.” Regarding the quality, he believes, it’s an individual call. Good agencies are likely to produce good work, while mediocre ones will produce what they produce “and that’s true across every genre across the board. Don’t blame the messenger. He’s just the piano player!”
Another school of thought puts it down to nothing more than “insecurity.” A decade and a half ago, hardly any communicator could ever dream of (seriously) creating and running an ad that would push a brand riding on Independence Day emotions. One guy started – maybe for novelty value. Other followed and suddenly it wasn’t about logic, selling or focus at a professional level. It wasn’t about what got you doing an ad for I-Day, but rather what you lost by not doing it, while the other guys did it! It was - and has become a kind of “herd mentality” movement, an ego issue, a keeping up with the whoever’s-of-the-world game! You are not perceived as a ‘politically correct’ organisation (pun intended), if you don’t run these ads!

JWT NCD Josy Paul agrees. He believes that most of the stuff dished out on August 15th does zilch to make any sane/normal person puff out his chest with patriotic pride and it’s largely because it seems to have been done “either to mindlessly honour a time-tested tradition or saab ko khush karne ke liye! Unfortunately very little thought is invested in making it engaging, interesting, imaginative or fresh in thought or insight, towards blending a product promise with a patriotic spin. It can be a truly exciting challenge and a terrific opportunity to attempt clutter-busting stuff…”

Paul speaks of the time when he recently visited a plant in Roorkee during its inauguration and how, when the national anthem was played, his hair stood on end and he wept! “For me, that was hugely moving and meaningful, symbolising rootedness in the soil where I stood. I don’t get that same feeling for any of those ads nowadays.”

Badal Das, a Professor of Sociology, bemoans this 15th August aberration as “an amazing opportunity, lost.” He reckons that it is not everyday that the cut-throat world of business has an opportunity to actually exploit the emotional-patriotic space in a creative fashion without really focusing excessively on the sell factor… “a canvas which is invitingly open for exciting inventiveness with a captive audience – in patriotic mood and mode – ready to absorb the communication across media. After all it is a very special day and even the most hardened sceptic will be willing to relent in the face of the popular mood of the moment. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, what we are deluged with are variations of dull ads. Sad…”

While the jury is not fully out on this one, some take-outs are worth …taking out! The Rehman ad or the Hamara Bajaj ad or an India-Pakistan cricket match seems to achieve far more in terms of patriotism or soaring spirits than most of these ads put together. Why? Because, everything considered, these ads don’t seem to be able to add any value to the core content; all they seem to do is force-feed words and phrases that attempt to signify the spirit of the occasion. Result? They look and sound corny, boring, unimaginative, uninteresting, fake, propagating nothing more than hollow posturing…


No comments:

Post a Comment