Thursday, October 25, 2007


wonders whether the “New Woman” is appropriately reflected in adland or...

Grey Worldwide’s NCD Priti Nair agrees. She believes there has been a dramatic shift from woman-as-doormat to woman-as-achiever. “There is more life, positivity, energy and drive in the way she is projected. The young modern mother is bright, active and peppy. She is pro-active, not re-active!” Swapan Seth of Equs Red Cell begs to differ. “I really don’t know from where all this is coming from! Today’s woman is most certainly being stifled and gagged in a world of stereotypes. At best the stuff mentioned are surface shifts providing glamorous distractions. Marketers seem to be continents away from confronting real – edgy, uneasy, controversial, troubled – social shifts. Where is the single, successful, strong, opinionated, unmarried 35-year old woman? Where is the positive, cheerful, smart, successful single mother whipping up a tasty meal for her excited small kids? That calls for a courageous client and braveheart agency!” Young and attractive executive of a high profile fashion house, Tania Haldar brings her own perspective to the table. “It’s a given that a pretty face with the right – ahem – equipment can sell almost anything! Savvy ad film-makers cash in on this regularly, using air brush techniques to wash away in essentials like a thick waistline or skin blemishes and before you know it, voila! You have the perfect babe selling you a host of products – perfumes, cosmetics, fairness creams, detergents, mobiles, shoes, home appliances, inner wear, washing machines, electronic goods, cars, holiday resorts – that works.” However, Haldar laments the fact that if and when serious, decision making and meaningful issues need to be forcefully publicised (Insurance, education, social issues like woman empowerment, girl child, adult literacy, HIV Aids) today’s woman, sadly, is nowhere to be found! Does that mean that she is perceived as someone incapable of influencing popular imagination when something solid needs to be ‘pushed’ (where are you, YAWN Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das) used only for frivolous consumer items? If that is so, how much justice is today’s Adville really doing to representation of today’s woman, which reaches consumers?

So what gives?

Being cautious, maintaining the status-quo, playing safe… willing to wound but afraid to strike… is that the real situation? It’s a tough call. At one level, there has certainly been a conscious effort to keep pace with the new woman. However (as Swapan perceptively points out) to go the road less travelled, be bold, audacious and break new ground by embracing uncomfortable (and unspoken) real life issues in terms of contemporary realities is – alas –something that is, almost, zilch.

Our guess is that it has to do with comfort levels, not wanting to rock the boat, being happy by making all the right noises at the right forums - and most importantly, yelling the famous lines is complacent self-defence: Why mend it if it ain’t broke, babe... right?


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Speak Memory!

takes you down a road-experience - that in today’s “instant -everything” world is often considered both unfashionable & irrelevant. Is it? You could be surprised...

Forget the entire crap box of (so called) irrefutable, incontrovertible, indubitable, indisputable & uncontestable definitions of advertising. Why? Because the best, most effective and memorable ads continue to thrive on surprise & delight. They trash formulae. Spit on rules. Piss on laws. History & experience – delivered in heavy/ham-handed fashion – can be an irritating road-block to creative ejaculation. It comes in the way of the Big O, guys!

Sweeping as it may sound, please feel free to contest this line of thinking. I can already hear muted murmurs … In a business whose prime task is to build meaningful relationships between brand & buyers – product & people – does experience count for zilch? It’s a tough call. On the one hand, it’s a fact that ad professionals are thoroughly knowledgeable about who wrote and art-directed iconic ads of the past – Rolls & VW ads in the 60s; Hamlet ads in the 70s; Apple ads in the 80s; Nike ads in the 90s… and so on. They pour over award annuals & creative magazines/journals and recall these great ads with wistful smiles & misty eyes. On the other, it’s precisely ‘this’ that constitutes the problem!

Let me explain. The unhappy factor in this (blissful) scheme of things is that too much hero-worshipping leads us to reside in a hall of mirrors … and you’ll agree, it’s near impossible to move ahead if you are constantly looking at the rear-view mirror! The act to do is – disengage yourself from history and the past because it creates a weird cage of conformity. Standing on the shoulders of giants is cool – only it gives you a false perspective. It also leads to the extremely dangerous disease – quite common in ad biz – self-referential work. It does nothing for the consumer because s/he views it as a corny/esoteric in-joke!

So, does being a veteran with years of experience count at all? Yes, but only if you are writing ads within the known, learnable forms of the craft. Fact is, dreaming up ideas is about being original – and it’s as tough, the first time, as now.
So, what gives?

Here, to seek answers, a fascinating anecdote of a dear friend comes to my mind. A well-heeled, urban, middle-class guy with a good degree, his first interview with a CEO of an ad agency was a five-star disaster! He was pointedly asked as to why a guy like him (with his comfortable, well-adjusted & urban background) was looking for a job in the business where quirky, on-the-edge & whacko guys belonged… creatures who’ve lived life a bit… not people who reside in a boring, sanitised world!

My friend was blown! He fled and rushed immediately into a staid & “correct” multi-national environment where (as of today) he is constantly zooming north. His interview really constitutes the crux of this debate. The best ads are echoes of long forgotten, inaudible whispers to the soul; about constant voyages of discovery while travelling through the dusty alcoves of memory; Hence, some of the most effective ads – are invariably products that come from the greatest lab on earth – life.

Okay, question time – Have you ever been confronted by cops? Have you been involved or caught up in a street brawl? Have you worked in any other business than advertising? Have you ever been fired from a job? Have you been really hungry? Have you had a close shave with death? Have you ever desperately wanted a job? Have you sometimes felt persecuted by the world? Have you ever suffered a heart-break? Have you doped? Have you got drunk? Have you had an extra-marital relationship? Have you stolen? Have you fought in a war? Have you been insanely in love??? If you can answer in a ‘Yes’ to even six of the above questions, then you have a good chance of getting into the loop. See, it’s simple. A person who has seen war first-hand or been drunk out of his skull or been insanely in love or experienced the agony & ecstasy of an extra-marital relationship or has had his heart broken or has been fired from a job or caught up in an ugly street fight – is bound to see the world differently than a guy who hasn’t. He has seen, experienced and lived through it. It’s real, not proxy...

In the end, it seems appropriate for any sensitive communication practitioner to declare – Every time you applaud an ad of mine, in reality, you are paying tribute to books I’ve read, the films I’ve seen, the music I’ve heard, the people & activities I’ve engaged with, the experiences I’ve gone through, the life I’ve lived…. There’s no man who is an island, and I am the sum total of all that I’ve seen, heard & felt….