Thursday, March 12, 2009

New-Age Ads Irresponsible Or Reality-Driven?!

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri examines the face-off that continues to plague adville and attempts to play ‘referee’!

 Whether advertising drives reality or reflects it remains a ball-breaker, hot-potato and one of life’s enduring and unsolved mysteries. Ad-bashers vociferously insist that the adfrat – like Bollywood – continue to get away with blue murder, invariably falling back on that old, moth-balled ghisa-pita line – “Why blame us? We are only reflecting the times…” – each time an ad of dangerously dubious nature screams into focus. The ad guys beg this lot to shake off their Rip Van Winkle robe, wake up and look around. In a globalised, youth-driven world, firmly in the embrace of new-age attitudes and aspirations, this brand of stone-age thinking, they believe, is both regressive and ridiculous.

Okay, so what gives? Is ethics in advertising really an obsolete word in the age of Britney Spears and Rakhi Sawant... or despite all the new-age blah-blah, do basic human values remain unchanged and a hit in that direction spells doom… or are both sides just over-reacting to this issue and in the process, missing out on the much-needed perspective, focus and main plot?

Eminent media commentator and author, Uma Vasudev fires the first salvo. The veteran writer believes that in these irreverent and youth-driven times “it is a fashionable thing – by shallow, self-proclaimed intellectuals and liberated spirits hysterically anxious to get their posturing right by sounding young – to trash anything that is solid, wholesome, traditional or conventional.” While she heartily agrees that some people tend to get too touchy and hyper to some ads [Sprite, MotoYuva, Axe, Virgin Mobile, Colgate], she suggests that some kind of moral policing must happen. “Remember, one man’s humour can be another’s tumour!”

Ex-Motorola and presently Tata Telecom’s Lloyd Mathias – whose (earlier) MotoYuva TVCs feature strongly in this debate – reacts in his usual, laid-back fashion. “See, advertising is about dramatising, blowing-up and exaggerating slice-of-life moments to make them interesting, appealing and engaging to the readers/viewers, while triggering the purchase intent. This has to be done keeping the sensibilities of the target group in mind. A total connect with them is a given.” Mathias points to the ad where the father raves and rants at his son’s shabby room and sloppy everything, while the kid, with earplugs, rhythmically nods to the song he hears on his audio. “It’s a hugely today’s situation and totally identifiable by most parents of teenagers and also the kids themselves. The ad emerged from human insight and was a light-hearted social commentary on the parent-child scenario of the day. It is not and was never meant to promote parental defiance or disrespect. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on everyday, real-life face-offs between baap-beta!” Same is the case with all the cheeky MotoYuva ads blitzing the ad space, he insists.
Leo Burnett’s Pops Sridhar agrees. He believes it’s a “generational thing” and strongly requests the kill-joy brigade not to drag morality, values and integrity into it. As Mathias pointed out, advertising hypes life to make it look sexy for the viewer – but it’s almost always rooted in fact and truth. Be it Ogilvy’s Mentos ad, or Perfetti [Papa at a party. Papa in the office. Papa at home] ad, Bates’ Virgin Mobile ad, Ogilvy’s MotoYuva ads – it’s a throw-back on the times we live in. “Relationships, codes of conduct and ways of expression have undergone a sea-change. It’s a cooler, more informal and chilling time. The old authoritarian dad-kids relationship, in urban India is a thing of the past. They are more buddies and engaged in closer, warmer bonding. Kids are cheekier and adults are cooler. That’s the truth and that’s what these ads show, say and express,” avers Pops. Mridu Manjrekar, however, is neither amused nor impressed. “These ad-wallahs are master spin-doctors, ready with glib explanations that appear both truthful and convincing, but scratch the surface and its bullcrap!” The school teacher and mother of two teenage kids, “sees this brand of advertising as insidious and dangerous.” Couched in entertainment, it hits the target spot-on and instantly – at a subliminal level – creates mischief through propagating wrong values. [Its no sin to bullshit parents; cheat girlfriends; mock teachers! Nothing is sacred, precious or non-negotiable. Nothing is a big deal. Its ‘just- chill-yaar’ time.] Scary!

At the end of the day, one thing needs to be recognised and realised in a cool and objective manner. Barring some overtly vulgar ads, most of the stuff discussed is not really offensive, either in terms of morals or values. Remember, the rigid good and bad, moral and immoral, done and not done zones don’t exist anymore. It’s an age of confluence, not conflict. To be cheeky or naughty is ‘not’ perceived as a cardinal sin, which calls for capital punishment! Humour [audacious or irreverent] is cool. As for influencing and corrupting kids, 10 is the new 15! Good, sensible parenting is the answer. Besides, don’t forget that if you give kids wings, they’ll surely develop roots…