Thursday, December 17, 2009


Star-endorsements. Story-telling techniques. Look n’ feel. Histrionics … Has today’s Adland abdicated to a glam, cool and confident Bollywood? Has the Persuasion Industry gone ‘filmy’ and sold out? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates...

Once upon a time Advertising had an identity and life of its own. The business followed the tenets of scientific discipline, paying total respect to the ground-rules laid down by the powers-that-were. With the exception of LUX (The Beauty soap of film stars) hardly any film celeb or Bollywood flavour touched Ad-land. Across all categories, creativity expressed itself effectively without any help from B-town. None of the Gurus – Alyque Padamsee, Mohammed Khan, Kersi Katrak, Frank Simoes, Ivan Arthur, Sylvie D’cunha – even remotely flirted with the filmy stuff. Today the Adspace is almost defined by the Bollywood style of communication! How did that happen … and why? Does it represent stimulating value-addition, corruption or abdication from an industry, continuously lamenting on the paucity of good creative people who can engage and entertain even while they convert charmed viewers to interested buyers? Has Advertising become so star-struck that it has lost the ability to create exciting campaigns with the PRODUCT as star and slam home a super-hit?

Who better to kick off this debate than a hot-shot professional who successfully wears two hats (one in B-town and the other in Adville), Prasoon Joshi. “Two things. One, while Bollywood today is definitely the great leveler in terms of an indisputable connect with the masses – cutting across religion, language, cultures, caste, creed etc – one mustn’t forget that it’s really a throwback on our oral tradition which was anchored in magical story-telling. Two, the earlier rigid rules, set by an Anglo Saxon and elitist coterie that defined the times, are no longer relevant today with mini-metros unleashing big-time purchasing power. Chandigarh, Pune, Durgapur or Jaipur aren’t one-horse towns anymore. And if you want your product or services to blitz their radar, you could do much worse than ride the Bollywood gravy-train. How effectively you leverage their idiom and styling and blend it with the ‘brand-fit’ to seduce your customers to go for it, depends on your professional ability to understand the game … but Bollywood’s impact on the masses is undeniable.”

TAPROOTS’ Agnello Dias (whose LEAD INDIA & TEACH INDIA campaigns zonked the hell out of the Cannes bozos last year) brings his own perspective to the table. “It’s true. Five years ago, Advertising chose Bollywood to make its point. Today it’s vice-versa! I think it’s a marriage of convenience, in most cases. The faded, fading as well as hot n’ happening stars earn much more through endorsements in a year than in movies. And for lazy creative types, stars are a great device for star-struck advertisers. Aggie feels it represents a crippling breakdown of trust and faith between ad agencies and their clients vis-à-vis original ideas. Bollywood-specific reference points (someone like the Munnabhai character or the Aamir character in T2P) seem to connect easily and quickly and in a more seductive manner.

Moving on, Aggie feels very strongly about this new, fashionable disease called “Indian advertising” and slams it, big time. “Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and gang meant well when they kicked off this movement, accomplished creative practitioners as they are. Unfortunately, they unleashed a Frankenstein. Today it’s perfectly okay to produce mediocre ads in Indian language (Hindi) but to be good in the Western context (English) is no big deal! Inverted snobbery is on an overdrive! Corny rhyming, popular Bollywood rip-offs, anything goes in the name of connecting with the heartland and this, to my mind, is the biggest cause of this mediocrity.” Aggie says that it’s reached such a point that young people coming from missionary schools and colleges often hide their background, lest they be passed-over for the Hindi-speaking small-town kids! Whatta life!”
Santosh Desai begs to differ. Social Commentator, ex Ad-man & CEO of the Future Group, he comes on strong with his very own take on the subject. “On the face of it, I would agree, but there is a larger context that needs to be looked at. A decade ago (or whatever the time that pre-dates this phenomenon) Bollywood was perceived as an entity that catered to the lowest common denominator and a constituency that the educated, English-speaking middle-class looked down upon. There was a definite elitist distancing of what moved India and Advertising operated, very much through the Class system. That thinking has been dumped in recent times (thank God!) and replaced by the belief that Advertising speaks to everybody and no one can take a judgmental view on its consumers. This has led to a loosening up, further re-enforced by the kind of people who have come into the industry in recent times. Most importantly, the market has legitimised the popular and this is manifested across the board … and what is more popular than Cricket and Bollywood?”

Desai – as opposed to Aggie – however roots strongly for the ‘Indian’ kind of advertising and confesses that he is highly suspicious about people who feel insecure about it. “It’s simple. You have no choice to be Indian because you speak to Indian people. If you have lost out in your ability to communicate to this constituency and start cribbing about it … it’s a case of sour grapes!

A pathetic persecution complex syndrome! While everyone writing in Hindi admittedly may not be a whiz, anyone doing stuff in English, similarly need not be a cult figure! Utter rubbish! Ultimately it’s not us versus them. It’s about questioning, probing and seeking new ways to evolve in a manner that is true to your calling as an effective communication practitioner …”

What’s your take, evolved reader? 


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