Thursday, April 22, 2010


In the hysterical anxiety to engage and entertain an impatient and promiscuous youth-oriented target base, is advertising forgetting its basic agenda – of informing, convincing and selling? 4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri investigates

In the Hollywood of the late fifties and early sixties, anxiety, confusion and hysteria had set in due to movies not being able to engage the viewer in a way they were expected to. The reason? Television had entered the scene and the earlier ‘captive’ audience suddenly had a compelling choice not to watch the stuff they didn’t choose to. So what did Hollywood do? The secret, trick, knack, art – call it what you will – that the big daddies of movies used was to understand the strength of their medium and then strike at the core philosophy. Instead of trying to improve the substance of movies to compete with the meaningful serials coming on television, they upped the ante by ballooning the budget, scale and spectacle of movies in a way that the twenty-one inch idiot box could never hope to match! In other words, rather than giving more arty movies (meant for the ‘intelligent’ viewer), movie houses went for the larger-than-life metaphor, showcasing surrealistic scenes that could only be, if at all, imagined. And it worked liked nobody’s business! It seemed that the world was made up of more people wanting dunce, yet spectacular screen entertainment, than meaningful ‘stuff’, a reality that exists till today.

The question is, is today’s advertising scene echoing a déjà vu? Due to the changing scenario, is the ad fraternity mistaking (perhaps correctly so) style for substance, form for content? Are frivolity and entertainment the new games in town? Is engagement – at any cost – the prime motive, totally obliterating the basic agenda of advertising which supposedly was to inform, persuade and sell? Look at the latest ads around you – from that car ad showcasing a smiling celebrity in the throes of pleasure, to that cell phone service manufacturer imploring you to jump on the next tiger you see on the road to of course ‘save the tiger’, the intent is clearly to catch the viewer’s attention, than to educate him about the exact qualities of the product. What gives? Is the ad-world finally over the edge?

Priti Nair, Managing Partner BBH, in fact disagrees, “Even a couple of years ago, there were many more creatively adventurous ads. Today, maybe a fall-out of the recession, a lot less risk-taking ads are seen. Most stuff is focused, direct… boring. I think we need to push the envelope a lot more.” Lloyd Mathias, President and Chief Marketing Officer, TataTel, brings his own spin to the table, “Like any other social medium, advertising reflects the mood of the times. The simplistic inform-persuade-sell mode worked beautifully for a long time but once communication became sophisticated, technology entered, there was a paradigm shift. Multi-tasking became the order the day. It is not uncommon to see today’s kids on the mobile while hitting the net, right? So in this age of Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, advertising content has to keep pace. It can’t be as direct, naïve and simplistic as it once was. The new-age consumer would dismiss it, straightaway.” Besides, adds Mathias, for hard-core information and details about products and services that are in the hi-ticket category, the net provides it all; one doesn’t have to depend on advertising. “The job [of advertising] today is to primarily push the brand in an endearing fashion that triggers the recall factor.”

Abir Chakravarti, VP Bates, believes that the rules of the game have changed, “The famous AIDA principle – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action – works only in parts, with most of the focus on the first two. In today’s proliferating brands and media avenue universe, the function of advertising has dramatically altered. Unprecedented brand promiscuity among the youth has demanded an unprecedented focus on grabbing their attention. Also, for the entire AIDA principle to work, a 360 degree spin is required. We live in different times and advertising is trying to keep pace. Sure, there are plenty of occasions when guys and brands go over the top. That’s an irresponsible cavalier approach and totally uncalled for!” And Ujjal Sinha, CEO of the Kolkata-based Genesis Advertising, has the last word. He believes that by and large, today’s ad guys have lost the plot. “In their anxiety to go global, they seem to be aping the West. There is a definite sense of insecurity powered by the mistaken belief that the more bizarre, big budget and spectacular the ad, the more it will resonate with the public. It’s a giant leap in the wrong direction…” Now that is another story altogether. 


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