Thursday, July 01, 2010


Suddenly its ‘rush-hour’ for ads that are exhibitionistic, corny, pontifical, brain-dead, boring... Why such hara-kiri and determination to muck it up? Here’s a checkout!
It is a sad commentary of contemporary life that while communication continues to take quantum leaps towards building bridges (thanks to technological advancements), the barrier between individuals, at a human level, continues to widen, mocking the grand design. Sane and clued-in communicators keep trying to keep the equilibrium in balance, but mostly, it’s a losing battle. Why? Answers eminent social scientist Ashish Nandy, “The communication is sabotaged by the hysterical anxiety of some individuals, organisations and brand-custodians to be seen, heard and noticed at any cost! Sign of the times, I suppose”. Okay, ready to cut to the chase? All set to identify five simple identifiable common mistakes that invariably rain on the ad-parade? Here’s the list:


Whether it’s the iconic Big B endorsing Binani Cement, Hema Malini praising Kent Water Purifier, Dhoni championing the cause of Amrapali, advertisers have used celebrities with a certain logic in their mind. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in many others jumping onto celebrities without any real reason – be it new cell phone manufacturers using cricketers, or photographer Atul Kasbekar selling a car or even the erstwhile New Delhi traffic commissioner Kiran Bedi indicating Ariel is the best. Where’s the rhyme or reason? The whopper example was when brewery giant Anheuser-Busch used Eric Clapton (and one of his songs) for their ads, at a time when Eric Clapton was a self-confessed alcoholic spending time in a detox facility. Lesson 1: Don’t use celebrities just for the heck of it!


Once upon a time, there reigned the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) as invented by the great Rosser Reeves. It worked because some products were indeed blessed with unique and special attributes. Today, thanks to technology, most attributes are generic, duplicable and hence vulnerable, leading guru John Hegarty to say, “USP has given way to ESP, Emotional Selling Proposition. Why does one eat, buy, wear, listen, engage with particular brands, people, things? How does it make them feel special or different?” Sadly, of the zillion ads that blitz our eyes (detergents, skin-whiteners, toilet cleaners, toothpaste...), most appear totally interchangeable! Where’s that critical differentiation presented with colour and drama? Where’s the big idea? Why is your car better than the competitors’ cars? Simply because the bozzo in your ad has a taped grin on his face 24x7? Do you really expect consumers to fall head over heels for that?


It is true that we live in stress-driven times and escapist entertainment provides a great break, but it is hard to ignore the famous saying, “No one buys from clowns.” Unlike movies or entertainment avenues, advertising has a job to do – and a critical one at that – Sell! If the basic idea is going to be hijacked by humour or entertainment that is so overwhelming (in style or substance), it becomes black comedy and savagely self-cancelling! There has to be a definite, visible, comprehensible bridge that links the humour to the brand value designed to impact the consumer. As Ad and theatre veteran Bharat Dabolkar says, “Sense of tumour has replaced humour in many ads! The fit has to be seamless, not contrived and promoting the brand, not the joke or the individual.”


“Sure, sex is a traffic-stopper (Crash! Bang!) and sensationalism can get the eyes and mouth to widen like crazy. But at best, these unusual contortions can produce only a one-time sale and contribute zilch towards building brand-values or sustain long-term growth,” says Delhi-based ad veteran Esha Guha. She points out to the Amul Macho, Lux Cosy, flavoured condoms kind of ads and doesn’t know whether “to die laughing or puke all summer!” Like celeb and humour, this genre also demands a definite brand-fit. Outstanding examples are Axe, Tag, Old Spice – products that promote themselves as uncomplicated sexual attractant enhancers. Calvin Klein is another iconic example of successfully imbuing its brand identity with sexuality. Ditto, Victoria’s Secret. Blazing the titillation of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink kind invites attention, err, of the wrong kind. Nothing more.


No ideas? Hit the patriotism button, guys! Come Independence Day, Republic Day, the birth/death anniversary of any great national leader and suddenly the ad-frat freaks out to outdo each other in paying homage to great noble souls whose path/footsteps we are committed to follow. Corny, clichéd visuals accompanied by syrup-drenched text defines these ad aberrations. Does anybody read, notice, remember or care a fig about these zillion ads blitzing supplements? Not a hope in hell! Ad veteran Nargis Wadia points to the recent Gandhi-Mont Blanc ad and is shocked at the insensitivity and the bizarre connect! “For a man who defined simplicity, austerity and a saintly life, this projection was unbelievably weird! Attention at any cost? What’s the world coming to…”! Please, do ditch the patriotic button, if not for the sake of sensibilities, at least for the sake of the nation.


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