HOW INDIAN IS INDIAN ADVERTISING?
As pride, identity and profiling increasingly come into play at the global level, questions will follow: Have we been able to define where Indian advertising is coming from and what really reflects our work, mindset & vision, effectively?
When you talk of Indian cinema to purists, the names and work of Ray, Sen, Ghatak, Benegal, Nihalani, Adoor and a host of class acts from regional cinema zoom into focus. Similar models are identified when talking of books, music, dance, etc. However, Indian advertising presents confusion! Is it stuff where the look and feel of the communication is desi? Is it about Hinglish that seems to be the new lingo of tons of our ads across the last three decades? Are food, clothes, body language and ambience defining points of advertising that portray Bharat – not India – as the essence of Indian advertising or is it the churn, the ephemeral quality of life in this new India that best symbolizes this point?
Senior Writer of Kolkata-based Magnum Intergraphics, Mitali Lahiri, is first off the block. “There is no one definition of Indian advertising simply because Indian advertising is as Indian – or non-Indian – as the Indian consumer,” Mitali tells 4Ps B&M. She goes on to explain that the Indian consumer of today is a highly hybrid creature, embracing both, East & West. Globalisation and rampant, infectious consumerism has effected a paradigm shift in overall mindset and consumption patterns. Further, the phenomenon of the ‘working woman’ and technology has put into motion a whole new lifestyle where speed with quality is the new mantra. In the FMCG universe, as also a host of other categories, this rules. Sure, these are not totally Indian (clothes, fashion, accessories, food, communication gadgets) influences – but who cares? “However, values are a more tricky issue, with morality and levels of acceptable permissiveness in this changing space, constantly under threat. Advertising reflects all of this, sometimes taking sides to push its agenda of influencing a sale.” At the end of the day, Mitali believes, “we ourselves have become products of the times we live in, navigated or manipulated by the persuasion industry.”
Social Commentator Santosh Desai is brief and incisive as ever. “It has to do with understanding the sub-text, nuances and layers that powers a deep and serious connect with your consumer in a language and imagery that is spontaneous, not contrived,” he tells 4Ps B&M. Desai believes that there’s a lot of stuff masquerading as Indian advertising is really nothing but “global hand-me-downs in their format with Hinglish inserted for desired effect. This is lazy, short-cut advertising, even politically correct but way off-line regarding target-connect.” However, he freely admits that there is a fair body of work that represents fine examples of this genre.
Spewing venom & fire and totally slinging every single favourable comment is hi-profile, internationally reputed, Delhi-based Painter Jatin Das. “We live in a world where mimics & fakes, shamelessly imitating everything the West does, dominate the public space! Every single (cherished, rich) art form has been hi-jacked by western values which are perceived to be modern and superior. Few kids care to know their mother tongue, long hair is considered Behenji and Fair & Lovely syndrome (they should be put behind bars for their insulting & regressive mindset!) booms across metros, big and small. The new toys of engagement are iPads and iPhones. In such a pathetic environment, why should ads ever reflect anything else? Indian advertising is a phirang, sexy model dressed up in rich, traditional, Indian bridal, finery – the most alarming form of tokenism,” Das tells 4Ps B&M.
Respected and revered photographer Raghu Rai begs to differ. “Piyush Pandey’s Fevicol Bus ad is a masterpiece and is only one of the many wonderful samples of true Indian advertising. Indian roots embracing a charming, universal vision. I also love the bindaas, on-the-ground humour that many ads toss out. As for Hinglish, isn’t that the lingua franca of today’s youth? Good communication is about understanding and re-defining the buzz on-the-street in an interesting, customer-friendly way,” says Rai. His only grouse is about using phirang models as he questions “Chal yaar, our women are so gorgeous. Why those white-skinned females?”
Marketing whiz Lloyd Mathias (Former President & CMO, Tata Teleservices) brings his own spin to the table. He believes it’s a brilliant and appropriate case of: The Empire Strikes Back! “A new breed of client and agencies today live the defining slogan of Dil Maange More! Totally slinging out the Anglocentric model of yesteryears, Piyush, Prasoon and gang read the writing on the wall and scripted their own idiom in perfect sync with the new-age consumer. Language, images, look, feel, setting, situations – everything powerfully illustrates the Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani model, full-on. Airtel, Cadbury, Britannia, Dominos, Maruti, Havells, Sprite, Idea … demonstrate this with style and confidence. No wonder global clients have dropped their accents and moved to a desi makeover,” Mathias tells 4Ps B&M.
At the end of the day, I will go along with Kanchan Dutta’s (CEO, Kolkata based Inner Circle) POV. Life in general and certainly in today’s times is indeed ephemeral in the space we reside … so why should advertising be any different? Whether it preempts, reflects or follows the times is another debate but good, effective and honest advertising will always seek to capture the soul before it conquers the body … and this it can only do when recognizing, understanding and connecting with the critical area of human insights. India is changing. The consumer is changing. The environment and marketspace – complex and riddled with contradictions – are changing. Why should Indian advertising be any different…? More power to its blazing journey, future wards …