Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Of Asaram Bapu, Valentine’s Day and Some Regressive Advertising

Every Valentine's Day several fringe groups try to vitiate the atmosphere by preventing couples to move around freely and take the baton of moral policing. They present themselves as the guardians of our culture and create controversies with the idea to just seek attention in the media and public.

In a similar attempt, the followers of self-styled Godman Asaram Bapu, who is currently lodged in jail for sexually assaulting a woman, have launched an advertising campaign to teach moral values to people. They are urging people to celebrate Valentine's Day as 'Maitri Paitri Pujan Diwas' (Parents Worship Day) and propagating strict police action against those who celebrate Valentine's Day.

The ads bear two contrasting pictures; one showing two kids worshipping their parents and the other showing a young couple holding each other's ears as policemen stand nearby.

The campaign is run by Bal Sanskar Kendra, which is inspired by Asaram Bapu. They have put posters across Delhi Metro stations and outside Delhi University Campuses. It is clearly an attempt to impact the youth in the city and urge them to follow the diktat.

Facebook Posts expressing Outrage against the campaign

The campaign has not just caught our attention but of all the people who commute via Delhi metro, with many of them have vehemently rejecting it on the social media.

As per several published reports, a Bal Sanskar Kendra spokesperson defended their initiative and mentioned that the objective of the ad campaign was to make youngsters "aware" that Valentine's Day was "against Indian culture". "The picture depicts the plight of a couple who were caught celebrating Valentine's Day in a public park at Raipur where the state government officially celebrates 'Matri Pitri Pujan Diwas'. We want other state governments to come up with similar orders," Manish Goswami, a functionary of Bal Sanskar Kendra said.

Twitter Posts

Moreover, many people have also questioned the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation's stand on how they could allow such regressive campaigns on their platform.

To this, Anuj Dayal, Chief Spokesman, DMRC, responded by saying, "The ads were displayed by a private contractor as all the ad space inside the Delhi Metro premises are allotted to specialized agencies who in turn allot them to interested advertisers. The matter is being thoroughly examined and taken up with the concerned contractor for necessary action."

Acceptable or Not?

In the past there have been several such incidents when fringe groups have attempted at teaching morality to people but they have hardly used advertising on a large scale to disseminate their thought process. It is one of a kind of its event and so, we decided to speak to some of the advertising stalwarts on what they about the campaign and how will it affect people.

Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman and Creative Director for Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia pointed out that there is a law of land and one must act accordingly. "Be it a Godman, Guru or a common man, everyone has to act within the purview of law. Even in a democratic framework where people are allowed to freely express their opinion, it is the constitution and law that defines what is right or wrong. None is allowed to take law in their hands and the departments should definitely look into it because it is a sensitive matter," says Pandey.

More on this, Nisha Singhania, Co-Founder, Infectious, vehemently rejected the campaign and pointed that how can Asaram Bapu talk about morality or humanity when he himself is in jail for one of the most heinous crimes to humanity. "I would not like to hear about morality or sanskar from anyone and Asaram Bapu is the last person to point this out. People are free to do whatever they want to do and nothing can stop them. Moreover, I believe that people who are in jail should not be allowed to advertise or make public statements. How can he be a brand ambassador? It is clearly an attempt to seek attention and nothing else," shares Singhania.

Even Tista Sen, NCD and Senior Vice President, J. Walter Thompson was outraged with the whole thought of the campaign. "Asaram Bapu is in jail and how can he be allowed to influence people. Moreover, such campaigns reflect a regressive mindset and it is just an attempt to grab eyeballs. It might also have a bigger political agenda behind. We have a democratic system and people are allowed to share their opinions, which are open to discourse but Asaram Bapu has converted it into an advertising campaign, which reaches millions of people and I think it is not right. It pushes back the development of the country and its people. Moreover, Advertising councils should definitely look into the matter and decide on whether it is right or wrong. We celebrate our love for parents everyday and he is none to tell us what and when it should be done. One thing is sure, we as a society do not need such campaigns as we aim to progress and seek a better future," points out Sen.

Moreover, when one looks at the creative execution of the campaign, it does not seem to be from a professional advertising agency, rather a shoddy photoshop job done by some regressive follower.

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, Brand-Comm points that it is a poorly executed campaign which is telling people in the face to stop celebrating Valentine's Day. "Today's day and age is not about being a vigilante but about being the agent of progress and change. It is a very sensitive matter and the campaign is overtly trying to target youth. They have already trashed it. Moreover, the way this campaign has been executed might work against the organization that has kickstarted it. However, one must also agree to the fact that there might be some takers of the thought especially in the lower strata of the society who still hold the traditional and conventional mindset. But if one does a poll, youth across all socio-economic segments of the society will completely reject the idea," shares Sridhar.

Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner/Chief Creative Officer, Bang in the Middle pointed that the campaign is executed in Hindi language, which clearly suggests that they are targeting the North Indian youth. "Asaram has no moral authority to talk about why people are going out on a date on Valentine's Day. The campaign tells about his double standards. If he thinks that by doing this, he might look innocent, he should understand that this will not work. They should first understand the concept of Valentine's Day. It is more about the lovers and not just necessarily youth. Moreover, if someone cannot read will not be able to understand it," Suthan opined.

Every now and then we come across some of the bizarre campaigns that shake the roots of the society. In past, a jewelery brand pointed at girls of marriageable age being a source of tension to their parents and a lingerie brand urged girls to pamper their dads on Father's Day. This campaign is just another example of it. 

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