Friday, August 22, 2014

How Dare They?

Do you remember the Fair and Lovely air-hostess commercial? 

It was a commercial that hit complexion-conscious India in the gut as it also attacked the Indian predilection for a male child. Having grown up entirely in an environment where the colour of one’s skin was paramount, I could certainly relate to it. It did wonders for the brand and yet it raised the hackles of the educated, affluent Indian elite who had no use for the product.
“How dare they?” thundered the elite in their cocktail circuits. When I asked Balki (whose agency had created it), about the ad, he smilingly said “Pedder Road does not seem to like it”. I remember showing this to a delegation of international students and explained how the ad ran the risk of being banned because it had tackled sensitive issues head on. The global audience was really impressed as they believed controversy helped any ad and brand gain visibility by leaps and bounds.
Many of them were envious of the ad’s ability to evoke such strong reactions. “In the UK, if an ad is banned it is phenomenal, we would give an arm and leg for that,” said one very excitedly. I remembered this when I saw the new Airtel TV commercial.

Is the ad sexist?

 To my mind it is a needless controversy and probably an engineered one.
Why do I say this? I strongly believe in the communication principle “Either love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me.” Today, with a smart social media strategy it is possible to ensure that an ad is not ignored. You can certainly pick up certain elements in the communication and create a controversy around it.
How can the wife be the boss? Why should she rush home to cook? Why are bosses like Hitler? We can certainly pick up enough angles and create a storm around a TV commercial, making even those who have not seen it go to YouTube to check it out.
Mobile ads set the tone

Having said all that, I still need to give credit where it is due. When I first entered advertising it was so long ago that I can’t even remember when cola advertising was the ‘hot’ category. Creative types yearned to work on Coke or Pepsi.
Today, mobile services are the colas of yesterday. Brands like Airtel, Vodafone and Tata Docomo keep us entertained with their charming, witty and, on occasion, controversial commercials. I am not complaining as often these commercials are a lot more interesting to watch than the programmes in which they are featured. But shouldn’t these companies that spend millions on advertising worry about their basic offering? Or is that asking for too much?
You can read the entire piece on the Hindu Business Line.