Saturday, May 5, 2018

The ran and the banned

Such is the power (lure) of advertising that it not only makes the egoist socialites dance to its tune but inspires the macho celebrities (stars) strip to their bare essentials.

Had he not been married to Mary Pears, daughter of soap company owner Francis Pears, Thomas Barratt would not have invented the catchy phrase ‘Good morning, have you used Pears' soap?’ as the first ever advertising campaign in the late 19th century. Pears gained the desired traction among consumers, impelling them to prefer it over other brands. Barratt did not live long to see the expanse of his pioneering work, but the impact of advertisements on our life choices has only grown. However, what goes into the making of a short but persuasive form of communication that can even influence a bald person to buy a comb is worth a curious look in. 

Clearly, there is much that goes into making of a short advert than what finally gets served on the prospective consumers. Else, how would women of all hues continue to believe that a teeny peck of cream would make them fair and lovely? And, why would men have unstinted faith in a diminutive capsule to restore vigor past their prime?  Converting products into habits is what the advertising industry excels in, announcing with aplomb the relevance of each product. Such is the impact that some of the taglines stay in popular memory long after the product disappears from the market. What an idea, Sirji is one amongst many, and so is Yeh dil maange more

Pulling quirky insights from her stint in the world of advertising, Ritu Singh reveals the truth behind somewhat amusing world of advertising that quite often blurs the divide between the sublime and the ridiculous. From evoking a feel-good feeling of owning a scooter through Buland Bharat Ki Buland Tasveer to a sexually suggestive expression Yeh toh bada toing hai by a village belle washing hubby’s undies, a wide canvas was laid bare for affirming consumers’ emotions on one hand to fiddling with perverted fantasies on the other. The outrage that followed was enough for the sexpressive ad to be banned. The ad continues to evoke interest in the virtual space. 

Isn’t advertising an evolving art, a creative undertaking on testing hypotheses even if some (sexually suggestive) ideas remain ahead of its times? Why is there no space for such adverts in the land of Kamasutra where some explicit (rather abusive) expressions are affectionately used to greet each other, and where not long ago the entire nation was singing ‘Bhaag bhaag DKBose’? Why the society has a line drawn between what is cultural and what is public? 

Adhering to such norms, the ad world remained cluttered with dull and drab commercials during much of the recent past, creating more noise than signal. Occasionally, there have been attempts to break free to shake up socially and culturally diverse landscape, seeking re-evaluation of consumers entrenched notions in the changing world of want and necessity. Some worked and many didn’t, as merging tradition with modernity and frugality with profligacy has not been easy. 

Written with wit and flair, Stark Raving Ad takes the reader on a giddy tour replete with unforgettable taglines, naughty storylines, brand scuffles, and industry scandals. There is a story behind each short commercial. Take the case of the only ad featuring actor Dev Anand in the early 80s which was taken off air because no one seemed to notice the fabric he was seemingly promoting, and the  most watched ‘one black coffee’ mobile ad of the mid-90’s which clicked more for the gaffe than the handset. Howsoever imaginative and creative the treatment might have been, these ads did not make businesses feel needy, and had their lifespan cut out.

The ultimate challenge argues Singh, is to create moments on screen that can guide viewers’ aspirations, stir their emotional quotient, solicit their pride, and trigger envy in others through their purchase. And the consumer market has everything on offer for the creative guys/gals at the ad agencies to burn their butts, as insiders call it, to generate few seconds of lasting impact. Be it detergents or undergarments, biscuits or condoms, paints or pizza, and jewelry or motorbikes, the challenge lies in pitching adverts for as diverse the viewers as the products. The ultimate test being that everybody agrees with the storyline and/or the tagline, and the product sells. 

Grouping hundreds of ads in a dozen odd curious chapters, like Thoo-Thoo, Main-Main and  Mummy Badnaam Hui, Stark Raving Ad is a run through the world of Indian advertising with its hits and misses, and the ran and the banned. That there are more hits than misses is evident from the fact that it has kept an eye on the social-psyche of everyday living, the quest for variety and the appetite for questioning, in creating a mosaic of short commercials. What amuses me is the fact that the advertising industry has not only made the egoist socialites dance to their tune but inspired the macho celebrities strip to their bare essentials, all for enticing the aam aadmi

Stark Raving Ad is an exercise in nostalgia, in the makeshift world where the aam aadmi enjoys the forbidden apple while gulping mango juice in the land of (k)aam-sutra. 

Stark Raving Ad
by Ritu Singh
Hachette, New Delhi
Extent: 276, Price: Rs 350.

First published in BLink of the Hindu BusinessLine on May 5, 2018. 

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