‘The ad as an icon’

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“If advertisements are anything to go by, the average Indian consumer is just one ‘bright-and-white’ shirt away from a job opportunity of a lifetime, and a good soap is all he needs to improve his personality.”

“Till recently it was believed that you couldn’t fool all the people all the time. I am happy to announce that we have now achieved a breakthrough in that …” This was written below a Laxman cartoon depicting a typical strategy meeting in progress. And instantly my mind went to the field of advertising. Really , it must have been these blokes who succeeded in evolving this inchoate theory. Their market research must have indicated that the average Indian consumer is a stupid sub-human baboon whose IQ averages around zero. Further he lacks the faculty of rational thought and has the herd mentality which is receptive to propaganda.

Or else how can one explain an ad which implies that you are just one ‘bright-and-white’ shirt away from a job opportunity of a lifetime. Also, if you need to spruce up your personality, then all you need is a new fragrant soap or a nice perfume or a strong aftershave. Even these things are passé now, the new ‘in-thing’ at the moment is a deodorant, ain’t it?

Next, if it is the lack of self-confidence that bothers you, move over to the market of talcum powder and toothpaste. For the receding hairline, there are a mind-boggling number of formulations around, enough to make you feel like tearing them out anyway. Worried about tooth decay? There is both ‘100 % protection’ and ‘two-and-a-half times’ protection available, take your pick. Feel like having a cola drink? You can be either a generation next ‘bandar’ or the one who eats, sleeps and drinks the thunder.

And a woman always plays the key role. She promotes not only the traditional lady’s preserve – ‘home products’ – but also practically everything else under the sun. And so, when you want a bike that takes on those dangerous curves ahead, then she catwalks about. She sashays in and out whenever he buys anything, be it a bottle of liquor or an electric shaver. Want to buy fabrics? Then you set out on an odyssey of the Indian landscape along with her. To cap the issue, it is she who sells him his underwear. Brilliant, huh?

But remember, not a word about stereotyping. Talking about the exploitation of the fairer sex for commercial products evoked only ‘boos’ and ‘yawns’. And so just laugh off yet another Laxman cartoon which features a young sexy girl wearing only a two-piece with the caption saying, “This is a multipurpose ad, it can used to promote cars, drinks, cigarettes etc., etc.”

And so the relentless march continues. It sure is a changed world nowadays. Ads are the new icons of today. In an audience of ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’, shy small children – on being goaded by proud parents wanting to impress their guests – no longer recite nursery rhymes. Instead they enact our ads. ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep ..’ is a thing of the past all right. A young precocious child learning to speak now say, “Baa baa baa baa … Bajaaj”.  A sign of things to come.

This article appeared in the ‘Humour’ column of the ‘Features’ page in the ‘Times of India’ Pune supplement on August 4, 1998.

It does sound a bit intemperate to re-read it now but I am sure not much has changed on the ground. ‘Pester Power’ of ads influencing kids to demand specific brands from their parents and the eternal appeal of ‘Keeping-up-with-the Joneses’ must be ‘part-and-parcel’ of ads even today.

Our generation was ‘razzled-and-dazzled’ by the first wave of liberalization and consumerism that dominated the 90s. Possibly the youngsters are far smarter today and the game of inveigling  them that much more interesting.

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