O brave new commercial!

BY Vijay Nambisan| IN Media Practice | 02/12/2007
This angst of the industry is reflected in two commercials that have been aired in the last month, during the cricket series.
VIJAY NAMBISAN questions their vision of the future.

Watching the dreary progression of advertisements in the over breaks during the India-Pakistan one-day cricket series, it strikes me that our advertising industry must be plumbing depths untouched for years. Creativity is at such a premium, it looks like the clients are dictating the ad content. Why? Are all the bright young sparks going into management now (and ending up as clients)? Is there nothing left to pinch from Europe and the US? Or is it just one of those periodic depressions?


The paucity of ideas is perhaps a more dismal knell for the industry than the weariness with which the ideas are executed. It¿s true, when mobile phones and TVs have to be sold as fashion accessories, it¿s a pretty telling comment on the stagnation of our society. Most of the "rival brands" we see on display are essentially the same thing in different wrappers. When there is no individuality in the product, it¿s difficult to summon up any in its selling.


This angst of the industry is reflected in two commercials that have been aired in the last month, during the cricket series. The first is for a cell phone company whose name stands for everything that the campaign lacks. The storyboard has some sort of local chieftain, in a stroke of supposed brilliance, replace all names with mobile numbers. "Sirji," croons his awestruck chela, "what an idea, Sirji."


People who have achieved anything like their names to be known. Is it only coincidence that this Idea commercial features a star who has never delivered a hit film, somebody who is a somebody because he is the son of two somebodies and married to a third? How deeply symbolic. Not alone of the chief character¿s personal angst, but of the advertising industry¿s. Accustomed to being pushed around both by the clients and their own client executives, to being called "Hey, you", the "creative people" dump this load of existential resentment on the consumer.


For is this really any sort of inspiration? Is this their vision of a future we should progress towards as a reasoning society, that we should be known by our mobile numbers? The advertising industry has always prided itself on its freaks, at the very least on encouraging individual talent (with what justice is not for me to say). Is this their concept of expressing individualism?


If you think I¿m taking it too seriously, try and compute the amount the phone company must have spent on this campaign, and see how seriously they have taken it.


The second commercial is also about a vision of the future. It is even more disturbing, because it is meant to be taken seriously. It is for a cement company, Ultratech, and it features presumably an engineer who walks about Indian streets replacing the buildings that stand there with those that suit his – and the cement company¿s – vision of "tomorrow¿s India". "Maine kal ko dekha hai" – I have seen tomorrow, he says proudly.


Thus the familiar little shops we take for granted and like to visit morph into cement and steel abstractions. Skyscrapers emerge from the ground like monstrous concrete worms; the city is made of boxes. A general store is transformed into an internet café. We are to do all our shopping online, I take it. I did not notice any parks or greenery, but perhaps they were lurking in the corners. Naturally, this being a cement company¿s commercial, the more concrete there is the better for them. The agency was happy to oblige: That is what advertising agencies exist for.


This commercial questions our very attitude to modernity. I can understand 1950s films portraying modernity by means of an England-returned heroine in a tight skirt who speaks Hindi or Tamil with an accent and has her hair in a "bob cut", but fifty years later are we still going to be satisfied with such cosmetic representations? Are we as a people so gullible that we will keep on mistaking the mask for the mind behind it?


Even if we take the commercial at face value, is this the kind of city we dream of living in? Again I ask the questions I asked of the people behind the mobile phone commercial: Is this a future you would be happy to inhabit? Would it express your individualism? The function of an advertising agency is to lure the consumer into buying, without any ethical considerations. But excuse me, aren¿t you swindling yourselves here, as well?



It can¿t be long now before Doordarshan starts showing commercials during overs in cricket matches, between deliveries. They have already "accidentally" tested the concept several times. Why doesn¿t someone tell the advertisers that what DD is doing for them is overkill, that most cricket lovers are on the point of swearing off buying any of the products advertised?



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