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Advertisements in India-Informative or Misleading?
chillibreeze writer — Anitha Krishnan
Picture this. A guy winds up a date with his girlfriend. When she asks him where he's heading to next, he nonchalantly replies that he has another date waiting for him. His girlfriend feigns annoyance, refuses to believe a truth that is blatantly stated, and construes it as light-hearted mischief on her boyfriend's part. The guy, having gotten his way, bids farewell to his girl as she lovingly waves back, and sets off on his bike.
His next destination is a café, where another girl is indeed waiting for him. Furious that he has not turned up on time, she pettishly demands what took him so long. Again, in the same nonchalant fashion, he confesses that he was held up by another date. Predictably, this girl also refuses to believe the blatant truth. After a brief display of irritation, she has a change of heart and asks him adoringly what he will have.
The guy then picks up a bottle of Sprite and puts it to his lips, while his eyes twinkle with mischief and a smile plays tantalizingly on his face, as the tagline appears on the screen - 'Sprite - Seedhi Baat, No Bakwaas' (Straight Talk, No Nonsense).
This is one advertisement that many of us relate to, either having had such escapades ourselves, or having known someone who was honestly smart enough to pull off such a trick. Such is the effect that advertisements have on us today.
A little more than fifteen years ago, commercial breaks on television were synonymous with quick trips to the loo or a dash for a glass of water, before settling down once more on the sofa, comfortable and relieved, to watch the rest of the program, uninterrupted. Ads were then direct, brief and to the point, with celebrities endorsing products while simple jingles played in accompaniment.
Since then, it appears as if the skills of advertising have been reinvented. Ads now thrill us, intrigue us, humour us, move us, and even appeal to us convincingly. Most importantly, they make us sit upright and take notice of their inherent innovativeness, imagination and creativity, while each one tries to outwit the rest and overcomes our urge to surf channels in the meantime.
While all this augurs well in terms of leaving an indelible footprint on the minds of the consumers, I really wonder how many of us have actually picked up a bottle of Sprite to quench our thirst, just because the advertisement is a masterpiece. And how much has the commercial actually revealed to us about the product? Well! Not even enough to pique my interest in what comes across as good a cold drink as any other.
All I know is that Coca Cola is now one up over PepsiCo, and it will only be a matter of time before the tables are turned in the relentless battle of advertising. But do these have a direct bearing on the sales of the products? I doubt it. In fact, Minute Maid's Pulpy Orange has an advertisement that tells me exactly what the drink contains. And I highly recommend the drink.
If you were to take a look, for instance, at commercials featuring beauty soaps, the earliest one that swept viewers off their feet was the Liril ad, which saw Karen Lunel splashing about in a waterfall to exhibit the freshness associated with lime. Liril became a premium brand overnight. Soon, everyone was keen to follow the blazing trail left by Neena Merchant and Alyque Padamsee, and all the infomercials for beauty soaps started focusing on promises of refreshing experiences under the shower, glowing skin, youthful looks and more of the same blah.
Then, Dove came along, pitching to the viewers a refreshingly new and nourishing concept of making soap, clearly highlighting its unique selling proposition. Now that ad made me want to go to the stores and pick up a bar for trial, because I understood exactly what set it apart from other beauty soaps, and I wanted to test whether it really worked or not. And now I am as loyal as can be to the brand, even though several products launched by other brands at dirt-cheap rates as compared to Dove, but without any conceivably distinct characteristics to speak for themselves, perch prettily on the shelves in the supermarkets.
A wide gamut of products is now available in the market, with each no different from the other in parameters of quality, packaging, price or even positioning. I do not pay much attention to the other bags of detergent that lie on the shelves and reach out for the nearest packet of Surf when I am out on my monthly purchase of household items. This is an example of a continued use of a product passed down by tradition.
Lalithaji, cast in the image of a stereotypical Indian homemaker of the eighties ensured that Surf detergent is ensconced in households all over India, including mine. And since then, there has been no reason for me to switch products or brands, even after having moved out into a place of my own.
As India witnesses the growth of an increasingly affluent and educated young generation, people have begun to make well-informed choices. When the focus is on more expensive items like household appliances, advertisements do tend to focus on the unique technical features of the product. In such cases, ads only serve the purpose of making the viewers aware of the product. Purchases are eventually guided heavily by the user's budget and specific requirements.
However, in the case of low-value consumables, brand loyalty is hard to ensure, as people are less risk-averse, choosier and more impulsive than before. Several products and advertisements clamour for enduring attention in the consumer's ephemeral memory.
Needless to say, it becomes inevitable for advertisers to resort to innovative ways to tickle the interest of the public, and they do so by shifting the focus from products to consumers and their emotions, desires and experiences. Unfortunately, this becomes a self-defeating exercise.
Advertisements cease to be the brand ambassadors of the very products they ought to represent. They are very entertaining, no doubt. Have you seen the latest ad of Mentos, based on a comic representation of the evolution of a monkey into a human being after it pops in the mint? It is a brilliant work of art. But that's all that it is, and even more so, at the risk of trivializing the product itself. Only the wit, creativity and imagination of the ad remain ingrained in the memory of the viewers, not the product itself. In fact, to be honest, I had had forgotten that the drink in the ad featuring the guy and his two girlfriends was Sprite!
One of my recent addictions involves Apple's products. With a MacBook and an iPod Shuffle already in my collection, I am now desperately waiting for the iPhone to be launched in India. I was surfing through Apple's site and came across the ad for an iPhone, which shows a user scrolling through various features, as a voice in the background explains the same in a very compelling manner. The clincher: 'All these years you've gone through the day without email like this in your pocket, or stock updates like this in your pocket, or internet like this in your pocket. And you survived. The question is How?'
A great product is capable of selling itself. Unfortunately, most advertisements resort to indirect references to the product, and only serve as blatant masquerades in their attempt to hide the fact that the product is really not very different from similar ones competing for mind share in the market. This is seriously disheartening. I doubt I'll ever be tempted to purchase a product like Liril, just to be able to go 'La.. la la la laa…' in the shower again.
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