Advertising revisited-The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Srikant Kapoor
Faculty (Management)
Institute of Management Education
E-mail :

Advertising has many connotations, simply put it means notifying or informing persons of things by using mass media-external communications.

To attract the attention the plain message is couched in such imaginative moulds that it becomes an art form needing creative instincts of an artist to conceptualize the contents.

However, the highly focused presentation of the message is a costly affair needing analytical thinking along the pre-conceived theories of marketing a product. This makes advertising a scientific endeavor without jeopardizing its claim to remain in the realm of art.

Modern advertising with its highly potential vehicle of electronic mass-media enveloping the entire globe does not exist in isolation - like an artist in his studies or the scientist in his laboratory. Its very nature needs impact as wide spread pocket- as the pocket of the sponsor can afford. When multi national organizations wield the instrument of mass impact with a view of dominating the competitive arenas of sales & marketing eventually making profits, the simple advertising starts acquiring social implications at times challenging the pristine influence of religion on the mind set of those who come under its spell.

Among innumerable agents of electronic mass media, television is the most important one. Its audio -visual impact is instantaneous & most powerful. It has a tendency to influence anyone who watches it. The barriers & differences of age, sex, color, creed, religion, socio-economic status, education, nationality at times even language do not hamper its all pervading impact once an individual switches the TV on. It is as simple as the Lord saying, "Let there be light", and there being the dawn of light with its accompanying consequences.
Today the impact of TV advertising is as dramatic, potential and replete with implications which our lives as members of civilized societies. In the present study an effort is being made to classify the TV advertisements under three distinct headings -good, bad, ugly keeping in mind the quality of impact they make on the viewer. It can be said that generally people accept that the basic purpose of advertising is to inculcate an interest to accept whatever is advertised so that the sponsor is benefited (maybe the customer also?!).

At the same time while assessing the quality of advertisement due consideration is given to the basic human values of the civilized world, like honesty, decency, congenial social interaction, reform, respect for human emotions, sentiments & beliefs. Various embellishments used to heighten the impact on the viewers have not been ignored even though simplicity of style, if effective is given due weightage. The classification remains subjective even though reasons are expressed to justify the categorization for each example. It should be understood that the purpose is not to condemn the sponsor, Product or agency or the way it is presented/proffered to the prospective user. The aim is to bring about an awareness among the participants of the multi - bullion dollar business of fetching more business -money making (Profits, revenues etc.). Though a tremendously important activity for any entrepreneur, can never be sacrosanct as the preservation of our invaluable cultural heritage & values ingrained in our generations (genes). So it is necessary to influence people & win friends in a civilized way for the overall betterment of trade, commerce, industry, humans and society which are so intricately interconnected that they tend to float and sink together.

The Good category, (Rare) of advertisements has all the qualities & attributes (Something Special, magical- Kuch Kuch hota hai !!!!) It conveys the message in a simple, straight forward, pleasant manner to the aesthetic senses almost instantly but with a lasting effect. It leaves a smile on the lips of the viewer who falls in love with the brand advertised and starts treating it as a supreme model to assess other products of similar type before changing his loyalty.

The bad advertisement is one which is unintelligible lacking connection with the brand advertised, distracting, crude, highlighting the negative values while trying to exploit the situation, dishonesty, encouragement to wrong dangerous practices & habits also make a advertisement bad.

An ugly is one extreme of the continuum which is downright indecent, hurting some specific sentiment totally misdirected & dumb, at times the viewer is compelled to ask which particular product was being
advertised. The bad taste left behind hurts the image of the sponsors. One is apt to wonder why the censorship should not be imposed on TV advertisements also, in such ugly advertisements a deliberate effort is made to shock the viewers with totally unacceptable ideas or methods not permissible in the Indian social fabric.

The examples & illustrations which are going to be discussed under each category are picked from recent advertisements on TV. The raison de etre for their selection is simple they are most suited to illustrate the type; Let us start the best in the Good category, (Rare) of advertisements has all the qualities & attributes (Something Special, magical- Kuch Kuch hota hai !!!!)
Fevicol, Pidilite Industries, O & M master piece, advertising their adhesives through simple settings - Scene -1 an overcrowded bus on a bumpy road with fevicol advertised on the back of the bus -fevicol ka jodh hai, (tutega) chuttega nahin!

Scene -2 Catching fish nonchalantly without a fish tackle in comparison to a seasoned catcher who is not successful in spite of his best efforts!

This hits the nail on the head with pleasant surprise and without the barrier of language.We would know for all times to come that fevicol is the best adhesive.

In fifties when we were not exposed to advertisements through such powerful media agents like TV, there was a simple line promotion for Lipton tea which said that Lipton makes good tea. I read it as a joke that a kid consulted his newly bought dictionary which did not enlist the word Lipton. However the fact remains remained a synonym for good tea, as I learnt later, throughout the life cycle of the brand (PLC).

The best use of language, precise & humorous with most appropriate colloquial phrases & interjections under scoring the core quality, value of the product is seen in a series of advertisements from the
coca cola stable which are presented & performed to perfection by the famous cine star, Aamir khan.

First we learn that "Thanda Matlab Coca Cola"( Generic Positioning- Association of the brand directly with the Product category; cold drinks=coca cola). It is the echo of Lipton after 50 years!

Aamir the local dada instills this fact in the minds of the simpleton at the soft drinks counter (dhabha, kirana shop). The fact is reinforced by the bucolic romantic in a village setting, when he wins the heart of urban beauties by his rural hospitality; an innovative scheme to cool the drink -bottles in the well (another association substitute water with coke?!).

The Bihari dandy beau rescues the damsels being exploited by the unscrupulous vendor and etches in our memory that the price of the thanda is reduced to R. 5 now. The point to note in the third
advertisement of the series is the subtle approach - this time it is common knowledge that "Thanda Matlab Coca Cola", as we see when the girl asks for a thanda the vendor is not fumbling with any other soft drink bottle as happened in the first advertisement; he takes out the coca cola only which is doubtlessly the well established Thanda. It is the masterly unobtrusive reinforcement of a fact for which earlier advertisements were exclusively made. We smile again & again seeing these very well produced advertisements which are not only good but can be labeled as a piece of art created for the mundane purpose of increasing the sales of soft drinks.

How the viewer is taken towards the terse message of the advertisement through sentimental journey is best depicted by the sophisticated credit card- Master card, advertisement where the family photo of three generations grouped together is shown as priceless. The viewer becomes sentimentally involved and before he/she realizes that the word priceless is anyway associated with spending money to buy & acquire the desired things, the voice tells him/her that for everything else there is master card (Life= emotions/sentiments (Priceless)+ desire to buy (MasterCard)). In a split second one is brought down from the endearingly nostalgic world of sentiments to the real world where needs can be easily satisfied by similarly endearing & supportive credit card. A highly sophisticated & subtle way it is to soften up the prospective user before the hand sale; a winner through & through!

Humility is a quality most liked in the upper echelons of the civilized world. The impact of this attribute is most significant when it is found in a person of high status or talent. We human beings love this quality because it psychologically brings the individual to the level of humble majority which can never reach that height. Humility thus breeds familiarity & affection not contempt.

This trait is expertly exploited by steel companies; the advertisements sponsored by TISCO & SAIL are examples of good advertising by well known manufacturers without being imposing. They endear themselves through the humility route.

Imagine TATA telling us,"we also make steel" or SAIL reminding the viewer that there is a little bit of SAIL in everybody's life." Can anyone discard steel completely from his life; if there is steel in our lives so is SAIL. SAIL thus becomes synonym of steel; we go from general to specifics & a brand is born and sustained in a simple specific manner.

The basic human instinct of fear is effectively used by Aaj Tak TV channel in its promotional advertisements which are memorable for there humorous presentation too.

Gambling is an offence; the Kaurav prince is hesitant to touch Drapadi's saree because he is scared of Aaj tak reporting the matter thereby alerting the police. Similarly the Minister for sports stops short of selecting his obese sister-in-law for 100 meters dash when warned by his secretary. Corrupt police officers are other scared persons who help the Aaj Tak channel win large viewership. The highly successful series of advertisements is in black & white and the tone of dialogues is the same for all the actors; if it heightens the impact since they being so easily identifiable are endearingly familiar and
one waits for newer additions.
Kelivenator refrigerator with its unforgettable slogan,' the coolest one' by a talking penguin beautifully highlights the cooling quality of the Company product. The grand father's dentures starts chattering
while immersed in the water because the door of the kelivenator kept behind him is opened. The Singer's throat is similarly affected by the chill and he is unable to sing, the cause again is the opened
kelivenator. These situations which are quite common due to chill effects are the best endorsement for the quality of the cooling machine; the message comes to us loud & clear that kelivenator is the coolest one.

The category consisting of bad advertisements is comparatively more numerous & longer which indicates our deteriorating standards of good taste. Several other factors which are being welcomed in the name of globalization & liberalization could be the causes. Imitation of latest trends in developed countries with different socio-cultural background & fast developments in the field of information technology have also provided easy access to hither unfamiliar fields of human experience in erstwhile conservative & developing nation like India;
Now we can across such meaningless advertisements as one from an apple juice (Surrogate advertisement for Aristocrat whiskey) provides make belief & teasingly incomplete strip tease show whose supposedly funny ant-climax results in the observer getting his top naked. 'Kutch bhi ho sakata hai (anything can happen) is the irrelevant slogan which the viewer of the advertisement is somehow expected to connect with apple juice (Whiskey) drinking. It is also highly disrespectful towards the viewer treating him to be as much a moronic as the male model protagonist of the advertisement who sips the apple juice (Whiskey) to get excited.

The axe effect is such that all the females in the proximity of the male user become his infatuated followers and he leads them as the proverbial pied piper did to rats. This time the feminine intelligence
& virtue have been challenged by a perfume which does not get promoted by such indecent & highly exaggerated claims. It does not flatter the male taste either that the male would really believe that the axe effect would make him so irresistible to the female of the species.

There is another bad one for a shaving cream highlighting the smoothness of the skin shaved using the cream. A match stick does not get ignited when rubbed against his cheek; however, the armpit of the
female companion is rough enough to light it. So, where do we go from here, back to the Wild West where cowboys used to light match sticks this. The point as to the Smoothness of the shave is made but, in a bad way. In India females do not open their armpits thus; for that matter none does. But the critical point & the basic weakness of the advertisement is the crudity. Again the female image at least in the Indian Milieu is put to shame.

The Pepsi advertisement showing the little mastero- Sachin Tendulkar posing as a person who has lost his memory but smartly dispatching the other two cricketers to Honolulu is senseless to say the least, it is difficult to find out how the whole episode connects with the soft drink & the brand.It is sad to see the favorite cricketer making a fool of himself to promote a product which fails to take off in the dumb

The Goa pan masala advertisement encourages the arrogant behavior of the groom's family. The grooms father shouts at the bride's father remonstrating him for the poor hospitality & threatens to get up &
leave but for the timely intervention of the Goa Pan Masala supplier. Everything goes well after the masala is tasted. The groom's father behavior remained putrid &childish throughout & was in very cheap taste! In any case the pan masala is too petty an offering to please such a father of the groom; dowry is the next logical step obviously. The Advertisement has nothing to denounce such malpractices on the other hand it has encouraged such encounters before the wedding sending shockwaves among the bride's family.

Snobbery is a negative attribute of the shallow, immature person. This trait should never be used to promote a product even through it may be a status symbol or an article of luxury living. This advertisement shows a girl receiving a frock as a gift from his uncle which she throws away to be used as a duster. It happened because she tasted the cooling effect of an air conditioner in her room. A child misbehaves the viewer feels bad seeing her snobbish attitude; how does it promote the sale of the AC is not clear.

Advertisements falling in the downright Ugly category are deliberate attempts to give a shock treatment to viewers. All norms of decency are forgotten & forbidden territories are breached to make a point. Sprite, (Coke Stable) advertisements beating all logic associate pissing with the soft drink. The Man behind the counter missing the pun directs the Dew gang to go outside & do (dew) it behind the bush. Similarly the dew guzzling bungee jumpers look down upon the sprite drinker who wets his trouser being not so daring as others by merely observing them indulging in the adventurous sport. It is nothing short of disgusting & is Sick!

Why such an obsession with urine for a soft drink advertisement is difficult to understand. The shock does not endear the product to the viewers who tend to think of urine whenever they see Sprite!

(Bujhayee sirf pyaas, ?!). It is an ugly way to promote a product. Earlier the sprite drinker takes out the drink can from the gullet of the tiger & drinks it. "Cheeta bhi Peeta hai", takes one nowhere. One
may not be inclined to touch the soft drink can after seeing the advertisement. It is a very ugly & crude way to promote a drink.

Pass- pass is projected as such a mouth freshener that it compels the school peon to indulge in malpractice. He is punished by the teacher in front of the complaining children. The teacher himself errs having been tempted by the taste of Pass-pass. He is caught by the female colleague who threatens to report the matter to the principal. It all happens before the children. This is too much for the character & behavior of teachers. What will the children learn? The entire setting is radically wrong sending negative signals to impressionable, young minds. A mouth freshener should not be depicted as if it were the proverbial apple which tempted Adam & the paradise was lost. Let our teachers not lose their morals for petty things, for god's sake!

Similarly an old chap starts dozing before the God's idol due to cooling effect of a cooler. Even the sanctity of worship has been sacrificed to sell as few extra coolers through the advertisement. A religious minded person will treat the cooler as a satanic device; will it sell after hurting the religious sentiments? Is the civilized society becoming so inconsiderate & insensitive!

While assessing the impact of advertisement aesthetics remain as important as the product which is being promoted. A fine balance has to be maintained between the two for maximum effect. Our sensibilities must never be hurt either by the product or the way it is advertised. Niche marketing & target audience sounds good but holistic approach is essential when we know that TV advertisements are watched by the entire Indian family & at times together with different mind sets & varying economic interdependence. A pleasing approach is definitely essential for the product to catch on & sell.

The difference in presentation of a Good, Bad & Ugly advertisement is mainly owing to the sponsor's view point & artists creative choices. However, someone has to be wasteful about what can be shown in public & what should remain hidden. Money making through unacceptable means may be prevented by law but awareness about what is good & what is not, is also important to discourage bad practices. If ignorance of law is not excused, ignorance about good & bad taste should not be excused. It may have far more significance for the betterment of the society, & its people.

Srikant Kapoor
Faculty (Management)
Institute of Management Education
E-mail :

Source : E-mail

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