Red in the Face


By
Jili Mary Thomas
Student
Institute of Management in Kerala
Thiruvananthapuram
E-mail:
simiparu@yahoo.co.in
 


What makes 'embarrassment' such a popular trigger in advertising?

Human beings, as social animals spend a lot of time agonizing over 'what others think' (the need for social belonging at the third level of Abraham Maslow's Motivation pyramid). And advertises seem to be triggering this need for an increasing number of products. Be it a krack heel creams stinging 'chehre se maharani, pearo se naukrani' or Itchguard's promise to save face in public when overcome by the urge to scratch in unmentionable places. Or when the Sonata man's imaginary nightmare of being called the 'ghatiya ghari uncle'. Anand B Halve, partner, chlorophyll, says, "In most societies there is a 'dominant social mood' at different points of time. In India, the 1980's theme was 'search for freedom' which saw concept such as 'Charms is the spirit of freedom. Charms is the way you are'. Then there was the nostalgic-nationalism mood of Hamara Bajaj, and VIP luggage singing "Kal Bhi Aaj Bhi…" . In the 1990's we saw the emergence of the 'sensitive male' in the Raymond complete man and his cousins in Digjam, Nivea, etcetera. Today, we are moving from being inner- directed to becoming outer-directed, where the impression we make on others has become important. In such a scenario it's not surprising to see embarrassment and its harsher version-social rejections, being used more commonly in advertising".

But does it work? Audience reactions vary. Some find such advertising amusing. Some believe they have high retention value. Others are completely put off. And of course, there is a percentage that finds itself bored. Actually, these ads work, in certain product categories which are largely rational and are essentially problem solution products, because here a negative motivation acts as a stronger purchase trigger than positive motivation. On the self esteem parameter, embarrassment triggers provide a lot of food for thought. So they create consumer dissonance, which means the consumer begins to think of those issues as germane to him or to his existence, and from that perspective it's an interesting communication device. So, the value proposition is the avoidance of embarrassment rather than embarrassment per se.

Apart from the societal pressures, the functionality of these ads is related to market evolution. These are more effective in a market such as India where a lot of products are still addressing first time users and intend to create a need for the product category. Early advertising for deodorants, tooth paste, mouth wash or acne treatments, in many markets across the world, was based on similar appeals in the early stages of market development. The fact is that such tactics work with large section of the market. However they could fall flat if rival brands start playing on the consumers sense of self-assurance thus befriending her.

In general, 'embarrass 'em' is here to stay as an ad strategy.
 


Jili Mary Thomas
Student
Institute of Management in Kerala
Thiruvananthapuram
E-mail:
simiparu@yahoo.co.in
 

Source : E-mail April 2, 2005

 
 
 

 

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