In defense of advertising

There is an anti-advertising sentiment building up in India. Regulators want to cap advertising time on TV channels. And the government wants to take over the business of regulating TV ads from the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). The idea of a National Consumer Protection Council has been floated by the ministry of consumer affairs. The country, it seems, is up in arms against the thirty-seconder that entertains, irritates and is part of our TV viewing experience.

Why are we getting so rabidly anti-advertising? The reasons are not hard to find. Some of the claims ads make are too fantastic. If one believed advertising then everything from social justice to a fair complexion and good luck can be attained by using some brand or the other. Television channels routinely violate the 12 minutes per hour cap making it impossible to watch a show, film or a match in peace. And advertisers have shown little interest in putting in place processes that screen ads or censor them a la films so that they do not violate any rules.

Zip zap zoom: Advertising captures vignettes of Indian society, subsidises our news and entertainment and gives rise to some great talent

Having said all that I still think advertising is not such a bad thing. Why? For four reasons.

One, advertising informs, educates and generally helps push the social envelope forward. In the early nineties the mums in most ads were saree-clad, stay-at-home types. It is advertising that first started reflecting the working mother, the caring father and all the other changing stereotypes of society.

It is the ad industry’s conscious decision to show a girl child (instead of a boy) in ad after ad that helped (in part) raise awareness about gender-biases against the girl-child. It is consistent advertising that has driven home the benefits of washing hands, brushing teeth or personal hygiene for millions of Indians who were not exposed to these ideas earlier.

Two, advertising subsidises our news and entertainment. Take newspapers for instance. Roughly eighty per cent of the revenues of Indian newspapers come from advertising. There is no way we will every pay the Rs 50-70 that it costs to put a copy of a newspaper at our front door every morning. That is true for television too. The price of cable TV in India has remained the same for over ten years even while the cost of bringing a channel to your home has risen consistently. So advertising subsidises all the variety of content we get across the 600 odd channels available in India. The only media where no one complains about advertising is radio and the internet. This is because everything is paid for by advertising on these, so audiences cannot complain.

The point — either we develop the purchasing power or the will to pay the full price of the media we want or we accept the advertising that helps ensure it reaches us. It is only when we started paying Rs 150 and more for a film ticket that the quality of Indian cinema changed for the better over the last decade.

Three, advertising has also created and continues to create some of the best vignettes of India. So whether it is the ‘Kuch khaas hai’ campaign from Cadbury’s or the Hamara Bajaj one, advertising captures the myriad moods and moments of India. In a way it acts as a record of our history, society and evolution.

And lastly it is the home to so much talent which then finds its way elsewhere. Jaideep Sahni (scriptwriter Khosla Ka Ghosla etc), Prasoon Joshi (lyricist), Balki (Director, Paa etc) among dozens of others are advertising people who have tried their creative luck elsewhere too. In the seventies and eighties, advertising was a refuge for people who couldn’t fit into the ‘engineering and medicine’ mould meant for most young Indians then. Without advertising we would have lost minds like Joshi or Sahni to some mind-numbing profession that they were never meant for.

Do let us cheer this industry then for all the joy it has given us even as we rail against it.

The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter at

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