The evils of advertising

What a dangerous ad! I am talking about the one that shows a sick child and tells you not to seek medical help but to buy a nazar suraksha amulet. It claims that the illness is the result of an evil eye (portrayed absurdly as a laser-like beam of light emanating from the eye of an envious relative or neighbour and striking the hapless victim).  Worse still, it states that the amulet will cure it.
What if a naive superstitious consumer buys this product instead of seeking medical treatment for his child's serious illness? What if the child dies?

These ads say that the evil eye is also responsible for your child flunking his exams, your business going down the tubes and your marriage getting 'disarranged'. Nor are these ads for various brands of amulet, pendant or kavach -- that supposedly ward off the buri nazar -- the only reprehensible ones.

The mad ad world: Advertisements claim that amulets are solutions to
all problems and gullible people shell out their hard earned cash for
these miracles, representation pic

I saw another one for an ayurvedic 'prash' that promises to dramatically increase male potency, gifting couples an improved sex life and childless couples a home filled with happy baby sounds within a year.  The infomercial -- as such long-format TV show-like ads are called -- starts with a montage of Khajuraho sculpture, presumably to warm the viewers up. It moves on to an oomphy anchor in a short dress who introduces studio guests that include the manufacturer's ayurvedic researcher and a 'renowned' sexologist who sing praises of the product. They make it out to be a noble creation because its potency strengthens marriages by obviating the need for wives to seek satisfaction with other men. 

The infomercial employs vignettes of different scenarios -- in one a wife slaps her husband with divorce papers because he is not giving her the 'sensation of being married' (nudge, nudge); in another, a woman is being admonished for not having been able to conceive even after years of marriage. In each case, it is portrayed as a matter of shame. The solution always is, of course, the product they are peddling. The only positive, if you can call it that, of this infomercial is that -- in a society that does not recognise women as sexual beings and also believes that if a woman does not get pregnant, the 'fault' always lies with her -- it breaks the stereotype of the eternally demure bharatiya nari, recognises her sexual needs and puts the ball, so to speak, in the man's court.  But given the dubious efficacy of the product and regressive nature of the over-all communication, this hardly counts. Unbelievable though it is, the manufacturer claims that the product is approved by the government's Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy.

Late-night infomercials for products that supposedly increase your height, reduce your weight or teach you perfect English in a trice are questionable too, though probably less likely to cause harm. They may provide limited entertainment, a kind of theatre of the absurd, for cynical insomniacs such as your truly, but at the end of the day there are many out there shelling out hard earned cash for these miracle cures.

If one is required to put 'do not try this at home' type disclaimers on bike ads, fairness ads are put under a microscope and cigarette advertising is banned, then why are these magical remedies allowed to advertise? Why aren't government bodies or NGOs doing anything to stop these ads for bogus products? Presumably, nobody has lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the self-regulatory body of the ad industry.  Otherwise they could have arrived at a judgment - though of course they do not have the power to force advertisers or channels to withdraw an ad.

One wonders why prestigious international channels that have high standards for their documentary-style content would not self-regulate and keep out advertising that could harm viewers. In a land such as ours -- still one of shamans and shams -- expecting consumers to see through such fraudulence may be rather too

Sumanto Chattopadhyay is the Executive Creative Director, South Asia, Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, Mumbai

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