Message in a TV commercial

Feb 16, 2014, 10:28 IST | Fatema Pittalwala

Ads that sell consumer products are increasingly using social messages to make a positive impression on their audiences. But is this a genuine change of heart or is it just all about cash?

When one thinks of a television commercial (TVC) selling something like jewellery or watches, one would not expect a social message to be bundled with it. Tears, laughter and other similar emotions are common in our 30 second ads now, and some are outstanding enough to remain in memory over the years. But a new trend is emerging — that of conveying a social message along with the push for the product itself.

The much-talked-about Google ad conveys its message of friendship across borders. Below: Director Gauri Shinde. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Filmmaker Gauri Shinde says that
she does not follow trends in ads

One of the most eye catching ads, and not for obvious reasons, is a TVC by lingerie brand, Enamor. Created by Publicis Ambience, the ad shows a young unable to fit into her pants, without being too bothered by it, enjoys a cupcake. Later she enjoys posing with a mannequin in a lingerie shop and is not shy to remove her shirt and dive in lake. The ad ends with a tagline, ‘Fabulous, as I am’. The ad tries to change the way lingerie is portrayed. It tells a woman to be true to herself and be happy, just the way she is.

Google India’s recent commercial is an other example of an ad with a social message. It shows two friends reuniting after the India-Pakistan separation in 1947. The granddaughter of the friend in India uses Google to trace her grandfather’s friend in Pakistan, and the two thus meet. This ad resonates with all age groups.

Probably the most well-known recent case in point is the ad for Tanishq jewellery. It features a dusky woman (already unusual) getting married. The clincher is that she is the mother of a little girl, the implication being that this is her second marriage. Most viewers were appreciative of all the positive reinforcement the TVC conveyed, and mass media as well as social media was in a tizzy over the path-breaking ad.

Other recent social-message ads are one for Titan watches which encourages respect and love for teachers, and Greenlam laminates which advises politicians to turn over a new leaf.

Sociologist Balkrishna V Bhosale feels ads impact all age groups. PIC/Shadab Khan

It’s innovative
Vipra Banerjee, advertising professor and head of communication at SNDT University, explains that advertising works on a paradigm of processing information in a creative fashion for its target group. She says, “A lot of creativity is involved in trying to market a product to its consumers. The only aim of advertisers is to garner as much attention from the consumers, as it can. But to hold onto that attention is the real task. Hence, emotional elements in ads, helps. Since 1960s the ad world has seen drastic changes, whether it is promotion of a product or the style of promotion. In India, ads with social-messages is a relatively new phenomenon.”

Vipra Banerjee of SNDT. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Let’s talk
Burzin Mehta, (38), creative director at Ogilvy One, feels that emotions have always been integral part of ads and that commericals with social messages are not a new trend, per se. He says, “As people, we are very emotional. If the ad is trying to sell a product, through a social message story, it has to be said in a very subtle way. This concept is new to Indian audiences; hence it comes across as a bold move. Whether you look at Asian Paints, Raymond or Coca Cola, social messages have always been a part of their ads. And any communication from a company is a reflection of its values. Hence a company will never mislead the audience.”

To this Banerjee adds, “Compassion, love, loyalty and other such emotions are generated to us since our childhood.

The Tanishq ad focuses on remarriage

Hence, using the story-telling method or as we call them ads with a social message is one of the safest ways to sell a product. These ads tend to play with your minds and hearts. When you look at the recent Google ad, it touches an emotional chord. It leaves a mark and tells us that Google in its services, also believes in goodness, compassion and loyalty to its customers. At the end its all about selling.”

Bolder, but better?
Mehta further feels that ad agencies have become bolder with their ads. He says, “Take the recent Titan ad for example. It is talking about respecting your teachers. Now, this has always been there, but ad agencies weren’t bold enough to make an ad on it. Ads are a reflection of society. I don’t think the art of making ads has changed as much as showcasing the ad, has changed. For the ad world, social media is the biggest change. The way we engage with consumers in a two-way conversation, get immediate response to products is amazing.” To this he adds, “Ads with social-messages are merely a reflection of the society we live in.”

Touchin the soul: The Titan ad reminds us to respect our teachers

Filmmaker Gauri Shinde, who directed the popular Tanishq ad about remarriage says, “I am not the one to follow trends, whether in commercial or movies. When I did the Tanishq ad, I felt it was new and refreshing. Messages in ads have always existed; the Hamara Bajaj campaign is one of the oldest ads I have seen with a message. I don’t think it is a new concept but I feel advertisers are now making ads bolder. Earlier we underestimated our audiences.

Advertisers to some extent were even scared to portray life as it is in ads. But today, the scene has changed. When we talk about the Tanishq ad, it touches a human chord on so many different levels, whether it is remarriage or dusky bride, there is a message wrapped somewhere in there! Even the wedding, it’s not the usual red and glitzy Indian affair. It is an intimate one with hues of pink and silver. If made maybe 10-15 years ago, I feel the ad would not been accepted. But now audiences are more open and are accepting the changes in the society.”

Going places
Professor of Sociology at Mumbai University, Dr Balkrishna V Bhosale, says, “The trend in ads has completely changed. They have become the agents of the commercial market. The small screen reaches every corner of the country. There is a new channel on the TV and a new product, everyday. Ads have an impact across all age groups. In order to have ads with a social message, they definitely play with emotions and no matter how beautifully the ad is shot, in the end they are selling a product. I recently came across a Titan ad, where all the students gift the professor a Titan watch because he is retiring. That ad made me smile, because students don’t respect their teachers. I feel ads change and shape the society. They also help in re-creating emotional bonds through their messages, and that’s exactly what Titan has done.”

Taking on responsibility
Banerjee says, “Advertisers should not use social messages just for selling products. As audiences and potential consumers, we have to be smart while deciding on a product. Rational advertising will not have as much appeal as emotional advertisement does.” Dr Bhosale explains, “Though ads are using emotions to convey their message, they have to be responsible while conveying a message. I feel advertisers should interact with sociologists and understand people’s mentality better. How will you know the pulse of the people and their emotion? This will help them make better ads.”

Among the cluster of ads that we see on TV today, few manage to create an impression. Now, the ad world is successful in leaving a lasting image in the minds of the passive viewers. While being victorious at creating an impact, the ads are also changing the perception, attitude and behaviour of its viewers.

Making (air) waves
>> The recent Greenlam Laminates ad shows politicians surprised by the new look of Parliament created by the laminate, and how they get inspired to leave their bad old ways behind and turn over a new leaf.

>> The much-talked-about Google TVC portrays two elderly men reuniting with the help of their grandchildren, after they were separated by the Partition of India and Pakistan.

>> A professor who is soon going to retire is gifted a Titan watch by his students, who thump on their desks and use classroom stationery to recreate the Titan ad’s theme music. The ad ends with the message to respect their teachers and carries the tagline, ‘The Joy of Gifting’.

>> A dusky bride with a daughter, a wedding without the colour red and a family enjoying the bride’s second wedding are not the usual things one may see in traditional depictions of society. The Tanishq ad touches viewers on various levels, spreads the message of remarriage and goes against the Indian stereotype-fantasy of fair-skinned brides.

Last year, Fasttrack, a youth-centric brand of watches and eyewear, redefined the advertising paradigm with its lesbian-themed TV advertisement. This ad film, often seen in the midst of the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) matches, opened with a shot of a pink closet. A girl emerges from it, checking the time on her Fastrack watch. She is followed by another girl. They give each other the eye, adjusting a bit of attire, and then walk off in opposite directions. Then comes the tag line: ‘Come out of the closet. Move On’. The message was clear: Come out of the closet. The “move on” could be telling society to move on from stereotyping or rejecting gay persons.

At that time, Arun Iyer, National Creative Director, Lowe-Lintas which had made the advertisement, had said, “What we were doing is looking at sending a progressive message, since this is a youth brand and we did make a conscious decision to get this message across. We have had a terrific response on social media, but of course, there have been a few brickbats too saying that with this ad, we have gone too far, yes, so there are some polarised views.”

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