The ran and the banned

Sudhirendar Sharma | Updated on May 04, 2018

M-ad-ness: Advertising is an evolving art. Photo: Bijoy Ghosh   -  BusinessLine

Handy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (Or Hate) Ritu Singh Hachette India Non fiction ₹350

A new book recounts the hits and misses of the Indian advertising industry, a world that blurs the divide between the sublime and the ridiculous

Had Thomas Barratt not been married to Mary Pears, the daughter of the soap company owner Francis Pears, the first ever advertising campaign of the 19th century would not be “Good morning, have you used Pears’ soap?” Pears gained the desired traction, impelling consumers to choose it over other brands. Barratt did not live long enough to see the expanse of his pioneering work, but the impact of advertisements on our life choices has only grown. Therefore, the making of a short but persuasive form of communication that can influence a bald person to buy a comb is worth a look.

There is much that goes into a short advertisement than what is finally served to the prospective consumers. How else would women of all hues continue to believe that a teeny speck of cream would make them fair and lovely? And why would men past their prime have unstinted faith in a diminutive capsule to restore vigour? The advertising industry excels at converting products into habits. Such is the impact of advertising that some of the taglines stay in popular memory long after it has disappeared from the market. “What an idea, Sir-ji!” is one amongst many, and so is “Yeh dil maange more!”

In Stark Raving Ad: A Handy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (or Hate), Ritu Singh pulls quirky insights from her stint in the advertising to reveal the truth behind a world that often blurs the divide between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Handy Guide to Indian Ads You Love (Or Hate) Ritu Singh Hachette India Non fiction ₹350


From evoking the feel-good feeling of owning a scooter through the catchphrase, “Buland Bharat ki buland tasveer” to the sexually suggestive, “Yeh toh bada toing hai” by a village belle washing her husband’s undies, a wide canvas was laid bare for affirming emotions on the one hand to fiddling with fantasies on the other. In the latter, the outrage that followed was enough for the ad to be banned, but it continues to evoke interest.

Isn’t advertising an evolving art; a creative undertaking of testing hypotheses, even if some (sexually suggestive) ideas remain ahead of its times? Why has a line been drawn between the cultural and the public?

Having adhered to such norms, the ad world remained cluttered with dull and drab commercials for much of the recent past, creating more noise than signal. Occasionally, there have been attempts to shake up the socially and culturally diverse landscape, seeking to re-evalute the entrenched notions of consumers. Some advertisements worked and many did not, as merging tradition with modernity and frugality with profligacy has not been easy.

Written with wit and flair, Stark Raving Ad takes the reader on a giddy tour replete with unforgettable taglines, naughty storylines, brand scuffles, and industry scandals. There is a story behind each short commercial. For instance, the ad featuring actor Dev Anand in the early ’80s was taken off air because no one seemed to notice the fabric he was seemingly promoting. Moreover, the most watched “one black coffee” mobile ad of the mid-’90s clicked more for the gaffe than the handset. But no matter how imaginative and creative the ads might have been, they did not make the businesses feel needed, and therefore had their lifespan cut short.

Singh argues that the ultimate challenge is to create moments on screen that can guide viewers’ aspirations, stir emotions, solicit their pride, and trigger envy in others. The ad agencies have to “burn their butts”, as insiders call it, to generate a few seconds of lasting impact. Be it detergents, undergarments, biscuits, or motorbikes, the challenge lies in pitching advertisements for a diverse range of products as well as viewership. They have to ensure that everybody agrees with the storyline and/or the tagline, as well as make the product sell.

Grouping hundreds of ads in curiously titled chapters like “Thoo-Thoo, Main-Main” and “Mummy Badnaam Hui”, Stark Raving Ad is a run-through of the world of Indian advertising with its hits and misses, and the ran and the banned. That there are more hits than misses is evident from the fact that in creating a mosaic of short commercials, the industry has kept an eye on the social-psyche of everyday living, while retaining its quest for variety and its appetite for questioning. What amuses me is the fact that the advertising industry has not only made the egoist socialites dance to their tune, but have also inspired macho celebrities to strip to their bare essentials, all to entice the aam aadmi.

Sudhirendar Sharma is an independent writer, researcher and academic

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Published on May 04, 2018
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