Recently, on a social media platform, I saw a few friends outraging about the latest Zivame ads. One of these ads shows a woman languidly arranging roses in a vase at home and talking about the awkwardness of buying lingerie from an offline store.

The other ad shows a woman folding clothes and arranging them in a cupboard as she holds forth on the merits of getting the right fit. I had seen these commercials, but not given them a second thought, merely registering the message.

But here were my friends expostulating at the campaign for typecasting women doing activities such as arranging flowers and folding clothes.

These days ads are critiqued and discussed threadbare just like films. Every little political, social, gender nuance and message is analysed minutely. Very often motives are ascribed to ad taglines where probably none exist.

Mirror to society

That’s because ads tend to be a fairly accurate mirror of society. Also because advertisers have often taken upon themselves the job of creating attitude shifts in the minds of consumers.

So if you were to look at ads of say, 10 or 20 years ago, you would instantly get a glimpse of what society was like in those days, and the social messages being purveyed. And that’s exactly what Ambi Parameswaran does in his book Nawabs Nudes Noodles .

The veteran ad man who headed FCB Ulka — the agency that came up with heartwarming campaigns such as Tata Salt’s Maine desh ka namak khaya hai and the hilarious Hari Sadu Naukri one — divines societal trends over the past 50 years by looking at 30-second commercials.

My friends on Twitter ranting about the portrayal of women in ads just need to dip into Ambi’s book to get a fascinating — yet very balanced and dispassionate — analysis on this subject.

The first section of his book is devoted to people, and he dissects how men, women, teens, toddlers, grandparents, husband-wife relationships have been portrayed in ads over the ages, and what impact this depiction had on the brand’s recall or success.

For the reader, it’s pure nostalgia as Ambi takes us on a tour of ads through the 1970s and 1980s when the male archetype in advertising — be it Charminar or Lifebuoy — was all about brawn and muscle power.

Shift in times

The change began in the mid 1990s where we saws ads that showed men making coffee for their wives. Then there was the refreshing Raymond ‘complete man’ campaign that started showing the softer, sensitive side of men.

Today, as Ambi writes, “Indian advertising is speaking a different language to the men of India. It is no longer wrestling and football. It also includes skincare and cooking.”

Similarly, there has been a sea change in the way children have been depicted from the ‘I Love You Rasna’ type of campaigns that draws on the cuteness of the child to the digital native super smart kids of today.

Husband and wife relationships, and parent-children equations shown in ads too have seen dramatic shifts and Ambi captures it all and presents how the Indian consumer has changed so much.

If Section One is about the protagonists in the ads, then section two is devoted to products. Again by taking us through a historical journey of ads of suitings, cars, paints, mobile phones etc.

Ambi presents a clear story of how consumer preferences have changed, how new product niches developed, how aspirations have changed opening up new opportunities for marketers.

We get to hear about the research and thinking behind the making of these ads and through these we get insights into the big marketing trends of reaching out to rural consumers through sachets, of premiumisation, of innovations peculiar to India (pre paid mobile cards) and so on.

Section three of the book is about services — the movements that have taken place in the travel industry, in education, healthcare services, financial services, and in jobs.

The jobs chapter is particularly fascinating as the interview setting has been a favourite one to sell brands - be it the Wheel Detergent ad where a sparkling shirt lands the husband a job, or the Ponds Dreamflower Talc ad starring supermodel Colleen Khan getting ready for a job grilling.

From the anxious job seekers of that era to the insouciant executive of the Naukri ad, attitudes towards employment have changed so much. And this sets the stage for a discourse on employment.

Insider's insights

The final section is on ad narratives that takes on issues such as censorship, celebrity endorsements and so on. It’s a well structured book with a clear direction and thought.

Each chapter has many insights for marketers as Ambi not just uses examples of ads to make a point, but also weaves in lovely anecdotes that only an ad industry insider would be privy to, and then presents findings from research studies to connect the dots. He also sticks his neck out and makes some predictions.

It’s an engrossing book. The only complaint, if at all, is that many of the anecdotes seem to stop abruptly. For instance the story of Bournvita quiz and how it transitioned from Vividh Bharati to television to finally moving to the digital medium.

I would have loved to get an insight on how the YouTube edition of this much loved quiz programme worked out for the brand. But guess, that would have meant too many digressions.

In short, as the Pepsi ad goes yeh dil maange more.