Media experts have time and again commented on the weakening of advertising as a discipline over the years. From the increase in scams, black-book advertising and shortcuts as seen in some celebrity ads, to the decrease in icons created by advertising, jingles that stayed forever and a campaign to remember – the grievance list goes on. Alyque Padamsee and Piyush Pandey spoke on these issues in a new series, ‘Provocations’, organised by the Subhash Ghosal Foundation.
The intent of the evening was clear – Padamsee would provoke Pandey on the changes that had taken place in Indian advertising. Padamsee began with his belief that Indian advertising, TV in particular, had become generic – case in point, according to him – Fevicol, great ads but where is the product in the ad? Pandey was quick to reply, “TV isn’t meant to do a salesman job. Brand building doesn’t happen by giving three reasons why your product is better than someone else’s. One mustn’t forget that an ad is an intrusion into people’s life and when you intrude you have no business educating them. What an advertiser is looking for is a product window and that is what good ads are today.”
Padamsee went on to argue that while such ads might work in a no competition category, it was difficult to have them in a fiercely competitive segment. Pandey didn’t refute that, but was again quick to point out that Fevicol not having competition was a myth. “In fact, every city has its own ‘kol’. At the national level, there was competition which was killed, but it is the local products, which are more of a concern – a glue at the end of the day is glue,” he quipped.
Taking from here, Padamsee brought out another point – do awards drive the nature of an ad? To this Pandey replies, “While I agree that an ad has to be memorable and clutter breaking, we are seeing too many ads that aren’t hard hitting but funny and unusual and even awards are bestowed on such ads. Is this in any form driving that kind of advertising?” “Look at Surf Excel. That is a great straight ad,” he added.
Another point that the gurus debated on was surrogate or scam ads. Replying to Padamsee’s questions whether scams happened in advertising, Pandey agreed that they did. “However, you must know how to distinguish. Some people call one-off ads scams, but I don’t think so. Then there is proactive advertising and some great ads wouldn’t have happened – whether it is Lalitaji or Zor Lagaa Ke Haisha – if it wasn’t for the agency proactiveness. I wouldn’t call those scams,” he added.
Regarding the treatment given to women in advertising, Padamsee accused present day advertisers of just presenting a grinning housewife. Accepting this fact, Pandey defensively said that he tried his best to avoid it.
While speaking on the topic of bold ads and the objections that bodies like ASCI could raise, Padamsee asked how could an agency fight for its creativity, even when it came to clients? Pandey replied, “Nothing succeeds like success, so showing some of the past successful works help. At some level, persuasion helps. Also, you have to stick your neck out once in a while when you are convinced. And then of course, you can always take the client out and get him drunk.”
Broaching then the subject of shortcuts in advertising, Padamsee began with the use of celebrity in advertising and how that had played its role in depleting creativity. Pandey replied, “Yes, that is disgusting, but there are examples where they have been creatively used too, and one of them is Aamir Khan in ads like Coca Cola and Titan. I would say in this case that the pressure to use a celebrity to deliver the maximum is on us.”
Replying to Padamsee’s remark that creativity per se was receding in Indian advertising, Pandey said, “I would not make a sweeping statement like that. In fact, the level of creativity in Indian advertising has gone up and we should be proud of that. People are accepting many new things today, which is a good sign for us.”
Padamsee questioned Pandey on the subject of the sudden emergence of Hinglish in Indian advertising. While Pandey agreed that the blame had been put on him several times, he had never used Hinglish in his works.“The whole funda of Hinglish is a myth. There isn’t even a single ad in Hinglish that was successful. That said, what people are doing is using more everyday language and you see these trends in movies as well, which the more youthful they are, the more they use such language,” he added.
The gurus’ repartee continued on several other points as well and the subjects like the casting couch were also brought up. However, another key point came forward when a question was posed on whether an advertiser should use or like a product before working on it. Pandey replied, “You have a responsibility as a communicator and you have to do it, whether or not you like the product.” Padamsee, on the other hand, said, “You must at least try it, otherwise then you are only swindling the consumer.”
Words never heard before? Not really, but there was no denying that two men of passion spoke on the industry they love and have contributed much to, and when they spoke, the crowd listened in rapt attention.