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Guest Column: Advertising and the lost art of subtlety: Bodhisatwa Dasgupta

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Guest Column: Advertising and the lost art of subtlety: Bodhisatwa Dasgupta

It’s Thursday evening, and it’s raining outside. I would have kept the windows open, but the damn insects keep getting in, and flying straight into my iced Absolut. Good for them, bad for me.

So instead, the AC is on.

Doing what I generally do when my wife is late from work, I notice my Facebook is flooded with people sharing this particular ‘Cobra Deo – Now Bigger’ ad. I don’t click the link because I’ve seen it once before.

Now I like jerkin’ the gherkin as much as the next bloke, if not more. And I’d probably keep watching the video, sharing it, talking about it if the commercial was any good. Which unfortunately, it isn’t.

And forget the fact that it’s been done before for Perrier. Forget the fact that a client had great courage to release this. Forget that DD, a channel that’s known to wrinkle their furry brows at anything that’s remotely sexual let this go on air. Forget that it’s aired on channels that young kids watch.

It’s a really bad film.

For the ones who haven’t seen this film (what, you guys don’t have Facebook?) here’s what happens. And I’ll try and script it out like the writer must have.

The film opens on a table. We see a can of Cobra Deo bang in the center. From the left, we see a female hand with red nail polish softly stroke the can with two fingers, and not a finger more.

As the camera moves closer, we see that none of the fingers are actually touching the can, so as it arouses people. We want to bring in the suspense here, keep people guessing as to what’s going to happen.

The camera goes closer, and we see the can growing. And the word ‘Live’ lights up on the can. The trick is to subliminally pass the message that her hand is making the can come alive.

The camera goes closer, and now her other hand joins in. They both move around the can like they were washing a Bone china cup – a little too tenderly. Finally, the hands move away and the can begins to shake.

The cap of the can pops open with the same SFX that’s used when opening a bottle of soda. Following which, we see a spray of deodorant. And in the spray (wait for it!) we see the words Cobra Deo being spelled out.

Cut to product window.

Let’s cut to the client presentation. The writer gets up to narrate the film and says “From the word go, your logo, VI John will be on the screen on the bottom right. The films opens on…”

And the client (I’m guessing) must have said “Let me stop you right there.”

Nervous glances between agency people.

Client continues with a smile “You had me at ‘your logo’. Let’s shoot!”

Now here’s the thing. Sex is a great thing. And the great thing about it is, you can treat it any way you want to. It can be sexy, it can be romantic, it can be sad, it can be steamy, it can be boring, it can be funny.

And many commercials have shown sexual situations, and treated them in various ways to push a point forward. Many international commercials, that is. Indian agencies and directors on the other hand haven’t really understood how to treat sex.

Take the Wildstone commercial that was aired in Jan 2009 for example. The setting – a house in Kolkata during Durga Puja. The plot - a young man bumps into a married woman, she smells his manly smell and they indulge in a bit of the old in and out.

The commercial is layered with stereotypes.  And forget the fact that most Bengali boudis would take offence at this and emit a strange guttural noise akin to a horse neighing, the sex scene is again really appalling.

The couple is seeing to be gyrating to the beating of the dhak downstairs. I’m sick in the head, and even I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.
The point I’m trying to make by perhaps being a little unnecessarily mean, is that we just don’t get sex. And as advertisers, as brand custodians, we’re obsessed with meaningless whipping the willy… 

Be it by carefully art directing ads of a brand that nobody’s ever heard of, releasing in newspapers that nobody’s going to see, and winning awards that nobody outside of advertising will give a flying fugmoshi about.

Or be it, by selling a film to a client promising it’ll go ‘viral’ (Sir, free PR hain!), knowing it’ll do absolutely nothing to the brand.

We love stroking each other’s ego, making it bigger and prouder.

Question is, are we doing justice to the brands we occasionally come on?


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