At the Ad Review 2007, organised by Bombay Advertising Club, professionals from the industry and students from fields of management and advertising turned up to listen to Santosh Desai, former President of ex-McCann Erickson and now CEO of Future Brands. Desai delivered an hour-and-a-half-long presentation about the year that went by for advertising.
Desai addressed various issues in the growth of advertising and branding in India, through selected television commercials. Although there was just a disgruntled word about the lack of print and other non-television advertisements in the studies conducted year after year, the overall response that Desai received was positive.
“For this study, I looked for patterns and examples across various sources. It mostly encompassed making sense of a chaotic and large number of information that I had gathered,” Desai told exchange4media later.
Desai addressed various concerns within the industry in terms of branding, and looked at the kinds of trends that had emerged from the depiction of women in advertising to the lack of representation of the rural audience in the advertising industry.
“The way women are depicted in the advertising industry is changing to a certain extent. Earlier the obligation was to impress the mother-in-law, later it became the husband and so on. Even today, not a single advertisement has a woman addressing her husband by his first name, but rather by calling out ‘Unko’ and ‘Ji’,” he said.
Desai explored some of the changing images in advertisements that depict women. The new Kinetic advertisements for instance show the ‘new woman’, who works and deserves to have the same independence and freedom like that of a man.
In terms of the absence of a rural audience in Indian advertisement, Desai felt that this was one area where potential was still untapped. “We still do not have any advertisements that are directed to the vast rural market,” he observed.
Desai also spoke about the Voltas AC ad, where a little girl traps some air-conditioner air at a rich man’s house in a jar and takes it to the fields where her father, a farmer, works. When she opens the jar, he is refreshed by the breeze. Desai described it as an exploitative one, and said that it disturbed him.
“The advertisement says nothing about how effective Voltas is, and instead depicts things in a very shallow manner for the poor where that is all that a poor father and daughter can gain. What has Voltas done to demand any credit for this,” he asked.
At large, Desai felt that currently, while the quality of advertisements has gone up considerably, it is the ambition that has reduced. “There are some ads however, where advertising has become an art form, when it has a message that is so strong that it transcends itself, and it is these ads that are remembered. A great ad of this sort is often when the advertisement gives itself on the screen fully, but yet holds something back in it, there is always an element in the advertisement that you don’t quite understand, that you don’t grasp fully,” he said.
Desai added, “I think that if there is one thing that we need in 2007, it is a great conversation between people in the industry. We need to forget the politics and the points about advertising awards and just have a great conversation,” concluded Desai.
Speaking about the presentation, Bhaskar Das, Executive President-Response, The Times of India Group, commented, “What I liked is that he was not just showing off various ads, but that he understood the concept of trends and culture. Being a practitioner, I can relate to it. It was interesting to look at the angles he took on cultural and societal change. To my mind it was extremely educating.”
Ad Club’s Bipin Pandit also felt that it was brilliant. “It is one of the best presentations I have seen in the last eight years. He did a splendid job. He was very candid in his assessment and has come out openly with his views. I liked the fact that he was frank and honest, and this is what an ad review should be like. It is great for people in the industry to have the views of an expert who has been associated with it for 21 years, and I think it was a complete review. The feedback we have received has been unanimous in that he has done a splendid job.”
Subhash Kamath, CEO, Bates David Enterprise, said that Desai is an eloquent speaker. “He not only has tremendous stature and experience, but is capable of holding the audience spellbound. It is important to have both. I found it very entertaining. I would have been able to make the same points, but without half his expressions. He made some very telling points. It was a very entertaining and extremely loaded speech in my opinion. In comparison to last year, the big difference was that of having Desai instead of a creative director. The creative person is always talking in point of view of the creative idea and the creative politics, whereas Santosh makes you think -- he approaches the subject from a brand perspective.”