Emotional ads. Unethical ads. The bias in-between
So, I take this particular road quite often and keep seeing this one hoarding – strategically positioned on the Ring Road – which a driver can hardly miss. The content on this hoarding keeps changing and all of them mostly belong to million-dollar brands (no small business can probably afford to buy this space). As Delhi’s permanently clogged traffic gives me enough time to engage with these messages on hoardings, I try and decode their real meaning. One common element in them is that they all sound quite ‘desperate’ to sell. While some try manipulating the truth, some hide the truth and some tell sheer lies—they even get celebrities to endorse that lie.
Of course, you all know this much. Or think you know. Since by now you all are aware of the many forms of advertising and marketing tactics, you mostly ignore such ads. You believe that you are a conscious and a thinking consumer who know how to make your buying decisions.
My purpose of writing this piece is to tell you that you may not be that smart a consumer as you think. It is not a pleasant fact to know, but the advertisers are still a step ahead of the majority of consumers in India. The creative minds at branding and sales promotion agencies are now playing subtle emotional games with you. And how did I reach this conclusion? Well, hear this: the hoarding that I just mentioned has a picture of this cute baby with an angry expression. And the message next to it reads: At the age of 18, your child will not be that cute when angry. Invest for her future...
Yes, that’s an ad for some investment plan – with the standard ‘market-related risks’ disclaimer – hitting right on my emotional nerve, making me think and urging me to act soon. Take another example of this noodles brand that thinks the world revolves round it. These days even a small statement from it becomes news. Now that it has passed the test and is deemed fine for consumption, it is trying hard to get back its visa to millions of Indians’ kitchens. We miss you too is their strategically designed comeback line. Are people really missing it or is it that a smart marketer is trying to tell you that you are the one who is not missing it, but the rest of the world is? With such media-buying prowess, ‘creating’ public opinion or starting some propaganda is an easy task for such brands.
The list of emotionally connecting, playing, disturbing, irritating and unethical messages in promotional communication is endless. There are these beauty/fairness/toiletries/make-up brands that do not mind labelling you ugly by setting their own benchmarks for beauty. And these benchmarks, they say, can only be met if their products are used.
Coming to the gadget guys, I have no words for them. Decode the subtle message in each phone’s ad and you’ll find them all to be same: Our device belongs to the future. If you do not possess this, you will be left behind in life. Phones have not become a status symbol, but have been made so by their sellers. The aspirational messaging in these ads is such that they push the youth against the wall. You should not be surprised to hear that most stolen items in urban areas are high-end mobile phones and the thieves are mostly youngsters who cannot afford them.
So what shall we do? There aren’t many options. Except to be a bit wary of the commercial purposes of sellers, to filter ads through your mind before they reach your heart, and to not shy away from raising your voice in case you find a promotion to be inappropriate.