Emo­tional ads. Un­eth­i­cal ads. The bias in-be­tween

Consumer Voice - - Editor's Voice - Padma Ed­i­tor

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.

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