Random Thoughts

The Dreams Sold by Ads

The recent elections in Madhya Pradesh set off a veritable ad war. In making extravagant claims of accomplishments of the government during the last five years the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took recourse to exaggerations and bluffs. Photographs of green farms and silky smooth highways were picked up from the internet and passed on as achievements of the government.

Keeping a keen eye, the men of the Opposition – the Indian National Congress – pounced at the opportunity screaming that the ads of the saffron brigade were a “collage of lies”. The Congress in the opposition has been quite bitchy even otherwise. This was election time and it lost no time to go all out to embarrass the party in power and unleashed a frontal attack. 

That the efforts of the Congress did not yield any result is not quite relevant. But, quite plainly, it too has been economical with truth in making claims and promises to the people in case it happened to wrest power from the BJP. Electioneering being virtually a war of words everything would seem to be fair in it; lies, slander, defamation, denigration and even vilification of the opponents are kind of par for the course. Whoever is able to convince the voters even with lies and untruths carries the day.

At elections candidates are out to sell themselves and they would seem to promote themselves any which way using whatever means that delivers the desired result. When it comes to the crunch, promotion of an individual or a product in the market is largely based on only a wee bit of fact mixed with a hefty portion of fiction. In these days of plummeting ethics and commercialisation of virtually everything (including votes) it is the claims and counter claims of achievements, mostly wild, are targeted at the audience. After all, the idea is to manipulate thinking and behaviour of the objects of their efforts.

That is what advertising is all about. It has been defined as a form of marketing communication “aimed to encourage, persuade or manipulate an audience (viewers, readers, listeners; sometimes a specific group) to take or continue to take some action.” The action desired aims at driving consumer behaviour towards choosing the advertised ­­­object – be that a commodity or an individual.

In today’s highly competitive society truth has virtually fallen by the wayside, more so at the market place. Manufacturing ads in text or in audios or visuals has become an industry and the copywriters are bright young people with an acutely imaginative mind, specialising in communicational skills that enable conveying an idea – true or false – with as much of brevity as possible. After all they are out to not only to persuade people, they, in fact, wish to influence them to make the desired move or decision. They are “creative” people selling dreams - visually and textually.

One cannot avoid their creativeness or inventiveness. These are visible all over – in newspapers, billboards, posters, et al. They are, however, most pervasive and, one dares say, effective on the television which is the prime audio-visual medium today. Almost everyone has a TV set, whether in a shanty or in a palatial house. With its great reach through the satellites viewers in far flung parts of the country and even abroad get exposed to the “creativeness” of these creative people. Some of them are indifferent to their imaginative messages and some others take them – even if misleading – as gospel truths. The gullible fall victims of these creative ads and succumb to their claims that are mostly exaggerated and often false.

Thus one finds ads suggesting regular use of an energy drink of malted milk enables a school-going child to get celebrated as the “student of the year”; use of a particular brand of sanitary napkins enables a teenage girl to top the board examinations; application of creams, lotions and face washes lighten and whiten the skin in a jiffy; use of shampoos laced, inter alia, with dry fruits are claimed to be anti-dandruff and prevent hair-fall making (women’s) hair silky and lustrous; brushing teeth with a brand of toothpaste kills germs crawling like ants all over on the gums and in the gaps between the teeth, lending to them a sparkling white sheen; use of a particular brand of pressure cooker imparts an amazing taste and flavour to a dessert of grated carrot, popularly known as gaajar ka halwa and so on. The commercial breaks every ten or fifteen minutes in half-hour slots are the occasions when one is carpet-bombed with ads, brief stories contrived by imaginative copywriters, generally in an effort to con the viewers into taking to the product.

Some of the advertisers, particularly of cosmetics, unfortunately try to exploit the weaknesses of their audience. We the non-white people of Africa and Asia are, by and large, colour-conscious, having a distinct weakness for fairer complexion. While some Africans crave to lighten their skin tones, the craze is no less, for example, in Indonesia. And, in India the classified ads section of newspapers are full of matrimonial ads that look for only fair-complexioned brides – regardless of caste, community or economic status. A report earlier this year was extreme in nature and somewhat unnerving too. At an IVF clinic in India a childless woman desired a Caucasian donor so that the child blended with her husband’s fairer family.

This craze for fairness is being exploited by manufacturers of beauty products for which India seems to have become a significant market. Indian manufacturers like Lakme, Himalaya and some multinationals like Nivea, Garnier, Ponds, Vaseline, etc are in the market, aggressively pushing their varied products. In their chase for that El Dorado of unblemished beauty, Indian women – young or old – and, yes, even men are spending huge sums out of their not always generous pay-packets. Seeking flawless skin with an even tone and that elusive fairness coupled with protection from ultraviolet rays young and old are consuming newer and newer generation of beauty lotions and potions. The way the fairness creams are being advertised, it seems, a few generations later Indians will overcome their brown complexion. Of late, Dove owned by Unilever has entered the market in a big way and is trying to outdo all others’ equally competitive products with its smooth copies and attractive videos.

Indian women seem to have fallen lock, stock and barrel for the beauty products so much so that currently the cosmetic market in the country is estimated to be worth US $I.5 billion and is likely to double up to approximately $3 billion by 2014. Hopefully, the users are aware of the risks involved in indiscriminate use of these products purveyed by now almost a thousand-odd manufacturers and are not taken in by their glib copies in slick ads. According to Dr. Frank Lipmann of the Voice of Sustainable Wellness of the US, most cosmetics and personal care products contain five major toxic ingredients and these are “hidden” carcinogens; endocrine or hormonally disruptive; penetration enhancers; and allergens. Unlike in the case of tobacco, cosmetic products contain no warning although these could be life-threatening to “the user and the foetus following maternal use and absorption through the skin into maternal and foetal blood”

None of these risks is ever mentioned in any of the cosmetic ads. After all, most ads are “collages of lies”. Even Samuel Johnson found in their soul only “promise, larger promise” and HG Wells branded them as “legalised lies”.


More by :  Proloy Bagchi

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Views: 3318      Comments: 3

Comment I take on board what you say, but to suggest advertisers set out to 'con' people implies people are not aware of this, that they are easily fooled. Thus the literary persons mentioned in your article are credited with insight in calling ads 'lies'. People are well aware that advertising makes an exaggerated claim, they actually smile, or, in the case of a bad ad, groan; what sells a product is the affective association with the ad, the experience of glamour or cleverness in the ad transferring to the product advertised. The worst one can say is that people are willingly conned by a good ad! - which is to say they are not so much conned as drawn by the highest affective factor in competing products achieved in the ad. A pleasing ad is thus the guarantor of a good product; and though we know this is not always the case, as people ruled by our affections, not by our intellects - as would include the literary figures mentioned who might be just as prone to advertising as explains the cut of their clothes or choice of soap - it is nigh impossible to educate people to choose wisely, when choice itself is determined by affection, which in politics explains the diversity of opinion supported.

16-Dec-2013 10:10 AM

Comment One cannot really be impractical and suggest that advertising should be banned. Media is heavily dependent on them. What is being suggested that they should not try and fool people as the political parties and business houses and even the governments do.

Advertising indeed has become an art form with fantastic copies. and graphics. One wonders whether there is a correlation between their excellence and indifferent quality. But one cannot deny that the whole idea and the trouble taken and money spent on bringing attractive ads is to con the people. This has been going on for centuries. Perhaps earlier, advertisements were more in the nature of information than out and out efforts to sel a product by hook or by crook.

16-Dec-2013 02:11 AM

Comment Before going off on a tangent on the specific issue of 'skin-whiteners' the author laments the practice of advertising that supposedly leads the general public astray. But never does he suggest advertising be banned. The implied plea he makes is that advertising be truthful, which, having stated it like that, sounds funny. Advertising is an art form. It is all about charming the general public not educating it; and the public are endeared to the product by the quality of the advertising. That advertising does its job proves not that members of the general public are fools - a housewife is far more discerning a shopkeeper than literary authors - but that they associate the product with the excellence of its advertising, and so partake of that quality by buying the product.

14-Dec-2013 22:23 PM

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