Confessions of an Advertising Caveman

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At times, little needs be said, sir

IN THE GALLERY of cave art that is Indian advertising, most of the award-worthy attention being grabbed is by campaigns aimed at getting the male of the species to evolve, going by our rich haul of ‘metals’ this year at Cannes, an annual festival held in that city to celebrate the good work done by ad agencies around the world. As reported, BBDO, Ogilvy & Mather, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi, J Walter Thompson, McCann and a healthcare hotshop called Medulla are among the winners.

Of the Indian ads going places, one of the most clever has been doing this right here in India, fanning stealthily across the country’s highway network. ‘Use Dipper at Night,’ it says, and it wasn’t even created by the agency that won an award for it, Rediffusion Y&R. It’s a line that is already on the back of six million trucks. The idea that’s drawing applause is the launch of a brand of condoms called Dipper. Sourced from HLL Lifecare by the agency’s client Tata Motors and distributed along roads to promote safe sex, the brand’s wrappers are designed to appeal to an estimated 2 million truck drivers whose overnight halts are just as reckless as their daytime grunts. ‘Have a safe journey’, a Tata initiative, is reaching its audience without spending a paisa on media space.

In a country where Corporate Social Responsibility gets reduced to a mandatory CSR expense, or a budget for bragging rights, Dipper speaks well of what India’s top lorry maker has been up to (pity about Tata Motors’ Brexit battered stock, though).

Meanwhile, millions of other males who need to leave the Stone Age happen to be sitting glued to ‘smart’ screens at home. The detergent brand Ariel Matic deploys paternal emotion to take on this dog-tail challenge with its Share the Load TV commercial. Crafted by BBDO as a 120-second spot, it’s easy to see why it has won such a pride of Lions at Cannes. Its voiceover takes the form of an apology letter from an ageing father to his daughter, now a harried working mother with a messy son and lazy husband to juggle with a busy corporate job. She whirls into the house, checking on the kid’s homework, the father’s tickets, this that and the other, even as she promises to email a presentation in five minutes to someone on the phone. “I’m so proud,” goes the father’s voice, “... and so sorry.” And with that, he launches into a lengthy confession, his regret going all the way back to her upbringing, the bad example he set at home and the house-house she would play as a child. He’d also like to say sorry, he adds, on behalf of his son-in-law who probably had a dad like hers, and for all the do-nothing dads who’ve been such bad role models for boys. But maybe it’s not too late, he says, as visuals of him helping out at home take over the screen. ‘Why is laundry only a mother’s job?’ asks the ad-film, with a hashtag asking ‘Dads’ to ‘ShareTheLoad’.

Again, it’s a nudge, not a push—the secret of persuasion in many theatres of life, especially ones where testosterone plays conditioner-in-chief of attitudes. And this, from a brand that marked its domestic debut in the early 1990s with a cop-out of a saas-bahu commercial.

Another award-winning poser—nay, googly—is Ogilvy’s Beauty Tips from Reshma, a campaign for an NGO called Make Love Not Scars that appears to be aimed at women. “Hi girls,” begins a woman on the screen. This is Reshma and she is here to offer make-up tips. The day’s goal? ‘How to get perfect red lips’. First, she says, you brush the dead skin off, then apply lip balm to soften them, the right shade of lip- liner next, and the lipstick only after that—and only on the lips, mind you, not the edges. All this, while you try not to bat an eyelid in her gaze, let alone recoil in the horror of what must’ve given her those tell-tale scars. The final tip, she says, is on buying beauty aids. Lipstick is available just about everywhere, she says, matter-of-factly, like acid is…

All goes grim as a hashtag for ‘endacidsales’ appears on the screen. India has an acid attack victim every day, says the ad-spot, calling for a retail ban on the deadly fluid.

Wrought with irony, Reshma’s appeal makes no reference to male egos, offers no social pathology reports, and asks for nothing more than what can and ought to be done rightaway.

At times, little needs be said, sir. What’s on the cave wall is a reminder enough of the brute within.