Sunday, November 29, 2009

Do ads really over-promise?

Imagine this scenario taking place in a hip bar in town.
You have your fifth drink stylishly balanced in your hand when a hot little thing walks over and you slyly wink at her and say, 'Hey, I'm wearing Axe.'
The girl says, 'Excuse me? You're what?'
You say, 'Come on, you know what the deal is. I'm wearing Axe! You're supposed to rip my clothes off and force me to have wild, uninhibited sex with you right now, right here, on this floor.'
The girl looks at you like you're wearing pig dung and says, 'Get out of my face! Or you'll be wearing your ass on your neck.'
All your confused lips can manage is a strangled plea, 'But I'm wearing Axe.'
SFX: Crrashh! Thud!
Agreed, the above sounds like a gross exaggeration, but that's the point being made.
Namely, that most ads tend to exaggerate the effects of their products.
In ads, kids who drink health supplements come first in races, or score the winning goal in inter-school championships and, of late, they're even coming first in studies.
Girls who use talcum powder bag a dream job over 15,000 other dejected (and of course rejected) girls who didn't have the foresight to rub this mildly-scented powder all over their bodies.
Men whose wives wash their clothes in Extra Powered detergent get promoted overnight from peon to Worldwide CEO.
People who drink tea suddenly become more socially responsible.
But when you shell out your hard-earned money on say, a deo, and clothe your stinking skin in it, you realise that no one even notices.
No one cares. (Maybe because at that very moment the other person is hoping you'd notice her new improved shampoo, the one that's supposed to make her win the Miss World contest.)
People in advertising are probably unaware of this.
Advertising folk and brand managers do not know that a deo can, at best, block body odour.
A tea can only refresh you for like 5 seconds.
A shampoo can merely dislodge a little dirt from the hair.
A car can just take you from point A to point B (provided a VIP is not visiting your city).
It can never take you from 0 to national celebrity in 6 seconds.
It's against the laws of physics.
Unless you're driving a magic wand with wheels and leather upholstery.
For one reason or the other, advertisers don't know that they're exaggerating.
And the consumers don't care that they are.
No one gives a flying Fa.
Consumers continue to lap up products regardless of the fairy tales in the ads.
A mother will, year after year, lovingly buy her 30 year old son a pen that's supposed to make him a Nobel prize winner, and he's still struggling to pass tenth standard.
Probably this is the result of living in a society where hundreds of competitive and yet identical products coexist.
If ten detergents exist and all of them can keep whites sparkling white, how are you going to choose one detergent over the other?
Luckily there are ads to help you make the right choice.
And so you buy the detergent that keeps clothes clean and helps you win an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling, and tutors you to become an Grammy-winning music composer, plus inspires you to build an 80 metre nuclear-powered rocket in your bathroom.
(From an article I wrote for

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bangalore’s curfew

Every night, by 11.30 pm, all the pubs and bars in Bangalore shut down. They are required to by law. Everyone agrees it’s a stupid law. Across the world, adults are free to party for as long as they want to. At 3 am, 4 am, 5 am in any progressive city, in any country, you can get a drink. In India, Mumbai, Delhi and Calcutta have a healthy night life, with pubs and bars open up to 3 am or later.
This law is supposed to cut down the crime rate in the city. If it was such an effective method, how come cities known for their high crime rate, like New York, Chicago, etc., haven’t adopted it?
Also, for the short time that the pubs and bars are open no one is allowed to dance. Yes dancing is a crime in Bangalore.
These rules have been in place for quite a few years now. Bangalore is used to having the police enter a pub by 11.15 and kicking you out. It is used to the police carrying away amplifiers (and sometimes DJs) from a pub in case they play music beyond 11.30.
Once Bangalore was like any other modern city. You could party till 2.30, 3 or even 5 am, depending on where you went. It was called the pub city of India. The crime rate wasn’t any higher then than it is now.
It’s been 4 years or so since the new ‘shut down by 11.30 pm’ order has been in place. Oddly no one has ever protested much against it. There have been stray articles in the papers. There was a token protest by partygoers. A TV channel covered the issue once. In 4 years that’s all that has happened. It’s obviously not enough. Why is it so? What are we so busy with that we can’t fight for our rights? Would a city like Mumbai tolerate such a law? Are we in the south too docile, too timid, too accepting? Or do we just not care?
Bangalore’s answer to the 11.30 rule is the after party. It begins once the pubs are shut. People buy their individual liquor, gather in someone’s home, and the party goes on.
The after party is not a real answer. It’s a make-shift solution. The real solution will only come from making the authorities abolish this absurd rule.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Simple ideas

A safety pin is reshaped to make the outline of a car. Below is Volvo’s logo. It was an ad for Volvo whose positioning was: The safe car. The ad won a lot of international awards ten or so years ago.

Another ad showed a single musical note with its dangling limbs bent, so it seemed like a note in the middle of a jaunty little walk – it was ad for Sony Walkman.

An antique store ran an ad with just a huge blurb that instead of saying ‘New’ like a lot of ads do, says ‘Old’.

An ad for FedEx showed an open FedEx courier box, inside it was another box on whose sides you could just about make out the DHL logo. There was no line, no copy. It was beautiful because it said FedEx is so reliable, even the competition uses it.

An ad for The Samaritans, a helpline for the suicidal, showed a close up of an ear. A line below said ‘Open 24 hours’.

A TV ad showed a lady flipping through the papers. She has hiccups. She stops to stare at one page. Her hiccups disappear. Close up of the page. It says - Surprisingly ordinary prices. Volkswagen . Only L 8175.

An ad for Club 18-30, a tourism package promoting sex among its customers, simply carried two words: Roger More.

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Reality check

How did the second World War start? One day when Hitler was trimming his mustache the queen of Austria pinched his bottom. A surprised Hitler fell and broke his ass in two. Hitler was very angry. He brought out his Panzers and the Luftwaffe and attacked Austria, Poland, Russia, France and all the Jews in Europe. In 1972 Churchill hit Hitler on the head with a huge speech about blood and sweat and defeated him.
Who was Fakruddin Ahmed? Fakruddin Ahmed was the prime minister of India during the 14th century. He was so named because he really liked women.
What is a quark? A quark is the worst kind of street thug you can find. Quarks usually hang out near bars in Cox Town and are very dangerous. The best way to deal with a quark when you see one is to lie flat on the road with your hands covering your ears. Quarks are fond of ducks since they quack.
These were the kind of answers some of my classmates used to write in school test papers. Our teachers would read them out loudly in class, much to our amusement.
But what’s really funny about these answers is the fact that they could be real. Scientists now believe the workings of the human mind are weirder than was earlier thought. They claim that each of us could have a different reality.
We do know that different people see the same thing differently. For instance, for a neo Nazi, Hitler is an infallible demi-god. For you and me, he’s an evil clown. But is it possible that for some Adolf is a hot waitress in a topless bar in Berlin? Can our realities be so different that each of us is living in his or her own universe? Some scientists are suggesting that it’s possible.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A boring existence

Unless you’re into drugs and live on a different planet, you must have realized by now that life on earth can be boring.

With all our 60” plasma tvs, ipods, 5 mp GPRS phones, 5000 TV channels, electronic music, Facebooks and Orkuts, race cars, sports, pot and pills, movies and celebs… life remains boring.

In fact, a lot of these things were created primarily to kill boredom. Television, mobile phones, the Internet, etc., may be the flotsam of scientific progress, but they are popular because humanity needs newer and newer ways of keeping boredom at bay.

The early man was busy hunting all day and spending time with his cave woman partner all night (teaching her the important lessons that you can’t mail order babies and that human propagation involves a lot of team work). He never had the time, or the intelligence, to get bored. With civilization came lots of free time in which man figured out that life is boooring.

So man invented wars, circuses, gladiators, magicians, private zoos, public executions, courtesans and art. Today’s version of which are football, Formula 1, cricket, HBO and gadgets. Plus, of course, sex, drugs and alcohol.

Through the ages man also tried to kill boredom through personal initiative. Some found a passion. Some chased a dream. Some fell in love. Some plunged into religion. And some plotted murders.

But no matter what anyone tried, or tries, boredom remains like the hooded guy with the sickle, sooner or later it gets every one.

The last two truly exciting things that happened on earth were Buddha and Jesus Christ. The next exciting thing will be the coming of aliens. If they visit us. If they exist .

Footnote: Do aliens exist? Nobody knows. But… the universe contains a hundred billion galaxies like our Milky Way, with a hundred billion squared stars (that’s one followed by 22 zeros). About 50% of these stars are supposed to have planets. A scientist friend once told me that even by the most conservative estimates, it’s perfectly logical to assume that many billion planets with intelligent life exist.

Footnote to above footnote: If you hold up a grain of sand, the patch of sky it covers contains 10,000 galaxies.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I like Bollywood movies but…

In an old Hindi movie a girl’s father announces, ‘Aaj Innispettor Gullu gaana gayenge’. Gullu doesn’t even pause to clear his throat and launches into a song – ‘… Happy burday to you, happy burday to Suniiiita….’ The rest of mankind has birthdays, Bollywood has burdays.

In one Amitabh Bachchan movie his horse falls in love with a bronze horse that’s part of a statue. And the two elope – the real horse and the bronze statue horse. The other part of the statue - a bronze general – is left dangling in the air.

In the movie Anand a man dying of cancer (Rajesh Khanna) sings songs and acts irritatingly chirpy throughout and keeps calling Amitabh Babu Moshoi. This is a landmark film because for the first time the villain and the hero don’t have a fist fight (but that’s only because the villain happens to be a cluster of cancerous cells).

If someone ever acts in one Hindi movie as a villain he’s going to spend the rest of his Bollywood career as a villain.

A Hindi film’s idea of acting is this - when the hero loses his father or mother he quickly rushes up to and sits on the nearest bed and turns his face away while covering it with his open palm and says something that sounds like ‘agggllluuuuu’.

For women, a Hindi film’s idea of acting this - at regular intervals the heroine calls out to her dad, ‘darry’ and pouts. Halfway through the movie she tells darry she’s in love with an orangutan who also happens to be a police officer and is bearing his child and wants to marry (rhymes with darry) him. At which point the Dad says ‘Munzoor hai. In fact Sunita, I quite fancy Inispettor Bundar myself.’

One Hindi movie was titled ‘Katilon ka katil’ (translation: The Assassin’s Assassin). What might that movie have been like.

Everything about a Bollywood movie is loud. The clothes they wear, the audiences, the acting, the songs, the characters, even the speakers in the theatres are all shrill and loud !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

All Bollywood ever makes is musicals. Even Bollywood thrillers have songs – guys chase each other in fast cars, shoot at each other, chuck bombs etc, but all the while they’re singing, ‘Roop tera mastana, hey look out! Grenade! …Pyaar mera diwana….’.

In all Hindi movies when they’re happy or sad or depressed or celebrating something or getting married or divorced or growing corn in the fields or babies in their beds or making love or war or picking their nose… they sing.

In movies from any other country they act.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The average ad

In most ads products solve problems they are not supposed to.
A chewing gum wins a guy a girl. A cola gives you the kind of euphoria that usually comes from doing illegal drugs. A deo makes you attract women the way Paris Hilton attracts paparazzi. A talcum powder lands you a job.
Most products will win you a girl. Or get you an undeserved promotion. How? No one knows but everyone buys this logic and hence the products. No one says, ‘Hey, I bought your chocolate and my sex life still sucks.’ (‘You got to give it time, ma’m. Keep having our chocolates.’ ‘For how long?’ ‘I don’t know, till you’re sixty and senile.’ ‘Ok, thanks. Have a nice one.’ ‘You too.’)
Wouldn’t it be nice if all a chocolate did was satisfy your craving for chocolate? The problem is there are so many chocolate brands. And they’re all alike.
The other thing about ads is, the people they show are always deliriously happy. Like they’ve just escaped from a lunatic asylum. And their hair is always shiny, their skin always smooth and their teeth always pearly. Unless they are in say, a shampoo ad, in which case, they start with ridiculously bad hair and end up with ridiculously good hair via the product which as a bonus also sorts out their sex life, avoids a major social blunder, prevents the third world war and finds a cure for cancer.
The average ad is just that, average. Here’s the exception -