The key to good communication, whether writing or speaking or advertising, is to keep it simple. Sadly, some advertisers find this hard to understand, going overboard with insensitive creations.
There are ads and there are ads. Some impress you so much you want to watch them again, again, and yet again. Like the Vodafone series with the zoozoos and before that, the pug by Hutch. Or the Idea commercial that aired for a limited period during Holi where a Malayalee gentleman walking down the street, sandal paste on forehead, white shirt and folded white dhoti, et al, discovers too late that it's Holi and gets splashed with colours by his own son whom he’s unable to recognize!
Ads such as these bring a smile to your face and leave the brand firmly implanted in your mind, and heart.
There are also ads that are irritating and offensive. They put you off so much that you switch channels when they are aired. There are three that come to mind immediately. The most offensive of them ought to be the one for the Micromax Canvas HD mobile phone. The ad shows a group of convicts with their hands tied behind their backs and lined up against the wall for execution in front of a firing squad. Some of them are wailing and they all have miserable, wretched looks on their faces. And then the squad fires and lo, all that comes out are VIBGYOR colours when the bullets hit them. A second round of firing and more colours are splashed on the wall in front of them, instead of the crimson of blood.
The message? That the Canvas’ high definition screen can portray myriad hues. But is there not a more dignified, subtler way of conveying the same message. Isn’t nature the best example you can give for colours? How about a garden of flowers? Or the Rajasthani turban or, for that matter, a Gujarati bandhini saree, both of which are a riot of colours? Aren’t these more aesthetic and civilised?
There is nothing pleasant about death, and death by execution, even if it is of hardened criminals. No civilised human being will want to watch the killing of a fellow human being, even in an ad. The Micromax ad is a disaster and needs to be condemned.
The second example is the latest in the series that Havell’s has been running. This one shows a mental asylum where a patient taunts the warden and is dragged kicking and screaming for a dose of shock treatment. But the faulty switch results in shock not for the patient but for the doctors and the warden. Do we want to see such an unpleasant sight as the administration of electric shock to a mentally ill person? To make it worse, the patients are portrayed in postures and actions which lack dignity — they do so only because they are mentally ill. Isn’t this demeaning to the thousands of unfortunate people who are mentally ill? And are they not insensitive and hurtful to families who may have such a relative?
The final example is the least offensive of the lot but distasteful all the same. This is the commercial from Tata Sky which shows an attempted prison break taking advantage of an India-Pakistan cricket match. Surely, there was a better way to advertise the recording facility available in the Tata Sky set-top box?
These ads may have left their mark on the minds of those watching them but for all the wrong reasons. Advertising is a creative art and over the years we have seen some brilliant creatives for even the humblest of products, like Amul butter for example. Trying to be smarter-by-half rarely works and most times either bombs or boomerangs on the creative artists, as it happened in the recent case of the Ford Figo creatives.
The trick in communication, whether writing or speaking or advertising, is to keep things simple. That’s the reason why the Amul ad has endured and endeared itself to consumers for more than four decades now.