Our advertisements today can be classified as ‘The harmless and the harmful.' Strangely, there are no qualms, morals or otherwise on the part of the advertisers as it is the end that is important, and not the means.

Advertisements have of late created such a consumerist society that more harm is done than good for not only the present generation but for generations to come just to make that fast buck which is the “pressing need of the hour.” At a recent religious function at my daughter's house in Mangalore, I saw a boy of six or seven walking about, spraying a freshener in the puja room, full of burning incense and ‘homa' fire (sacred fire) all the while mumbling to himself, “The smell has not yet gone in spite of my spraying so much room freshner!”

What struck me right at that moment is the strength of advertisements for room freshners that had instigated the little boy to destroy the delicate ozone a little more! Even better is the recent advertisement on the small screen of a child springing from his father's arms straight into the air propelled by the smell of sweat and comes only down after the man washes himself with a certain soap!

Today's society moves freely on advertisements, large and small of varied shapes and hues. A few decades ago, maybe in the early 1950s, advertisements were displayed on small and big hoardings or as wall posters or at the opportune moments as starters, fillers or breaks during the screening of a film in theatres.

Newspapers and magazines would carry advertisements all in the right way and anything out of the way would be presented discreetly only in selected magazines, but rarely in newspapers. There was an unwritten moral code followed for advertisements and we, children or our parents in the late fifties, were never embarrassed whilst going through newspapers or magazines, Indian or foreign, as reading was the only ‘safe and allowed pastime' for people of all ages those times!

The advertisements today can be classified as ‘The harmless and the harmful.' Strangely, there are no qualms, morals or otherwise on the part of the advertisers as it is the end that is important, and not the means, unlike the teachings of Gandhiji, who believed that means should justify the end. There are many harmless advertisements like the one showing girl who, whilst escaping with her boyfriend in a car, turns around to see her parents and brother offering her a chocolate for shubh aarambh! The advertisements for some soaps are really lovable especially the little one who adores her mother, which really make us smile in sympathy with bringing up children, especially we, parents and grandparents, who have gone through it all; or the one in which the little girl runs saying ‘mummy' to the rather too young looking mother being mistaken for a college girl!

Advertisements per se are not all bad. They are here to stay and are the mainstay of companies, small and big, which advertise their products and sell them as well as possible, a very difficult job indeed due to recession and a stiff cut-throat competition, and, of course, which help to sponsor various TV programmes! But sadder is the fact that many products such as detergents, gold finance companies and soft drinks, aerated and otherwise, have brand icons in famous personalities from sports, films and even a much admired higher-up in the police force! So also the different talismans to change your future and help you to rake in wealth, which are prominently advertised time and again even now after there was a case against doing so! Certainly, a little discreetness and moral responsibility to salvage one's own conscience when advertising would do the consumer a lot more good! Society is already in the doldrums and it is the bounden duty of one and all in every sphere of life, especially in advertising whether it's the print media or visual medium, to act now to create a society built on values.

One can cite the example of clothier John Wanamaker, who at times is called the father of modern advertising and who had built his business on values and whose retail business grew into one of the world's first department stores, instilled in his employees the attitude of the utmost honesty. Once when he reduced the price of his neckties to 25 cents, the marketeer asked him, ‘Are they any good?' The necktie advertisement was finally written as, ‘They are not good as they look but they are good enough at 25 cents.' And to be sure, they were sold like hot cakes. As writer Isaac Asimov puts it: “I don't subscribe to the thesis, ‘Let the buyer beware,' but I prefer the disregarded one, ‘Let the seller be honest!'

(The writer's email id is: paisuman@yahoo.co.in)

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