Selling to men, they say, is easy. You basically promise them one of two things. Use this product and you’ll score with hot bikini models. Or, use this product and you’ll save time and money, which you can then spend on scoring with hot bikini models. Selling to women is even simpler. Use this product and you’ll be a hot bikini model. Of course, this is oversimplification. But it’s true-ish—and the manner in which this basic message is communicated to the consumer does change. It has done so, dramatically, over these past 20 years.
When MNCs do back-flips to prove how desi they are, we know we are the world’s marketplace.
India is the new Amreeka. Today’s bikini models are very happy-to-be-Indian. They dig a man with ‘Muh mein Rajnigandha, Kadmon pe duniya’. Twenty years ago, they were still very enamoured of the ‘phoren’ tag. Our advertising then was extremely ‘English medium’. Pepsi had been launched as a shiny, red-white-and-blue, all-American drink with the slightly condescending slug line, ‘Are you Ready for the Magic?’ The Maruti-1000 was being sold through a montage of slick, black-and-white images as ‘Mona Lisa’ played in the background. A few years later, Coke showed up and announced that India finally had access to the drink that was ‘Always the Real Thing’. Today, as India “claims its rightful place on the world’s stage”, MNCs are falling over each other to proclaim how desi they are. (I tell you, if one more MNC draws its logo in mehndi on the palms of an Indian bride, I will projectile-vomit!) In a bid to mine smaller and smaller towns, their ads end with almost interchangeable lines like ’India ki shaan’, ‘Designed for India’, ‘Understands India’, and ‘Dhak Dhak Go’. Coke is the national thanda, and everybody—homegrown or foreign—wants to be desh ka namak, cement, atta, AC, makkhan, toothpaste.
Guys are the new chicks. We’re still as enamoured of cricketers as we were in the early 1990s. Ditto Bollywood stars. The only new development being the rise of the stripped, sexy and sensitive male. A tastefully depilated Shahrukh soaking in a bathtub to celebrate 75 years of Lux started this trend, and since then we’ve seen John, Hrithik, Salman, Sunny, Ranbir and Imran follow suit.
Husbands are the new boyfriends. A pleasant development is the new informality and equality depicted in interpersonal relationships. Husbands in a 1990s detergent ad would come home and yell at their wives that the stain on their collars had cost them a promotion. Today, animated flowers float and romantic music plays as they coyly hang up bedsheets on the washing line together. Sons make fun of dads. D-i-Ls and M-i-Ls check out cute guys together.
Also, friends are the new family. Telecom is the new cola. Because, as Priyanka Chopra poutily puts it, “It’s not just a phone, it’s who you are.” It’s the device you use to create Brand You. It’s your weapon, your style statement, your force-mutiplier, your magic wand. More than your car, your cologne or your cola, it’s your phone that tells the hot bikini models who you are. It’s easily the more exciting category in advertising today.
Causes are the new USP. How is Aircel different from Airtel? Easy. Aircel is the one that’s saving the tigers. How is TOI different from HT? Easy, again. TOI is the one that’s ‘Leading India and Teaching India’. Idea is the one that’s telling us to send SMSes instead of wasting paper on printouts. And to ‘Walk while we Talk’. In a country battered with new scams and khulasas every day, I guess it’s probably inevitable that ‘moral science’ has ended up becoming standard advertising schtick.
The writer is an advertising consultant and a novelist