A very quiet advertising year

Written by Geeta Rao | Updated: Dec 30 2004, 05:30am hrs
It was a year in which advertising was quieter and less experimental. It was a year in which the business grew worldwide. It was a year in which no new creative Gods or gurus were created. It was the year of celebrity advertising. It was the year we were supposed to have conquered Cannes with our creativity but did not. It was the year the Advertising Agencies Association of India proved that it was a better forum to meet and mingle, and seriously network than the Abbies. It was the year international advertisers wanted to be uber Indian karva chauth, sindoor, Bollywood- style Indian cliches while small town Indian advertisers wanted to be western and urban.

It was also the year Rajnigandha paan masala wanted to take over the East India Company giving credence to the fact that in advertising anything goes. It was a year, as McCann creative director Ramanuj Shastry says in Stoppardian tones, in which nothing startlingly original happened, it is almost as if the powers that be are saying, when we get rich you can be bad. But they dont understand you have to be bad to get rich.

It is fashionable to moan and groan at the state of advertising when the year comes to a close and, like the rest of my tribe, I have my favourite grouses. The fact that the representation of women continues to be cliched and stereotypical is one. Recently I saw an ad from the central government about a girls marriage plans in peril because the family did not have a safe and hygienic loo in the village home and advocated a bio-degradable pee in the outdoors. A loo was built and voila out came the shehnai and sindoor.

Now what have we done to deserve this First, we dont get married because we are not fair enough, then because our houses have not been painted with Nerolac paint and the ladkawaallas dont like it.

Then there are ads from some insurance companies, tom-tomming the old cliches of saving for your daughters marriage and sons higher education. In all of this, Fair and Lovely comes out as the most progressive. For, if we are to believe Fair and Lovely, now at least we get rejected not by suitable boys but by airline recruiters, cricket selectors and the like. The universe of rejection has become more modern and contemporary.

Amitabh Bachchan is the most glaring advertising cliche there can be after the womens lot. Twelve brands, said The Economic Times, used him in one way or the other to endorse their brands in 2004. The net effect was about 1,200, making Mr Bachchan the most visible presence on the small screen and the brands he endorsed the most invisible. Sadly, the backlash of this all-encompassing TV presence will be felt by Mr Bachchan himself.

The public is merely bored and confused. Brands that were guaranteed to give us good ads disappointed. Pepsi, usually smart in its witticism, left me cold. Orange, which tugged at the heart-strings with its dog and boy commercials, did not take the idea anywhere. Titan disappointed with Aamir Khan. The fit just didnt seem right, especially after Aamir has been used so extensively in Cokes Indian man commercials. Detergents and agarbattis, the big daddies of advertising spend, seemed quieter even though Ghari detergent was among the largest advertisers on cable television this year.

Some of the popular ads have been from SBI The old couple and a diamond ring, a clear indicator that you dont have to be too boring or serious when it comes to financial advertising. Dominos pizza stuck to Paresh Rawal and honed in the point that their pizzas were delivered on time. Ditto Nokias Dakiya, which made its point with charm.

But 2005 will be a year to look forward to. The business is growing. Newer categories are creating newer ways of communication. It will be the year of telecom. It will be the year of mobile ideas that carry across media, especially on the cell. It will be the year when our ads go techno-cool. It will be the year of the creative boutique and the creative project worker. It will be the year in which corporate communication directors will come of age as communication goes beyond the agency.

It will be the year of quick turnaround rather than endless debate. It will usher in a new era of high-end life style advertising. And a new rural voice that is not all about showing the villager as a naive idiot. It will be a year in which the pie, or the laddoo, will be bigger, better, tastier, and everyone will be invited for a bite. We can be both rich and bad. Ramanuj will be a content man. Happy new year.

The writer is a Mumbai-based advertising professional