Going Up In Smoke
The advertising idea needs to be crafted from an in-depth understanding of the problem
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There is an anti-tobacco campaign, ‘Smoking will cost you’ that has been running in Delhi cinema halls for a very long time. Too long, in my opinion. It features a young daughter and her chain-smoking father who, while together watching a TV commercial about smoking’s harmful effects, magically decides to chuck the habit, embraces his daughter and it’s happily ever after.
This, and two other ads that also play back to back (featuring patients in hospital afflicted with different forms of tobacco-induced cancer, and callous smokers at public places being nabbed by cops), are films that leave behind a strange after-taste, have perhaps been made on a shoe-string budget, to a highly predictable storyline, with lowly paid actors, and possibly delivered against an insane deadline. Every time any of these ads start to play, I cringe, and wonder why the campaign has not been taken off the media yet.
Why do we give short shrift to such important issues of our times? Why can’t the right resources be employed to solve problems that potentially can have a multiplier effect on our national well-being?
It is surprising how many of our social communication ads still rely on the age-old formula of casting out messages, instead of practising engagement. Even the Rahul Dravid ‘Raise the wall against smoking’ campaign sounds preachy, although the metaphor is appropriate. I am reminded, more vividly than ever, about the very essence of good communication… that the audience isn’t an absorbent sponge, that they have minds and hearts and senses that uniquely respond. And so, the starting point should always be a reverse engineering from what response you seek, rather than planning on what message you wish to emit. The advertising idea needs to be crafted from an in-depth understanding of the problem.
The male protagonist (smoker) in the commercial, did not receive any dramatic impetus that could plausibly have triggered change. A tobacco user today is well-versed with information on what harmful effects its use can cause. And so, when one plans to bring about behavioural change, pure information is not enough. It needs orchestrated influencing of other motivations that could transfer a current state of equilibrium to supplant it with another.
Letting go of a habit can only happen if in its place a more powerful inducer is made to become more important. As an example, in smoking interventions, the ‘pull’ of peer approval could be substituted by the fear of jeopardising the health of one’s own child. However, such a desired response cannot be evoked by a prescriptive method. If you’ve seen the video of the musical cigarette lighter fixed outside some paanwalla shops that chants “Ram Naam Satya Hai” whenever someone presses a button to light up a cigarette, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
It requires a story that presents information in a surprisingly different way… that leads and inspires. Often sensitive execution makes a vital difference in carrying through an accurate strategy. Compare and contrast with the beautifully executed “Respect your National Anthem, Respect your Nation” film.
One can understand if governmental campaigns do not usually result in intelligent, effective communications because the architects of the client brief are conditioned to play safe. Naturally, bidding agencies also fall in line to ensure they qualify on the basis of all the safe criteria, including winning projects on lowest costs to deliver films that are mostly a drag. But more must be done to stoke the corporate sector to utilise their CSR funds and make a difference in persuasion and activation of such burning issues of our times.
Or else, the larger plans to make a dent on use of tobacco in the country would just go up in smoke!
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