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BW Businessworld

Analysis: Intent And Its Import

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From the beginning to the end, this case study has been quite a journey. The journey unfolded in such a way that one could see how the issue and the opinions formed ‘swayed' with each other — from being anti-sensationalist and mindful of hurting sentiments of entire communities and nations through sitting up and connecting with the intent to respecting the idea and then, finally, pondering over the issue as a whole.  That's an awful lot in the space of a few thousand words!

The first part of the case confirmed my stance against ‘shockvertising' — that it was a way to get cheap publicity and was completely irresponsible. The second part opened up for me the different perspectives and the need to be open to them, but without changing my stance about the blindness of such campaigns as well as their propensity to create more hatred. I was still responding only to the ‘picture' by itself. Even my prurient best was offended. My mind was simply made up. I had also formed my own less than complimentary opinion of Dushyant Verma, Frequa's brand manager.

The third part was a story of transformation. There is a compelling world behind the ‘offensive' picture, one that opens up realities that we are silently surrounded by, that have such a deep impact on the emerging world and certainly form a legacy for the future. "Frequa is more than a watch. It is the witness of time," says Dushyant. This layer — being a witness of time — is compelling, and complex.

There are many things happening in the world of today that are great and there are many that one simply cannot believe are happening. So the brand invites identification from the helpless watchers who are disturbed by what is happening, whether the discomfort is about politicians who can bend any law to suit their vested interests, or priests who misuse their role to feed their ‘passions'.  From this perspective, there is an activist element in the ad that forces people to confront and own the responsibility of their position and role.
So the ad, by itself seen as shocking, actually represents an offensive on figures of authority who have blatantly misused their positions.

In Benetton's ‘Unhate' campaign, embedded in the intense visuals is a strong voice that makes you question the different forms of hate (towards religion, gender, race sexual orientation, etc.) all around us and could be seen as a plea to shed from ourselves that part which is drawn to hate and all its horrible consequences.

However, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". While the intent behind the campaign is noble, the impact may be completely at odds with it.  Can one end up ‘demonising' an entire group? Should all priests and indeed entire communities carry the cross of a ‘defaulting' member? What impact are we creating? Are we ending up destroying an entire group, their history, their raison d'etre, indeed their being, by using the exploits of a few members of that group? In this there is a danger of the activist himself becoming a terrorist. Dushyant is more involved with the intent of his message but it is the impact that holds the lasting consequences.  Who is going to clean up that mess?

Can those, like Barack Obama, who represent the surge of what is truly democratic, be used as a representation for the gay community? What impact do we have on what he represents for minorities across the world? The unintentional consequence of attempting to ‘unhate' gays could in fact end up depleting the vibrant gains of democracy.

The legacy of holy cows may be about not confronting the corruption of power, but can one, under the garb of opening things up and not subscribing to blind faith, resort to being vicious towards an individual or a group? The person being spoken to in the campaign may be someone who has a clear perception of reality, unsullied by previous generations and not mindlessly swallowing his ‘legacy', but what about the collateral damage?

At the base of it all, a skeptical side of oneself also asks: "Behind all this apparent activism, is there also a simple need to get more eyeballs?" If the activism is unreal and simply a ploy, then we are in the realm of the purely manipulative. The stories have run dry and here could be an attempt to recreate another gladiatorial battle, one that will pit the ‘pure and pristine, sometimes rebellious youth-hero' against the ‘evil ogre of an establishment that is rotten to the core'. You get the eyeballs and a lot more hatred and turmoil. More grist for the media mill. The manner in which a large number of our television channels have a continuous, un-interrupted ‘Breaking News' section may point to an overall media need to sensationalise. I am not sure what the real intent is. It seems to oscillate between nobility, on the one hand, and pure manipulation on the other, coupled with the building of a story-line in retrospect.

The author is a psychologist-psychoanalyst who works as the coaching talent manager for Center for Creative Leadership. He is based in Singapore

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 07-05-2012)