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The Not So Hidden Persuaders

Advertising can actually be like a balm to the spirit that is otherwise rapidly getting drowned in content which is increasingly hard on the eyes, the ears, the heart and the mind.

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The New Year started off in a calm way till I opened my twitter account, and scrolled down to find a flurry of tweets about what had transpired during the night at Pathankot. I switched on the telly, and found the news channels doing their best to spread alarm and confusion. I sought a moment of respite, and logged into facebook.

One of the advertising media sites had shared a film created by my erstwhile employer that was specially made for the New Year. I clicked on the link and for the next three minutes I was transported to a world of hope and dreams, all smiling, all confident, all believing sincerely that Hum Honge Kamyab. Thank you Paper Boat! Thank you Lowe Lintas! I have watched the film no less than 10 times in the days that have followed, by choice and not on the telly. Two days ago, another inspiring film cropped up on my newsfeed. The third in the Vogue Empower series, after Boys Don’t Cry and My Choice, this time it’s a song composed by A.R. Rahman and sung by Lata Mangeshkar, featuring a young woman who is as comfortable doing a classical dance as she is an Indian Air Force fighter pilot, giving a whole new meaning to the affectionate nickname Laadli.

Advertising, if we can call these films that, can actually be like a balm to the spirit that is otherwise rapidly getting drowned in content which is increasingly hard on the eyes, the ears, the heart and the mind. I believe this trend of the long format socially conscious film for YouTube began with Lifebuoy and Gundappa, and has since found favour with many others.

When the Cannes Lions people introduced the Glass Lion to recognise work that empowered women, the fact that an Indian team (BBDO for P&G’s Whisper) won the very first Grand Prix and a Gold in this category speaks volumes for the way in which socially responsible advertising has been wholeheartedly embraced by Indian brands and advertising agencies. Some of the questions I have asked myself are:

Do these films need to be so long? Perhaps the use of songs, a storyline that needs building up to the right emotion, the premise that viewer interest can be retained longer when hard commercialism is set aside, are the reasons that creative directors offer, but the media planner still latent inside me is not convinced.

Do these films work for the brand? There is much evidence to suggest that indeed they do add a dimension of credibility and liking far beyond the obvious, especially in a nation like ours which, despite being ‘incredible’, still has too much poverty. A brand that is seen to care and do good for society has a better chance of retaining customers.

Do these films work for the cause they represent? Now, this is where the jury is still not out. Since the CSR fad caught fire, brands have been searching for genuine causes and NGOs support, that will lend some credibility to the theme of these campaigns. The truth is that most NGO still get their funds from companies and sources other than those that use their causes to promote their brands. The relationship between the advertising and the beneficiary NGO remains tenuous at best. I flipped through the pages of Vogue today. I could not relate the men and women that paraded out of those pages with young Laadli at all. Still I do doff my hat at Vogue taking the effort to make India aware about empowering girls in such a symbolic way.

Do these films need to stand alone? In the philanthropic space, direct marketing and fund-raising events have long been the staple communication media. In the past three years, social media have become the new staple. It would be another welcome trend therefore if in some way, such powerful advertising messages were to find themselves integrated across many media platforms. I am a great fan of the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon and what it has done to raise funds for charities. I am therefore eagerly looking forward to see how Nestle plays out its Fauja Singh 100 years and Running campaign at this appropriate forum!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Lynn De Souza

The author is a founder of Social Access Communications

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