Fri 23 Oct 2009
One of the mixed blessings about covering the marketing and advertising space is being treated to sneak peeks and previews of TV commercials. The thrill associated with this is frankly baffling. A TV commercial is by its very nature not at all a secret enterprise. How does it matter being the first to see something, that in a few weeks, will be splashed across millions of TV screens and may even start to annoy one with its ubiquity?
However, logic and rationality are poor defence mechanisms against raw enthusiasm — something that most creative people have in abundance when it comes to sharing or discussing their work. A new campaign is almost always an exciting proposition - at least until it’s actually seen. When it works; it’s great. I’ve been glad of the chance to see many ads that did not have too robust a media plan backing them. Or some region specific creativity that I would have ordinarily never encountered — like JWT Bangalore’s hilarious campaign for UB Pint Beer from a few years ago, starring the whimsical Kannada film icon Upendra, bellowing “Cold drink, yaake?” (Why have cold drinks?)
The mixed blessing part kicks in when I don’t particularly like the ad I’m being shown. It could be a rational objection – like why does a Zoozoo hanging for its life from a branch, dial for prayers instead of for help? Why are people in ads so relentlessly enthusiastic about cleaning their bathrooms and toilets? Why do the couple in an old, old Maruti Suzuki Alto ad, drop the parents/in-laws off at the station and then drive down to meet them? Why not surprise the elderly folk by taking them to the station and then, on a whim, ferrying them to their destination?
The other objections, I admit, have more to do with what I like to see, or more precisely, what I absolutely loathe seeing in ads. Why do so many ads have precocious children? Were these tots to live in a world outside their secure little 30 second cocoons, they would be mocked relentlessly by other kids in the schoolyard. Why are celebrities used so indiscriminately? To many such questions (not necessarily the ones I’ve raised here), I’ve got a fairly standard response — “You don’t like it because you are not the target audience.” Many creatives go great lengths to prove their point dredging up research and happily rattling off the sheer numbers of people in the consumer panels who gave the ad a resounding thumbs up.
It’s an explanation that never ceases to amuse. Going by the number of times I’ve been told this, I am not the target audience for toothpastes, jeans, suits, television sets, financial planning and investment products. It’s unlikely that I’ll every buy a car or a mobile phone, let alone subscribe to a mobile service provider. If it were true, it would be a simultaneously hilarious and alienating experience — this re-imagining of myself as some sort of a freakish Luddite.
The more indignant of the lot hold Ad Age’s Bob Garfield up as a great example of what an ad critic ought to be. Which makes me wonder about the last time they read ‘Ad Review’ — Garfield is probably the industry’s most subjective critic ever and definitely among the funniest.
On the show this week though, on Shot Spot, the selections are from India. These spots were a lot of fun to preview. Do feel free to weigh in on what you think. And if you hate them, you can rest assured that I’ll never say it is because you are not the target audience.