Does advertising lead to social change, or does it merely show a mirror to the changing society? There are some ads that do test the boundaries of societal norms of their times, and start new trends. These ads either kick-start a change in society or crystallize the changing attitudes of the society around us, making it a little more tangible and believable.
The “Show-and-tell” era
This era started somewhere in the 1950s and lasted a long, long time. Early ads were like elementary school lessons: often using one of the most effective learning methods, “Show-and-tell”.
- Show a healthy man, winning a bullock-cart race – or a football game - and tell: “Lifebuoy washes away the germs to protect your health”.
- Show the most beautiful film-star, and tell: “Lux is the secret of my beauty!”
- Show a dirty school uniform becoming spotlessly white, and tell: “Surf washes whitest – and it shows!”
- Show a grandfather cracking open a walnut with his strong white teeth and tell: Vicco Vajradanti toothpaste makes teeth stronger.
- Show a young couple in close proximity of each other and tell: “Close-up is for close-ups”.
- Show an active, energetic child and tell: Horlicks makes him energetic.
In the show-and-tell era, strategy was limited to identifying a “unique selling proposition” and a reason to believe the proposition; creativity was a combined skill of two specialists: art director (who focused on “show”) and copywriter (who focused on “tell”). Product features or functional benefits of the product were brought alive through this format.
This format still dominates Indian advertising. Advertisers seem to have forgotten that the Indian audience today is far more ad-literate than she was 30 years back. Show-and-tell was OK when the audience was at the beginning of its ad-learning curve. Today it causes irritation and ad avoidance.
The “Fantasy” era
Sometime in the mid 1970s, an ad featuring a young girl in two-piece green bikini, enjoying a titillating shower under a waterfall created history. Three generations later, this original Liril ad is still etched in public memory. The ad did question the norms of its times. It leveraged the insight that for young women, leading narrowly defined, role dominated lives, bathing-time was the only private moment; a breather to fantasize without guilt. The ad captured their fantasy of youthful abandon – a life where they could connect with nature without any societal restrictions. This was, maybe, the first Indian ad to recognise that the archetypical consumer could have scandalous fantasies of being young, sexy and free from societal norms of behaviour.
By the late 1970s, Nirma rode this fantasy wave by showing a happy, drudgery-free world full of people in spotlessly clean clothes, dancing and prancing to a euphonic jingle, “Nirma, Nirma, Nirma – Washing powder Nirma.”
The Nirma ad also created a new record of repeating the brand name umpteen times during the span of its one minute commercial. Contrary to the norm of its time, where commercials were changed or updated every year, this single Nirma ad broke another record of running for several years without any change. It proved that learning was a slow process and needed perseverance of the manufacturer. It was a lesson that gave the multinational leaders a real run for their money.
Another commercial that built on fantasy and focused on building brand recognition was the famous “Only Vimal” campaign that showed well dressed people living relatively up-market lives and relying only on Vimal fabric to dress them. Garden Sarees ad captured the Indian woman’s aspiration to be stylishly dressed in a saree by showcasing a range of very distinctive looking sarees to become a brand that people fantasised about.
(To be continued)
The writer is president & COO, Lowe India