Over the last few years, advertising as a domain has been able to overcome a lot of barriers which at one point of time were seen as unsurmountable and restrictive. The ad styles and concept lines in play today surprise a lot of people in the older generations, who have lived through years of symbolic advertisements and ‘coded’ references. Let us understand some of this evolution.
Type 1: Taboo of showing sexuality – overcome
These types of advertisements are the ones involving a lot of direct and indirect references to sexuality. Take a look at two such ad concepts which bring in sexuality to sell their product:
1. Deodorants: Initiated by Axe, almost all deodorants today have positioned themselves on being the deodorants to attract girls. Axe took on a lot of social norms to launch these ads and others, like Wildstone, Set Wet Zatak etc followed suit. An off-beat tactic attempted by Wildstone was that they even introduced an ‘uncensored’ version of the ad online on youtube, with an aim to spread it virally. For Youtube and youth, this was the perfect material to spread like wildfire.
(Note that Axe commercials are unique in that they are common all across the globe, and are not country-specific, unlike other Indianized products and campaigns of MNCs: one exception though is Axe Googly):
2. Another product needlessly brought in sexual innuendoes an year back in its campaigns, attracting a lot of legal and media attention:
In the above two campaigns, while Deodorants using this style of wildness might be acceptable (in marketing terms I mean), given that they form a part of the ‘looks’ of a guy, it is unknown what Amul Macho aimed from the positioning ‘crafted for fantasies‘. There is virtually no connect whatsoever between the product and the ad-theme.
Other examples abound of this type of advertising flooded with innuendoes, for instance Aamsutra by Slice, Virgin Mobile campaigns, Diesel promotions and parties etc.
Type 2: Taboo of explicit wording
The above two example types were on boldness in sexual terms. There is another category of products, which have sort of, ‘come out in the open’ with their campaigns. For years together, personal hygience products for women were promoted by the most indirect campaigns, usually projecting themselves as an aid to ‘woh din‘. The marketers tended to be completely diplomatic in their approach to script writing.
It was P&G, with its campaign for Whisper, who for the first time came out with the word ‘period’ in its campaign, built around the concept ‘have a happy period’.
Similar was the case with birth control pills. Watch this old ad:
Now, watch the ad again and tell me whether it ever mentioned the words ‘birth control’? On the other hand, the ads of today, for products such as i-pill and unwanted – 72 talk about it specifically, in as many words.
This was an observation of the kind of changes that have been seen in recent times. My take on the same:
1. For products such as deodorants, at least there is some connect between the product and the theme of ‘chick-magentism’, however, with every deodorant player doing the same, it is hard to differentiate between different competitors. The method used by Garnier for instance, would stand out more, and enable a better recall, if nothing else then simply because it does not talk about girls, and focuses on functionality. Products like Virgin and Diesel are aiming to build a better youth connect through this theme. But the ones such as Amul Macho seem needless.
2. For the taboo of explicit wording: here I would say that the message was being conveyed earlier as well, and that too quite clearly. But the explicit mention of the words such as ‘period’, ‘pregnancy’, ‘birth control’ etc in the common ads is an apt reflection of the society and its growth. I believe that indirect references earlier used made these things seem both taboo as well as shameful. The current campaigns send out a strong message that there is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of in discussing this out. It is a sign of maturity of the society and its thought process
A public welfare campaign for HIV/AIDS took this head-on, specifically telling parents not to switch channels when something about HIV/AIDS comes on TV, and rather talk to children about it – couldn’t find a video clip of this one online though.
So, there might be some pros and cons of the change in restrictions that marketers might place on themselves in the designing of ad-reels. But the aim of the article was to understand that the Indian society is growing, the thought processes are evolving, and the ad films also showcase the same, leveraging a growing acceptability and frankness about matters earlier considered taboo. Whether this expansion of horizonz is a positive thing for the product marketers depends a lot on how they use it.