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Commercials: a case of two countries - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Commercials: a case of two countries [Apr. 13th, 2006|12:09 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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I am not the only one to have noticed that the quality of TV commercials in the US has improved significantly this year. It's inexplicable.

The context for this assertion is the truth universally acknowledged, by those in a position to know, that commercials in the US suck compared to those in India. I would never have guessed that commercials would be one of the things I would miss the most about my home country.

And yet it's true. When I was on the plane back to Madras last December, I was feeling rather gloomy, contemplating the floods and everything. Then I picked up one of those in-flight magazines, and perked up instantly. There was this superb ad with a picture depicting a guy with a kudumi, poonal, jeans and a hot blonde on each arm. I don't remember what the message was -- perhaps mixing old and new, perhaps being a maverick -- but the image will stay with me for a long time. I remember thinking, "that's one thing that might just make the whole trip worthwhile!"

The other interesting thing about Indian commercials is that they've mastered the Art of the Subtly Erotic. Any significant amount of flesh is taboo on the Indian small screen, and we all know that boobies sell products. What to do? Well, it is possible to make very erotic visual sequences without flesh (ok, with minimal flesh). This is part of the point of the whole movie dance craziness, but it is the commercials that really shine at it. Back in 1999 or so (I believe it was during the world cup, the time of the pepsi vs coke ad extravaganza, including "nothing official about it" and the "pepsi everywhere" photoshopping awesomeness) there was an ad featuring a guy and a girl getting up and reaching for a pepsi from a cooler. That ad was pure genius -- two clothed people have never been made to look hotter. I bring it up to make the point that I still remember it. Do you remember porn after 8 years?

Getting back to the subject of ads in the US, there's one that is amazingly, extraordinarily good. It is the Geico talking gecko ad that is self-referential (and as some may know, anything self-referential makes me lose all semblance of reason or self-control ;-). This ad also shows that Geico "gets it": presenting information about your product in your ad is pointless; nobody makes informed decisions based on TV commercials. Instead, all you want is to make sure your brand name sticks in the viewer's head, because that's is pretty much the only thing that you can accomplish in 30 seconds. Your average diet pill or other scam does this by repeating the name in a loud, shrill cacophony, whereas Geico does it in a way that is both more pleasant and more effective.

When the P.G Wodehouse character Sam Marlowe met Billie Bennet, he instantly knew that she was the third most beautiful girl he had ever seen. I have a similarly organized (pedantic?) mind: I know the exact order of preference of my favorite movies, books, actors and... television commercials. Among those I've seen in the recent past, the talking gecko meta-ad is definitely the best. Next in line would be an ad for an air-conditioner that involved someone shooting basketballs sitting on their couch (that doesn't explain why the ad was great, of course, you'd have to see it to understand), followed an ad for an SUV in which the traditional roles of deer and automobiles are reversed. Unfortunately, they don't air anymore, and I don't remember further details. If anyone has a link to a video of one of these online, I would greatly appreciate it.
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Comments:
From: (Anonymous)
2006-04-14 02:33 am (UTC)
The "nothing official about it" campaign by Pepsi was during the 1996 WC in the sub-continent. A retaliation to Coke's "official sponsor of the 1996 WC".
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2006-04-16 11:46 pm (UTC)
The recent series of SBI ads rock- real funny (in case you missed them) but there are some absolutely crappy ones, as well. Incidentally most of the crappy ones are in tamil (and other regional languages), for silk sarees and soaps and stuff...I guess, the wider the viewer base, the better the ads!:D
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-04-16 11:50 pm (UTC)
I have found that ads whose intended audience is among the educated segment of the population are very intelligent. That would definitely explain both the linguistic differences and the SBI/soap difference.

And yeah, of course I missed the SBI ads -- do you expect that I get Indian TV over here? :-P
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2006-04-17 12:02 am (UTC)
In fact, that leads me to a hypothesis about why US commercials suck -- wealth distribution is almost perfectly flat here compared to India (mean/median ratio of 2 compared to 40!) and so there is no product whose target market shows a high correlation with education level. Essentially, everyone is forced to pander to the masses.
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[User Picture]From: kadambarid
2006-04-18 12:25 am (UTC)
And yeah, of course I missed the SBI ads -- do you expect that I get Indian TV over here? :-P

Sheesh!Nope- but you WERE down here during the last kutcheri season, when the commercials started rolling out and considering that you had loads of *free* time (being on a holiday and stuff), thought you might catch something good on TV (like, um, the ads, for instance- one hardly gets anything more on the idiot box, in Madras)...well, try not to miss them the next time you're 'ere:D
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