A Story of Asian and Indian Creativity in Advertising
Advertising is an essential input for economic growth in any country. In Asia, and in India, advertising and media have effectively been used not only to sell products and raise living standards but also to mobilize people’s support for national efforts and gains of development. There is today no conflict of interest in this respect of commercial advertising, which indeed helps to promote economic growth.

Advertising as it has happened in other countries, can play a constructive role in motivating people towards greater achievements in all fields of life and also in bringing about changes in their behaviour, attitudes and improved socio-economic milieu.

Science and art of human intelligence
Advertising as defined by Stephen Leacock, is a science and art of arresting the human intelligence long enough to get money from it.

Advertising has a dual aspect. It is sometime publicity that has no commercial angle. This is publicity as we practice to inform people of dangers of health, the precautions to take to avoid them, how to plan families, to save and invest for your and the national good, and the more we do this the better we shall be. The second aspect of advertising is what we in the business of sales and marketing are directly concerned with, namely commercial advertising. Advertising which is a must now in business. As some one described that business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does. Therefore, you have to talk of your wares and convince the buyer that your soap washes whiter than any other soap, and that centuries are scored after shaving with your shave cream. So that they use the product. In Persian this is called “jungle zargari” – the fight between goldsmiths who all claim that their pure gold is purer than the pure gold of others!

Today, it is believed, nothing can be sold unless it is advertised. Photographs of models modeling jeans and outfits are everywhere. Those jeans look good on the models, but not always so on others not so generously endowed by nature. Ads appear in newspapers, magazines, TV and even lamp posts and walls. We are told of the name of street or the way to the airport or hospital with advertising signposts. It seems nothing from a pencil to a jet plane can be sold without advertising. Those who buy jet planes make their own inquiries, but people like us only read the ads. There is no limit to the range in the art of advertising.

One of the most popular advertising slogan has been “Try it, you will like it.” These must have been the very words with witch Eve offered the apple to Adam. Advertising could then well claim to be the world’s oldest profession. It certainly is a hoary one!

So much on advertising in general. Now let me come down to advertising in the perspective of its form and shape today i.e. creativity, especially in India and Asia, in comparison with the West where advertising originated.

.The Hare and the Tortoise
Remember AESOP’s fable about the Hare and the Tortoise?
The Hare and the Tortoise decided to have a race. The Hare knew he could beat the Tortoise without any difficulty. So he started by taking a nap. When he woke up later, the Tortoise had won the race! That is what has been going on in the world of advertising between the West and Asia. The Americans are the Hare and the Asians the Tortoise.

When David Ogilvy started his career, some 65 years ago, he says, his first job was to check ads in the Indian newspapers. All he would do was make sure that the ads appeared, and measure them for the shrinkage! He could not read them as they were translated in Indian languages. He was perplexed why an ad agency in London was creating campaigns to appear in Indian newspapers?

Today times have changed. The same David Ogilvy, as Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, says he offered a prize of $10,000 to the O&M office that created the most brilliant ad campaign in their worldwide network. Which office won the prize do you suppose? New York, Chicago, London Paris?? None of these! The prize went to the Bangkok office! The tortoise had beaten the Hares. Not surprisingly. The quality of advertising in Asia is still improving by leaps and bounds. Advertising agencies are now creating campaigns that run in the Western world. Indian advertising campaigns as you know are now entered in the Cannes and Clio awards, and have begun winning these awards. We have come a full circle.

In this context, advertising is not about products. It is not about acquiring new clients or merchandising at retail outlets. All that is certainly the mechanics of advertising. But in India and Asia it is all about people. People as creators, consumers, and talents. And we need to take advantage of this.
Advertising is supposed to be all-omnipotent manufacturer of people’s standards. But this is not entirely so in India and Asia yet. We have our own culture, deep traditions and perceptions. And only now after a long hiatus are we beginning to use them well as communications tools in our advertising.

If you asked an expatriate Creative Director you will probably hear that Asians are reticent, formal and unready to show our emotions. Or if we did show our feeling, we might be embarrassed. This was certainly the image expatriate Creative people had who came to India and Asia to show us the “what” and “how to do” in advertising in the 60s and 70s. Carrying their Clio and Cannes show reels, and grafting their ideas of clever advertising here in Asia. They really did teach us something. The mechanics and techniques of the creative process. About words, slogans, photographs and production. And the possibilities therein.

But in all this, something was missing. The personality and the heart of Asian and Indian advertising.
These Creative Directors were still trying to reach the Asian consumers mind and hearts through alien Western concept. Or, at the other extreme by pushing product values to the exclusion of who was buying the product. However, it was as much a fault of our Asian professionals. For a long while there was plenty of “Monkey see, Monkey do” creativity and advertising. All the same, we were aware something was wrong. The western attitudes were not those that we knew.

They might have thought of us as passive people. The world of art here in India and Asia is enriched by gems such like the of Ajanta and Ellora. One needs only to read the sensuous poetry of the Chinese and our own Kama Sutra, or watch the drama and theatre of Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia to know about our emotions and culture. This is more potential grist for advertising than the slick products and communication of the West that Creative Directors brought to us in their suitcases.

Reaching the mind thru
One is familiar with the famous Sino-American ping-pong diplomacy where the Chinese built better relations with the Americans through a game of ping-pong! In advertising too the Asian style is intriguing, magical, curious, unexpected. And the message creative and unmistakable. It is an example of reaching the mind thru the heart. And in that most modern of art and communication, nobody can deny that emotion makes up the heart of advertising. Take our Indian films for instance. In the movie halls, advertising commercials have traditionally been dubbed as stuff that comes in between what people really want to see. Our audiences are paying money to see movies. They are paying money to cry as much as to laugh, to feel a vicarious sadness as much as vicarious happiness. So I ask why we cannot employ these same feelings in advertising creativity for products and services that they can enjoy?

Being people oriented and emotionally oriented in advertising applies to government, corporations, and institutions. But it also applies to advertising for personal products, public service and cultural events. We have now started this kind of advertising. And it works, just as well as advertising ideas from abroad. That’s the sort of stuff we have in this part of the world. Heart stuff. Sometimes soft sell and sometimes hard sell, but always selling emotional benefits, person to person and not concept to consumer. Incorporating motivation with a sense of satisfaction and not patronizing concepts. We are today selling convenience, beauty, health, happiness – a better life altogether.

Who are we selling to?

We are used to classifying products and ad campaigns into categories. I n that we sometimes lose sight of who we are selling to. We are selling to our people. We are selling local first and then global.

We may classify advertising as corporate, or theme, or reminder. These are right mechanism. But I firmly believe this can be achieved through the more potent mechanism of exploiting our own experiences. Corporations don’t exist in a vacuum. They produce goods which people need and want and which can enrich people’s lives. Foodstuff by itself does not sound very warm and appealing, but pizzas, hamburgers, sweet and sour noodles with brand names certainly sound appetizing. Banking and insurance corporations don’t sound very appealing, but when we can translate money into joy of what money can do for our child’s study, marriage, and future then we have an emotional situation which appeals strongly to our people.

We have now reached a point in Asia and India where we have an obvious new role for consumer, marketers and creative people. Our consumers are more educated, more aware, and skeptical of empty promises. Yet they are eager and economically ready for their lives to be enriched and made comfortable and happier with the right products and services.

On the professional side in advertising we have today young creative people who are brilliant. They are qualified, knowledgeable and experienced. They have often developed a singular style by themselves. Plus they are armed with better communication technology which offers them great scope for creativity and reach. They are Asian and Indian, and they understand about the emotions of their people. That they are beginning to create makes me very happy. Because they are creating on the most important product of all – our own experiences.

Let me end by quoting a couple of lines from an old song from the film “Casablanca”, which goes: “YOU must remember this, a kiss is a kiss, a sigh a sigh.” The fundamental things apply as time goes by. This is what Asian and Indian advertising is all about. Mastering our craft on our own terms.

The days of advertising imperialism are over, though we are still learning and sharing our experiences with our Western counterparts. But now we have the confidence to look within our own experiences, our own energetic pageantry and culture. By employing this, by shaping it with our people in mind. We have the confidence to stand up and speak honestly and with pride about our exciting new genre of advertising – called Asian Creativity! And what I call Relevant Creativity.