Advertising as described by Stephen Leacock, is a science and art of arresting the human intelligence and emotions long enough to get money (profit) from it!

Advertising has a dual role. It is sometime publicity (editorial and free) 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 role of advertising is what we are directly concerned with, namely commercial advertising (advertising for mind share and market share and profit and growth). Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see everybody (your customers). Advertising which is a must now in business. You have to talk about your wares (products and services) and convince the buyer (target group), that your detergent washes whiter than any other detergent (RIN), and that centuries are scored after shaving with your shave cream (Palmolive and Kapil’s line “Palmolive da jawab nai!”). And other such campaigns so that consumers buy and 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 generally believed, nothing can be sold unless it is advertised. Photographs of models modeling jeans and readymade outfits are everywhere. Those jeans look good on the models, but not always so, on others who are 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 simple pencil (Camlin) to a hi-tech jet plane (the Concorde) 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 science and art of advertising.

One of the most common advertising slogan has always been “Try it, you will like it.” These must have been the very words with witch Eve offered the apple to Adam (the shine on it possibly being its packaging). Advertising could then well be the world’s oldest profession.

Advertising in its current perspective, form and shape i.e. creativity, in India compares with the West where advertising originated. When David Ogilvy started his career, some 65 years ago, it seems, his first job was to check ads in the Indian newspapers. He could not read them as they were in Indian languages. He was perplexed why an ad agency in London was creating campaigns to appear in Indian newspapers? Then times have changed since. The same David Ogilvy, as Chairman of Ogilvy & Mather, once said 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 (Asia) had beaten the Hares (America). Not surprisingly. The quality of advertising in Asia is 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 awards there (Pyush Pande – called the Cannes lion!).

In this context, advertising is not about products and services. It is not about acquiring new clients or merchandising at retail outlets. All that certainly is mechanics of advertising. But in India it is all about people and ideas. People as creators, consumers, and with potential (human beings with a mind and a heart). And we need to take advantage of this. We have our own unique culture, deep traditions and perceptions. And only now after a long hiatus are we beginning to use them well (motivationally and uniquely) in our advertising effectively, and different from the West.

If you asked an expatriate Creative Director you will probably hear that Indians 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 in large numbers (JWT, O&M, Leo Burnett, even Madison!) in the 60s and 70s to show us the “what” and “how to do” in advertising. Carrying their Clio and Cannes show reels, and grafting their ideas of clever advertising to local conditions, basically, language translations (recall David Ogilvy’s observation) and executions.

They did teach us 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 Indian advertising. These creative directors were trying to reach the consumers mind and hearts through alien Western concepts. For a long while there was plenty of “Monkey see, Monkey do” creativity and advertising in India. All the same, we were aware that something was wrong. The western attitudes were not those that we knew (in terms of target reactions to the mind, heart and senses!). They might have thought of us as passive people. But as you know, that in the world of creativity, and in communications, India is enriched by gems. With our own emotions, sensitivity and culture. This is the more potential grist for advertising than the slick products and communication of the West that creative directors brought to us in their suitcases.

In advertising too the Indian style is intriguing, magical, curious, unexpected. And the messages creative and unmistakable. It is a case of reaching the mind through the heart (emotion marketing). Take our Indian films for instance. Bollywood is comparable to Hollywood you will agree. In the movie halls 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 is it that we cannot employ these same feelings in advertising creativity for commercials for our products and services, which the movie goers can also enjoy just as in the movie they came to see.

Being people oriented, and emotionally oriented, in advertising applies to government, banks, and IT companies and the like corporations. It also applies equally to advertising for personal products (shampoos, soaps, perfumes, and hair colours), public service (cancer, AIDS, family planning) and cultural events (Indian art and cultural road shows abroad). We have now started creating this kind of advertising. And it works.

That’s the sort of “heart stuff” we have in our part of the world. Sometimes soft sell, and sometimes hard sell, but always selling emotional benefits, person to person and not just a patronizing concept. Incorporating motivation with a sense of satisfaction. We are today selling convenience, beauty, health, happiness – a better life altogether. 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 (personal and business). 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 and hamburgers (MacDonald’s), idli and dosa mixes (Gits or NTR) certainly sound appetizing. Banking and insurance corporations (HDFC, ICICI Prudential Om Kotak) don’t sound very appealing, but when they translate it to money, and that into joy of what money can do for our child’s study, marriage, and the future (schemes they offer) then we have an emotional situation which appeals strongly to our people.

We have now reached a point in India where we see an obvious new role for the consumers, marketers and creative people. Our consumers are more educated, more aware, and skeptical of empty promises (housewives, B2B, NGOs). Yet they are eager and economically ready for their lives to be enriched and made more comfortable and happier with the right products and services (Ambassador car versus Maruti, Santro and a variety of cars. Indian Airlines versus Jet and Sahara Airways).

We have creative people who are brilliant. They are qualified, knowledgeable and experienced (MBAs and more). They have often developed a singular style by themselves (Prasoon Joshi, Pyush Pande, Alyque Padamsee, Mohammed Khan, Bharat Dabolkar, and many more) which stands out significantly. Plus, today they are armed with better communication technologies which offer them great scope for creativity and reach (software and hardware -- Maya for graphics to high end computers). They are Indian! And they understand about the emotions of our people. They are mastering our craft on our own terms, and creating advertising on our own experiences.

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 Indian advertising -- what I call relevant creativity, the ability to sense, interpret, and put brands in the heart and mind of Indian consumers!