The great Indian advertising clichés

In a lighter vein, comedian Sapan Verma reflects on clichéd ideas in advertising that refuse to change


Are you tired of watching the same boring advertisements?


Do you wish you could click on ‘Skip ad’ every time an ad starts?

How did I know?

Congratulations! You are completely normal. Studies suggest that 84 per cent of Indians switch the channel as soon as a commercial break starts on TV while the remaining 16 per cent don’t do it because they were watching Doordarshan and fell asleep.

My experience in an ad agency

I worked as a copywriter at an ad agency once. It’s the closest I’ve been to committing suicide, except that suicides are quick and you don’t have to wait for a client’s approval. What made it even more dreadful was the fact that they asked me to handle a sanitary napkin brand. Though, they learnt shortly that they never should have given a 21-year-old, idiotic, fresh out-of-college guy sanitary pads to work with, especially if he drops coffee on his desk… often.

While working there I realised that every client wants three things—a bigger logo, an ‘out-of-the-box’ idea and a ‘viral’ video. And while it’s practically impossible to nail all three every time, these days we do get to see some creative masterpieces from across the world on the internet. But turn on the idiot box just for a day and you will realise that so many of the Indian advertising brains are still stuck in the 90s.

Hair-raising ads

Take the anti-dandruff shampoo ads for example. All the guy does is slide his palm through his hair, and all of a sudden there’s what looks like a five-kilo talcum powder build up on his silk black shirt. It’s like someone tore a packet of salt right over his head. How can a person have so much dandruff? The only way that could have happened is if you’ve not washed your hair in all your life.

Talking about anti-dandruff shampoos, I saw this ad that asked its viewers, “Do you have the license to wear black?” Firstly, that’s racist. And secondly, what is the procedure to acquire this license? Do you first get a learner’s license where you can only wear grey for the first two months?

Every time I saw that ad, I imagined a long queue outside a pub caused by a nakabandi where traffic cops are checking your license to wear black. If you don’t have one, you’re stripped off your black shirt and are given a tailor’s contact details.

Glowing assurances

Shirts are also a prominent part of another clichéd concept for detergent powder ads. All detergent ads seem to have this constant character—Ziddi Daag. He’s been the permanent cast of every washing soap ad for over a decade now. He’s so stubborn he refuses to move. He’s like the Anna Hazare of daags, he just sits on a hunger strike on your shirt. But then, the powder enters like Kejriwal and wipes out Anna Hazare in a clean sweep. At the same time, your shirt starts glowing as if it is made of 100 per cent radium.

Instant everything

My favourite of the lot are the deodorant commercials. A nerdy dude sprays some on his body and suddenly all the rejected Victoria’s Secret Angels descend upon him. If this process worked in real life, it would save parents a lot of trouble of finding the right match for their son’s arranged marriage.

Since the ads show instant attraction, why can’t spraying deo give me an instant MBA degree? And ladies, it’s really shallow how you love a man for his fragrance and not his personality. We have a heart too. We’re beautiful inside.

Lighten up

Don’t even get me started on those fairness cream ads. The ads show that those creams are so intense, the girl transforms from Balika Vadhu to Bipasha Basu to Britney Spears, all in one week. And to prove it, these ads have a seven-day fairness measurement strip with the seven shades of the girl’s face.

What I’d like to know is that if the fairness cream is so strong, what happens if you apply it for two weeks instead of one? What’s the end result then?

If Day 7 is fair, then

Day 8 – fairer

Day 9 – fairest

Day 10 – Michael Jackson

Day 11 – Neil Nitin Mukesh

Day 12 – Voldemort

Day 13 – Saint-Gobain glass

Day 14 – Mr India winner

Also the girl who wants to become fair is shown to have aspirations of being either an actress or a model. Obviously, it is only by using this product that she is able to join the Forbes 100 Most Influential People list.

But for once, I’d like to see an ad featuring a girl with a normal job, like a nurse. I’d imagine an ad that shows a lonely depressed nurse who works in a government hospital. She makes such little money that she does her shopping from local stores and only during the sale season. One day out of frustration, she wants to kill herself, but just then someone hands her some fairness cream. After a week, she not only becomes fairer, but she also transforms from a government hospital nurse to an orthopaedic surgeon in a prestigious hospital.

In the end, I’d like to say just one thing: the next time you go shopping don’t buy your insecurities.

This was first published in the January 2015 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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