Creativity in advertising

This is the era of advertising. We are assailed by hundreds and thousands of advertisements in every possible medium every day. From television to print media and to social networking sites, commercials are running rampant trying to catch just a glance from the viewers. All these advertisements are competing for the same nugget of attention, and this competition gets fiercer by the day. So what do marketers and advertising agencies do in such a case? How do they grab eyeballs and hook potential customers?

Advertisements have been in existence since the 18th century. Medicines and books were the first products to be advertised. These early advertisements appeared in the newspapers or as posters. Interestingly however, advertisements didn’t become mainstream phenomena until years later. In 1891, Thomas Barratt introduced mainstream advertising by using it to promote a commercial product. This product was Pears, and for this Thomas became known as the father of modern advertising.

Since then, technology has made many leaps, and with it advertising itself has shifted shapes. From a print media dominated phenomena, it has grown to encompass every conceivable portal of information. And now, the nature of the problem has been reversed. Starting off as a rare thing, advertising has now become entirely too common. This omnipresence has severely degraded the value of advertisements in viewers’ minds, and consequently impacted their effect on consumers’ purchasing decision. In such a case, firms are left with no choice but to use a bombardment strategy. This essentially translates into increasing the frequency and types of medium used, leading to higher costs for the company. To make matters worse, the advent of set top boxes and the power to record and forward television programs has resulted in consumers skipping commercials on television. The internet is also filled with software to block advertisements from popping up. With these innovations penetrating into homes, advertising seems to be facing the prospect of a slow and painful demise. However, the story isn’t quite over yet, with marketers bringing in a critical resource to rescue the damsel in distress. What is this tool you ask? Well it’s none other than (*insert drumroll*) creative skills.

Advertisements nowadays tend to fade into the background. They all look the same with bursts of colours, snazzily dressed brand ambassadors grinning toothily, and bold promises of transforming the consumers’ lives. The first thing that a marketer needs to do nowadays is to use his out-of-the-box thinking to form a concept that is different, or as Virgin Mobile would say, something a little hatke. If the concept is one that can stand out, then execution becomes an auxilliary act. This concept of hatke is a difficult one to explain however. It is hard to categorise and put into boxes something that by its very nature is supposed to stand apart. But examples may leap over bounds that theory shrinks from, and that is the route we shall take.

In the past fortnight or so, the following picture has been making rounds on the internet.

Blue & black or white & gold?

Blue & black or white & gold?

It has gone viral, with viewers starting heated debates on its colour. The picture has been the cause of wonder for many, and this is exactly what the Salvation Army exploited when they turned it into an advertisement against domestic violence.

The slogan is simple, catchy, and directly derived from the unique nature of the dress. It says, “Why is it so hard to see black and blue?” It features a woman lying down in the white and gold version of this dress, covered entirely in nasty looking bruises. The caption says, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in six women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.” The poster has become a rage, not only in the US, but worldwide. It has grabbed space in newspapers by virtue of its ingenuity, and the powerful message it sends across. In short, it has achieved fame that a less creative campaign never could.

The world is changing, and advertising needs to keep pace with it. Companies all across the globe need to understand that bombardment is not going to remain a successful strategy for long. Instead, they need to put on their thinking caps, and find novel ways of making their message shine through all the riffraff. As Robert Bresson would have said, “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

Ban It : “India’s Daughter”

All of us in India have by now heard of the controversial documentary titled “India’s Daughter”. Not only that, each and every one of us also has some opinion about it, however vague or not it might be. The newspapers, T.V. channels, internet, everything has been flooded with this documentary or related content. Those who haven’t watched it might be flummoxed by all the attention it has grabbed. If you are one of those people, I strongly suggest you take out an hour of your time, and watch it here. By the end of it, you might feel grief for Nirbhaya’s suffering, rue the absence of humanity in human beings, even feel ashamed of being born an Indian, but I promise you, you will not regret spending an hour watching it. The documentary portrays some uncomfortable and inconvenient truths (my views on which you can find in the post titled Safe in India?). These truths are troublesome because they bother us all, but more than that, they are troublesome for the Indian government.

The Indian government was outraged, nay scandalized by the documentary, and the possibility of it being shown worldwide. They couldn’t stop the rest of the world from seeing it, but they could ban it from being aired in India. So they went ahead and did just that, and consequently robbed us of the right to hear the truths we need to hear. Isn’t that the typical response of our nation’s government really? Instead of listening to the warning signals and taking reformatory action, they have always preferred to silence the alarms. But, this mentality of ignoring cries that cannot be heard is not the solution. The ban has raised several important questions. Why does the documentary make our politicians and lawmakers squirm? Why can it not be given the permission to air?

Some may argue that the documentary portrays our nation in the wrong light. Does it though? In my humble opinion, it depicts an accurate picture of our society and its rudimentary mindset. If we are so ashamed of the thinking of our fellow Indians, banning a documentary is not the kind of corrective action we should take. The documentary is not the root of the problem, we are. We are the ones who need to change. And we will.

The video shows some Indians completely disregarding the rights of a woman, but it also shows hoards of Indians protesting for her rights. People like you and me gathering in the face of policemen with lathis and tear gas to demand justice for a woman. A woman they didn’t know by name or face, but by her suffering. To me, these people are the harbingers of hope, hope that someday every Indian will understand that rape is not a woman’s fault. And on that day, we as a nation will rise against such heinous crimes.

My beef with Beef Ban

So, the government has gone ahead and done it. Beef is now officially banned in Maharashtra. Anything from possession to actual slaughter will lead to an imprisonment of 5 years and a fine of Rs 10,000. And now we can all go home and bask in the satisfaction of saving several thousand cows every year, right?

Wrong.

Cow slaughter was already banned in Maharashtra under the Animal Preservation Act 1976. The beef that eaters in Maharashtra were relishing didn’t come from cows at all. Instead, it came from bullocks, bulls and water buffaloes, none of which are sacred to us in any way whatsoever. All the beef ban has done is prohibit the killing and consumption of bullocks and bulls. Meanwhile water buffaloes have been exempted from this amendment altogether. Confusing isn’t it? But hold on.

Let’s take a look at how this amendment will affect our economy. India is the world’s second largest beef exporter after Brazil. Last year, India exported beef worth $ 4.3 billion to various countries. Around 1.5 million people are employed in this industry. What will happen to our exports? And what about the people whom the ban will leave unemployed? As a vegetarian Hindu, I fail to understand the reasons behind this amendment. But that or its impact on our economy isn’t my only concern with it.

Under Section 209 of Indian Penal Code, eve teasing can lead to an imprisonment of 3 months. According to Section 354, assault or use of criminal force on a woman can lead to an imprisonment of 2 years. When did the issue of bull slaughter become more urgent to us than that of sexual harassment? When did we become a nation that values a false sense of piety more than basic humanity?

India, the land of sacred cows, massacred women

India, the land of sacred cows, massacred women

Safe in India?

I am from India. It’s a land famous for many things, its rich culture & heritage, the Taj Mahal, the exotic spicy food to name a few. But it’s also an infamous land in some ways. Infamous for what you ask? For petty and not-so-petty crimes, violations ranging from burglaries to rapes. And as women’s day comes up, I would like to talk about this, clarify exactly why we should be blamed.

If you say that India is a lawless country, you would hear many Indians protesting, and rightly so. While criminal activities are all too frequent here, the figures are often inflated unjustly. I agree that we might not be the safest nation to set foot in, but we still rank better than several African and even some European countries in terms of total number of crimes and crimes committed per capita. Despite being a nation still in the process of development, we even perform better at this metric than United States itself. So then what exactly is the problem?

To illustrate exactly what my contention is, I would like to cite the Nirbhaya case as an example. For those who are unaware of the incident, it revolves around a 23-year-old girl who was brutally assaulted by six men in a bus. As if the gang rape wasn’t horrifying enough, her assailants also tortured her monstrously with an iron rod, eventually ditching the barely alive girl on the road. After 13 days of struggle, she finally gave in and died. Today, four of her attackers are awaiting execution; one was found dead in his prison cell and the only minor among them is serving sentence in a reform facility. Justice has been served now, or has it?

Recently, BBC interviewed Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus in which the victim was molested. Singh has quite a different take on the entire situation. According to him, the victim had it coming because she wasn’t a “good” girl, which he argues is clearly evidenced by the fact that she was roaming out of her house past 9 pm. The man also feels that her death was entirely her fault. In fact, Singh states that he and his comrades would have graciously left her alive if she hadn’t struggled as they attempted to violate her.

In addition to all this, Singh also has choice pearls of wisdom to impart regarding his death sentence. In his expert opinion, his execution will only worsen the situation as the molesters would now kill the victims instead of letting them escape alive. They wouldn’t want to take the risk of the raped girl reporting to the police after all. Finally, Singh concludes that boys and girls are just not equal and women are responsible for their own safety.

These were the views of a rapist who does not feel the tiniest smidgen of remorse even after two and a half years have passed. He is not alone in this thinking however. There are many others like him in our country, men who may not be rapists but share his opinions. Contrary to popular assumption, these are not always uneducated men present in poor pockets. From rickshaw pullers, chai wallahs, bus drivers and blue-collar workers to teachers, doctors, engineers and leading politicians; these men may be anywhere. And all I want to ask is this: In a country where the lawmakers themselves feel that it’s a woman’s responsibility to ensure her safety, how safe can a woman really feel?

Slipping sand-2

I am standing at the edge of a cliff, staring at the dark abyss beneath me, wondering what it would feel like to jump. Would it be like flying? Or would it feel too much like giving up? I study the question clinically and can find no logical answer. Just as I’m about to find out for myself, the scene vanishes, and I’m left staring at the immaculate white ceiling of Nathan’s apartment. I am mildly surprised to find my heartbeat racing, as if in silent mutiny to the vision of death in my dream.

I sit up and am assailed by the wave of emotions that crashes all over me. It is an emotional vertigo and for a moment, I almost want to die just so I can forget it all. I pull the wreckage that I am together though and remind myself that having a breakdown is not an option today. You see, it’s the day of farewell; it’s the day of his funeral.

I had never imagined that I would have to live in a world where Nathan doesn’t exist. Never thought that I might one day have to attend his funeral service. But if I had, I would have failed to imagine the intensity of grief that threatens to tear me ragged. I’m focusing so hard on keeping my feelings in check that people’s faces look blurred to me, their condolences a mere low litany compared to the ringing in my head. I feel nauseous and the floor seems to tilt, and all that’s left is blackness.

When I get conscious next, I find myself surrounded by people looking over at me anxiously and pityingly. I am embarrassed at having done this, ruining his funeral like this. Can I never do anything right? I almost want to cry at the unfairness of it all, his death, and my inability to behave appropriately. Nathan’s mother comes to me as everyone finally moves. Her eyes are blazing with anger and hurt and I can tell she dislikes me as much as she ever did.

“Did you have to do the fainting act Jennifer?” she hisses.

“I’m-I’m sorry Mrs. Walter. ” I mumble, too drained to face her rage.

“Perhaps you should go home. We can take care of everything here. Heaven forbid we should need your help.”

I argue with her quietly, trying to avoid another scene, but before I know it, I’ve been escorted off the premises by one of Nathan’s many cousins. I am bewildered by his family’s callousness. I was never good enough for their golden boy, but this is too much. I’ve failed to say goodbye to the only man I’ve ever loved, and all I can do is sit in the car and howl.

Slipping sand-1

The rays of sunshine falling through the window wake me up rudely and prematurely. For a moment, I cannot remember where I am or why my eyes feel sore and heavy. The moment of sweet oblivion is short-lived and with a jerk, yesterday’s event flood into my memory and I feel like I’ve lost it all again. Lost the best part of my life all over again. I want to cry, rant, rage, do anything but sit and stare at space, waiting for the pain in my soul to go away. But it doesn’t. I find myself unable to breathe properly, like I’ve got a bad cold, and I wonder if I should go back to sleep and to the blissful forgetfulness that comes with it. But the onslaught of memories is brutal and I am lost, the present drowning in the waves of the past and my head is full of one person- Nathan.

I can still see every detail of his face when I close my eyes. The dark brown eyes that warmed and beamed every time he saw me, the slight smirk on his lips, the way he laughed like he just couldn’t hold it in. The memory is so sharp, so tangible that I almost reach out to run my hand through his chaotic sandy hair, but I shake my head and open my eyes. The sitting room greets me blankly and coldly, all its warmth gone with its master. I must have fallen asleep on the couch, too drained to make it to the bed. I need to do something, anything to stop my hands from shaking, and I decide to take a bath. The bedroom’s door looms large at me, like some gate to hell, but I steel myself and push it open. The onslaught of sensations is overwhelming, chilling and for the third time in two days, my heart breaks again.

His sweats are strewn over the bed, towel thrown down in a corner, socks balled underneath the chair and papers scattered all over and for once, I feel no urge to pick up after him. Instead, I want to put this room in a glass cage, and never let anything touch it again, because it is the only part of him left on this planet. With dry eyes, and a full soul, I move inside and the faint smell that is eau de Nathan assaults my senses. I feel the mad urge to sit here and let it settle into every pore of my body, but I resist it and make my way to the bathroom.

Throughout the day, many such moments come my way. Oddly enough, I don’t weep. But that’s probably because my quota of tears is long depleted. I also don’t eat. In fact, just thinking about food makes me want to retch. The morning I spend deciding whether I should stay in his apartment or move to a hotel. It’s not a hard decision to make. Finding little signs of him is anguish, but there is a savage pleasure in the pain, and I am unable to let go. So I spend the day looking for Nathan, touching his things, and by the time night falls, I’ve almost convinced myself that yesterday wasn’t real and that any moment now, he’ll walk in through the front door, exhilarated at finding me here.

The clock ticks, I stare at the door, willing it to open, but some time during our staring match, I fall asleep. The oblivion is mine again.

I’ll be there

When the clouds begin to roll in

and the storms threaten to tear the sky;

I’ll be there giving you warmth,

protecting you from the thunder.

When the earth begins to shake

and the world is crumbling to its end;

I’ll be there throwing my heart open

for you to forever reside in.

When the colours start to blur

and merge into a terrifying blackness;

I’ll be there glowing with love

to make you forget the dark.

The last dance

My first thought when I wake up in the hospital is, “Mr Bernard will be so mad if I’m late for rehearsals again.”

My eyes open with a snap at this dreary idea, for his temper truly is fearsome, the kind of fury that makes legends. I’m confused by the scene that presents itself to my eyes. It’s blurry, as if I’m looking at it through some distorted viewing glass, several faces looming around me like ghosts. Suddenly a voice exclaims right next to my ear, “She’s up Sam! Finally!”

I don’t get what the big deal about me waking up is. I do it every morning.

“How do you feel honey?”, my mother asks me.

I open my mouth, but nothing comes out. My tongue feels too large for my mouth, which seems to have been sucked dry. I am suddenly aware of how overwhelmingly thirsty I am. I turn my neck, the one thing that I can do it appears, and spot a glass of water on a table within my arm’s reach. I reach for it, but nothing moves, nothing even seems to twitch. I wonder for a minute whether this is some weird dream I’m having, except I still really want to drink that water. I stare at it helplessly, wondering whether I’m about to gain telekinesis powers, when my mother gets the message. She brings it to me and asks dad to “help me sit up”. His gentle arms are around me in a second, trying to move me with minimum jostling, like one would lift a china doll. As he helps me up, my head spins a little, making me want to throw up or faint. But I remind myself that this is just a dream and I can control the nausea. This seems to work and the tension that I had been unconsciously feeling all this while drains away. It’s just a dream, I am not late for rehearsals and I can move and sit up on my own.

I wait for my mom to hand me the glass of water, instead she helps me drink, like a baby. It makes me feel inadequate for some reason and I want to snap at her, but something in her eyes stops me. Now, that the world has stopped spinning and I can see clearly, I realize that her eyes are swollen and full of unshed tears. I look around and am shocked by the bareness of the walls and the impersonality of all the furniture. What is this place?

I look back at my parents, standing together now. I want to ask them what’s going on, but I can’t find the words or the medium and I am drowning in a sea of confusion. My mother’s instincts kick in again, and she answers my unspoken question, “We are in a hospital honey. You had a bit of an..accident.”

A few of the tears must have decided that my mom’s eyes are too small to hold them, because they burst forth as she says this and she quickly hides her face in my father’s sweater. And this is what confirms that I’m indeed having a nightmare because my tough-as-nuts mother never cries, ever. I try to talk again and am rewarded by a croak. This makes my mother sob even harder and I try to smile at my father, make him understand somehow that it’s just a dream. He gives my mother a final pat, and makes her sit on one of the white spindly-legged chairs conveniently placed near the bed.

“Lizzy, there’s some bad news. You had a bad accident going for one of your rehearsals. The doctors say you are lucky to be alive. But..but they had no choice. Your legs were buried under the wreckage. They had to amputate, or..or you wouldn’t have made it. But it’s going to be fine Lizzy. We’ve worked through everything. It’s..”

I tune out everything he said after that. It was all a nightmare, a joke, I didn’t need to listen to this, there was no need to panic. I look at my father’s face, so similar to my own and it’s as if grief has etched itself into every pore of his face. It’s so intense that I can almost touch it. I wish that he would cry like mom instead. I wish I would wake up.

 

 

Watched-2

She was running. No, running was too tame a word for it. In fact, she was sprinting with all her might. The streets were dark. Curiously enough, all the streetlamps seemed to be broken or malfunctioning. Everything was some shade of black or grey, and appeared blurred past recognition to her. She had no idea where she was going. Only that she had to get away from this person, her pursuer. She didn’t want to look back, knowing that it’ll only heighten her panic and diffuse her resolve, but she couldn’t help it. The ominous shape seemed to move leisurely, almost gliding and getting closer and closer with every step. She turned back and pleaded her legs to go faster even as they burned in protest. The fact that she liked to eat helpings of her delicious cakes didn’t help when it came to the athletics department. Despair bubbled through her as she thought of her bakery. She knew she won’t get to see it ever again if her stalker caught her, and that seemed inevitable. Her eyes misting with tears of hopelessness, she didn’t see the slumbering cat until she tripped on it. The thing swiped at her with angry sharp claws, yowling loudly. She tried to get up but her body didn’t want to cooperate. Gritting her teeth with pain, she made another desperate attempt, but the sharp pains in her knee and elbows kept her down. As she looked up, she saw all effort was vain now. The end was near, watching her with dark, soulless eyes, his dark coat flapping with the wind.

The ungodly screaming woke her up. Her eyes flew open as her instincts prepared for danger. But all she saw was her neat and somewhat bland room awash with the dark. It was me screaming, Mel realised. With her heart thundering, she got up and switched on the lights with shaking hands. The nightmare seemed imprinted on her brain, she still felt the urge to flee. Trying to hold onto the frail threads of rationality, she made her way to the bathroom, wishing she could wash the terror off her face.

She lay down on her bed, waiting for a visit from the sandman. But sleep taunted and eluded her. Why had Steve given her the day off? Not having anything to do is only going to allow her unpleasant thoughts to fester and grow. Maybe she should go away somewhere, just for a while. The thought was tempting and she had considered it before, but Mel had never believed in running away like cowards. This however seemed like a time for exceptions. Even if she has to make a huge dent in her meagre savings, she will do it. For the first time in weeks, Mel felt herself smiling genuinely.

The sun seemed to be shining at her like a benevolent God as she hailed a taxi to take her to the airport. She had taken a last minute ticket for Paris. Her eyes had nearly bulged out of their sockets at the fare, but the lightness in her chest was worth it. It seemed cheesy but it really felt like some invisible burden had been removed and she could finally breathe. The oppressive sensation of being watched didn’t plunge her spirits. Mel knew it would be gone soon and then she would be free. 

Freedom. Such a common word. One hardly noticed it until it was snatched away. And how glorious was its return. Mel felt like she could fly to the moon and back. She should have done this long ago. She paid the driver cheerily and walked away with her luggage and a spring in her step. Unnoticed by her, a stranger got into the check-in line a few places behind her. A stranger wearing a dark overcoat on a sunny day.

Watched-1

She felt it the moment she stepped out of her house. Cold sweat beads broke out on her forehead even as she willed herself to calm down and breathe. Like always, her body ignored her mind’s instructions, pumping her with adrenaline and gearing into a fight or flight mode. She took a deep and somewhat shaky breath and tried to ignore the hammering of her heart as she started walking. But try as she might, she couldn’t stop her eyes from darting around like a frightened deer under the gaze of a lion.

It had been like this for a week now. This sensation of eyes following her everywhere, watching her every move. At first, she had dismissed it as a figment of imagination. But then she had seen him, her stalker. Well, she had seen something of him at least. Even if it was just the corner of his dark coat flapping as he tried to blend into the late evening crowd. She didn’t know why that had caught her eye or why she was so sure it was him, but all her instincts had screamed danger at the sight. Maybe I’m going crazy she thought. Stopping to examine her reflection in a shoe store’s glass, she said aloud, “I am tired of this.” Great! Now she was even talking to herself, a stepping stone to insanity.

As she mulled over whether her insurance would cover her asylum bills, someone called her name. Startled and half ready to bolt, she looked up, only to see her boss smiling down at her.  “Scared you, didn’t I?”, he chuckled.

“Sure you did. You could be a serial killer lurking in wait for a maiden for all I know. A girl gotta be careful nowadays.”, she retorted, trying not to let her skittishness show.

“Mel, is everything okay? You look awful.”

“Gee. Thanks Steve.”

“I mean it. Have you been sleeping at all?”, Steve said peering into her puffy eyes with concern.

“I’m fine. Just a couple of late night movies. Now, are we getting down to work or not? Those cakes won’t bake themselves you know.”

Her boss grumbled good-naturedly as they both entered their beloved bakery. Melanie knew she should tell Steve about this stalker of hers, but she couldn’t do it. Steve wouldn’t believe it she was sure. Heck, half the time even she couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone want to stalk her after all? As she whisked the batter, she tried to think of reasons. Melanie wasn’t beautiful, she knew that. Nobody had ever called her anything other than plain. In a crowd, her pale face, mousy hair and brown eyes fit right in. That was no reason to single her out. As for money, she was a baker for god’s sake. Steve paid her well, but it wasn’t drool-worthy for sure. Why her then?

The sound of the front door bell tinkling snapped her out of her reverie. For a moment she was confused by the whisk and the beaten looking batter in her hands. How long had she been whisking this thing? She shook her head as she heard the customer talking to Steve. Even though the kitchen area was separated from the main shop, voices carried.

The day passed with her absentmindedly trying to bake her famous cakes. Twice she forgot her mittens and burnt her hands. And she lost count of how many cakes she messed up. She sighed and prepared herself for the lecture Steve was sure to send her way. Sure enough, just a moment later he appeared. But instead of looking stern, he looked concerned.

“Mel, we gotta talk.”

“I’m sorry Steve. I know I messed up. I’m just not myself today I guess.”, she said hoping he won’t ask her any questions.

“Mel, I’m worried. I’ve never seen you act like this. What is going on?”

“It’s nothing. I’m probably just down with some virus or something. I’m fine.” She felt horrible about lying to Steve who was more of a friend than a boss, but what else could she do?

“Okay. How about you take the day off tomorrow? Get yourself some rest.”, Steve said, his tone already indicating that any objections were useless.

She sighed and gave in. Maybe it’ll do her some good. After all, home was the only place she didn’t feel like an ant under a microscope.