A Provocative footwear advertisement of the 1990s had the feminists up in arms. It showed a model sitting on a stool dangling a shoe, with the body copy reading: "69% of Italian women would love you to slip into them." Almost overnight, the ad was panned and women’s activists attacked the Delhi office of Anthem Advertising, the agency that created the ad.
By then the commercial had achieved its objective: Cutting the clutter in a crowded market segment.
Cut to 2012. Sensuality and innuendo appear to have made a comeback in Indian advertising – with a vengeance. Whether it is soft drinks, cement, sunglasses or even balm, suggestive, in-your-face commercials are being beamed into drawing rooms between T20 cricket, preachy soaps and gritty reality shows.
In the Amrutanjan campaign created by Shining Consulting, for instance, a voluptuous Savita Bhabhi-like character applies balm to a stranger who moans in ecstasy. Did someone cry vulgarity? The fault lies in your mind, says Shombit Sengupta, founder and chairman of Shining Consulting. "We’ve not used any sexual act or word," he says. "In France, they call such commentators ‘sex maneque’. Those who have a sex gap see and enjoy perverted sexuality at the slightest idea."
Mind the gap
Swapan Seth, chairman of ad firm Equus Red Cell, sees no harm in a bit of "creative cleavage." Around the world, points out Sengupta, provocative and sexual ads such as "Unhate" by United Colors of Benetton and others by Tom Ford or Ungaro haven’t really thwarted the growth of these brands. Still, treading the fine line between sensuality and titillation is never easy, says Anil Nair, CEO of Law and Kenneth India, the agency behind campaigns for Renault and ITC. "Titillating ads fall flat in categories where there is no apparent connect with the brand’s personality. You can argue that point in cement, pain relief or even sunglasses," says Nair. A recent ad where the dysfunctionality is obvious, says Nair, is the Mirinda campaign that features actress Asin and shows people breathless after having the orange drink, gasping and dishevelled. "I find it really funny. Traditionally, orange drinks have been consumed by younger teens and women. I don’t know whether an actress can suddenly make it the preferred drink of the sexually potent adult," adds Nair.
Ruchira Jaitly, executive VP, marketing, beverages (flavours), PepsiCo India, maintains that the campaign was in good taste and in fact highlights ‘taste’ rather than sensuality. "What else were you thinking about? It is an absolutely innocent campaign," she says. And which ‘innocent’ act is "Caught in the act" referring to? "Oh that! The act of having a soft drink on campus." Right.
The popularity of tongue-in-cheek campaigns, says Navroze Dhondy, MD of Creatigies Communications, signifies social permissiveness. "Sometimes, advertising is impacted by social mores and at times it is the other way around."
Over the 36 years that it has been around, Indian advertising has run out of ideas, says Bangalore-based brand consultant Harish Bijoor. "We’ve exploited humour, pathos, emotion, even ridicule. Now it’s the turn of sex." Bijoor, faculty at the Hyderabad-based International School of Business, says the Dada Kondke-isation of Indian advertising is complete. "It had to happen in a nation where 54 per cent of the population is below 25."
With sex tapes being uploaded, even politicians have lost the moral high ground, avers Bijoor. "A few years ago, the Shiv Sena went after Levi’s for hoardings that showed a topless model. Where is the Sena now when Canon is using the ‘F’ word suggestively?" Sex does sell
Riding on its new campaign, Amrutanjan saw 25 per cent growth in six months, claims Shombit Sengupta. The Fastrack campaign featuring Virat Kohli and Genelia D’Souza, says its marketing head Simeran Bhasin, drove 40 per cent growth in 2011-12 for the accessories brand across the sunglasses, bags and watches segments. Its naughty premise: The autopilot, answering machines and handbrakes were invented because people wanted their hands free for other, more pleasurable activities. Arun Iyer of Lowe Lintas says the idea was to have a little fun. "Whether it is TV content, the Internet or posters of movies like Hate Story, sex is in your face. The idea was to recreate the spirit of the Swinging Sixties. They say America’s baby-boom generation was conceived on the back seat of a car. With the handbrake, we’ve taken it to the front seat," says Iyer.
Good copy can’t be written with tongue in cheek, written just for a living. You’ve got to believe in the product – David Ogilvy
From HT Brunch, April 29
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