Advertising needs to stop walking on eggshells

The film opens in a typical Indian middle-class household. David is married to Rohan. And the rest of the film doesn’t allude to their sexual orientation, or religion. They exchange lines. Penny drops. We realise they’re in an ad for a brand of cooking oil. Cue music. Logo appears.

We have another 10 years before we get here. I added 9 of the 10, since the entire Tanishq controversy. And that’s precisely why the advertising community should, for once, speak up. It’s not Tata’s prerogative anymore. 

Here’s what we’re up against on a daily basis: The right inspiration. The pressure of not doing justice to an opportunity. Your boss. The awards mandate. The nature of the account management’s last conversation with the client. The mid-level personnel on the client side, who cares more about the guidelines than the idea. His/Her category codes. The actual client. The side of the bed he/she woke up on. The client’s dated reference point. The client’s casual change of plans. The rejection. The 90’s advertising syndrome. The lowest hanging fruit version of the idea. Your self-respect. The urgency for delivery. The risk of losing the business. The budget. Or rather, the lack of it. And now we have the custodians of religion (with swords). There are just too many things stacked up against the creative person. 

Most of us in the creative side of the business are conditioned to take rejection as a way of life and the trauma attached to it, an occupational hazard. A typical marketing boardroom reeks of bearish sentiments for most parts of every decade, and is designed to systematically butcher your natural instincts as an artist. It’s the reason why our standards of "edgy" advertising are so low. I’ve been part of meetings where my designs have been rejected because it was too green (read: Islamic). I’ve never been allowed to use the expression “beef up”, ever. And my characters have never kissed on screen. I will never get Aamir, Zaheer and Sid to sing a ballad on friendship, even in a surrogate commercial. 

Look, I see advertising as an art form (even if people call it Commercial Arts as if it's a caveat), and it’s the existential obligation of every art form to challenge its audience. And brands can profit when they take a punt. My issue with the entire Tanishq controversy is that the commercial wasn’t even a gamble. It’s what I call Fixed Deposit advertising - guaranteed low returns. It’s like having babies in commercials. But now, even that’s failed us. In no time, the industry will slip into a prolonged state of paranoia, if we haven’t already.  

Creativity in the business needs to be protected. Sure, you don’t have to be offensive to be creative. But the option still needs to exist. The fact that we only have a press note from AAAI expressing their solidarity with Tanishq only exposes the fault lines and the absolute apathy that exist within the industry, for the creative community. Tanishq has formally acknowledged physical intimidation threatened on its staff, and the perpetrators need to be subjected to legal prosecution. Join hands with the Retailers Association of India, if need be. It’s simple: offending is not an offence, vandalism is. And the advertising industry should not pay the price of “safe work” for some goons' adventures.

And now I’m worried for 5-star’s Ramesh and Suresh - because it projects two Hindu Rajput men as slow and incompetent. 



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