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India @75: Suraja Kishore on weaving India’s cultural mosaic into advertising

As India gears up to celebrate her 75th year of Independence, we at Adgully are tracing the journey of Advertising and its contribution to the Indian society at large – whether it is bringing about a change in mindsets, or a societal pattern, or empowering different communities or ushering in new thoughts – basically, Soch badal ke rakh diya.

Our aim is to collate 75 most impressive and significant ways in which Advertising has impacted India over the decades. For this, we are reaching out to the Advertising Honchos of India to share the most significant contributions of Advertising to the Indian society and why they consider them to be important developments. We will serialise the story on Adgully’s website in the lead-up to the Independence Day this year in this special series: India @75 – Through the Advertising Lens.

In conversation with Adgully, Suraja Kishore, CEO, BBDO India, notes how the evolution of Indian advertising is a reflection of the country’s socio-economic and cultural mosaic through the last few decades. In fact, advertising has been a catalyst for change in a culture that has been constantly assimilating the new with the old ideas of life and living.

According to Kishore, following are a few markers of that change:

  1. Advertising as a social commentator: During the late 60s, Amul Butter’s ad began an Utterly Butterly Delicious tongue-in-cheek social commentary that captured the mood of the nation on topics ranging from politics to Bollywood. In my opinion, this established an unsaid right for advertising to have a voice on anything and everything that matters to the people. What’s marvellous is that Amul has been selling more butter and spreading more smiles while doing so.
  2. A fantasy world helping Indians cope with the harsh reality: India was still ruled by License-Raj and frugality was a virtue. With bare minimum infrastructure and not much optimism for a better life, all we could do was dream and hope to escape this harsh reality. Liril played off this emotion perfectly in an ad for bathing soap in the 1970s that had for the first time a lady dressed in a bikini bathing under a waterfall having fun. The Liril girl campaign became a raging hit in a society that was conservative and this idea connected at an emotional level with women all over India. I think this is a great example of brands providing much needed release to socio-cultural tension.
  3. 80s was an era of desire! This was the era Maruti & Suzuki launched a car that changed the idea of automobiles forever. Middle-class Indians were increasingly desiring more. The introduction of colour TV was a big thing in this decade. From a black & white vision to seeing dreams in colour can be the best way to sum up the aspirations of Indians during this time. Advertising tapped into this sentiment and whipped up this idea of ‘Neighbour’s envy, owner’s pride’ for a television brand and this tagline captures best the mood of the nation at this time. The desire to be better than our neighbours, to be ahead of the person next door, was gaining momentum.
  4. India gets liberalised, and the ad industry gives all it got in the 90s: Liberalisation brought with it the idea of consumerism to fulfil our desires, thereby bringing with it a flood of new brands and advertising as a critical force. From ‘Har ghar chup chap se yeh kehta hai, ki andar isme kaun rehta hai’ for Asian Paints to ‘Thanda matlab Coco Cola’, from ‘Heere ko kya pata tumhari umar’ (A diamond does not know your age) for SBI Life to ‘Nothing official about it’ by Pepsi are great examples of advertising coming of age in this decade. The campaigns of this era established the power of storytelling in building memorable and beloved brands.
  5. Advertising as an active force in building the new India in the 2000s: India was going through a cultural flux. We accepted MTV, but with Indianisation of what they had to offer. Youth in this decade were assimilating the best of the West with their own traditional values. In the decade of 2000 ad campaigns like Tata Tea - Jaago Re that I was involved with, became a catalyst to the awakening of an entire generation! This could be seen as the beginning of a trend that witnessed brands crafting a purpose and progressive narratives. The Bollywood blockbuster, ‘Rang de Basanti’, defined the mood of this decade and the tone of advertising.
  6. 2010-20 India witnessed changes like no other decade and so did advertising: Questioning cultural norms and starting a social movement for gender equality with campaigns like Ariel #ShareTheLoad that we conceptualised at BBDO to celebrating never-before democratisation of consumerism led by tech brands like Flipkart, Amazon, Uber, Ola, Zomato, Jio, Makemytrip, etc., demolished any barriers to participate in a consumerist carnival. Paytm and e-payments plus COD-Cash on delivery saw everyone from anywhere in India going for what they wanted. Advertising during this decade is an ode to start-up culture – Amazon’s ‘Aur Dikhao’ (Show me more choices) represents the appetite for consumption during this decade.
  7. Voice & Vernacular, Personal & prioritisation is the future: We are many Indias in one. And as we move forward, affordable smartphones and penetration of the Internet are allowing for more personalised communication. A great example of such a communication solution is Shah Rukh Khan’s Cadbury campaign, which allowed people to create free ads to support their local stores with the help of AI.
  8. As I write this, advertising is transforming to address a whole new generation of digital natives with first-world exposure, infrastructure and ambitions. They are champions of conscious consumerism. In my view, the next few decades of advertising will break new grounds by creating ideas that will be good for people, the planet and profit put together!
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