Sell the damn soap. Don’t ’empower’ anyone.

So the research suggested the consumer as a patriarchal housewife – a woman who listens to, and seeks her husband’s suggestion. A woman whose day revolves around catering to the needs of her children and the husband. Surprise surprise, patriarchy exists. But client won’t buy it as it is, won’t really engage with the reality, probe the ‘why’. Patriarchy doesn’t exist in the world of client’s brand guidelines. Now only if by closing one’s eyes to reality, one could change the reality.

The client leader probes the poor researcher, ‘Did she ask for ‘opinion’ or ‘suggestion’? I think the modern woman is a ‘progressive’ equal partner’. “Isn’t she happy to help her family members succeed in their lives?‘ That was expected: the generous reinterpretation of truth to fit their narrow worldview. The VP says so, because the global brand guidelines tell her so. The brand’s consumer is the mythical progressive smart housewife who is modern and yet not outraged by patriarchy. The thing with personas molded by corporates is – it is an exercise where wishes and projections of multiple ivory tower dwellers, coalesce. They fling their narrow world-views and politics at each other, reality be damned. What matters is to sidestep contentious issues  and go for the middle path to profit.

Ok fine. so profit motive is critical. Then why do the whole ‘persona’ bit – why go after ‘life insight’ and ‘cultural insight’? Why not simply stick to the need your product is actually solving. Sell the goddamn soap for what it does. Find insight about the product relevance. It does not need to ’empower’ to sell more. But no. “We are a progressive company”. yeah right.

Solving a problem, needs recognition of the problem, recognition of agency of others. With corporate mandated blinkers, all one can do is provide lip-service to ideals and do nothing that would really do anything ‘real’ about the issue.

I wish for brands and agencies to leave the ‘movements’, ‘revolutions’, ‘activism’ alone. Any of it done in ‘bad faith’ only harms the movement, not help it. The powerful usurp the social dialogue and the issue gets ‘managed’.

Sell your damn soap. Don’t bother with being ‘progressive’ or ‘activistic’.

 

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Unilever’s Quality Walls: regressive AF

Just came across these ads from one of HUL’s brands – Quality walls ice creams.

Unilever has gone regressive AF.

I can’t believe Unilever can do such work. I mean, it is one of those companies famous for their rigorous approach towards marketing effectiveness, their many checks and balances. I can’t believe that at none of these stages did anyone find the sexism in the ads problematic? How did this pass through?

For the ones who can’t understand what’s wrong with the ad, let me help you.

Firstly, understand that no frame in advertising is by mistake. Every frame, every act, every pronunciation is deliberate. The copy gets tested, visuals are first story-boarded and then PPMed the shit out of them. Models are chosen carefully. Settings are chosen deliberately.

Everything you see in advertising is deliberate.

So, what deliberate story do you see in the ad?

The second is your daily sexual harassment on the streets that the powers-that-be want to normalise desperately. The second ad is obviously in bad taste, i don’t think it needs explanation. The first one, to the patriarchs, might seem alright though. So let me try and help you understand why it is problematic.

In the first film, the young son is sitting at the table while the little girl is cooking chapatis. The family validates her role as a cook with their fake claps. It is almost an initiation ritual into maidhood of the girl.

It wouldn’t have been problematic with the first ad, if both the children were shown to taught to cook. The purposeful setting reinforces the patriarchal norm – cooking is for women, sitting idly on the asses is for men.

Labour by itself is not wrong, far from it. None of us can escape the need to eat, need to clean house, need to wash clothes. We need these things. Hence we need to be able to do the labour to live our lives. and here by ‘we’ I mean both men and women – the entirety of family. Work multiplies with number of people, so shouldn’t the hands that clean up too?

At our home, my wife cooks, but I also do the chopping of vegetables and cleaning of the dishes. Or vice versa. We don’t resent our labours. We do what is needed to be done and get on with our lives.

Beyond the utility of chores, I find household chores as a good opportunity to converse with my wife. It is an easier and more sustainable way to bond with your partner than by dedicating holidays or dates for that purpose. Typically, we both are in the kitchen doing our respective chores and talking about things – all sorts of things. (mostly our personal art projects, but more frequently trump and modi these days. Today it would be this shitty quality walls commercial most probably, if donny doesn’t egg rocket man anymore.)

It is a welcome break from my addiction to screens too. It is almost therapeutic.

So I look forward to the simple acts of making tea, doing the dishes, making breakfast, putting the clothes out to dry… all these things are essential breaks for me from my media addiction and welcome engagements with real life and real relations.

My problem with Indian mindset is that that it views household labour poorly. And since it is viewed as an undesirable part of life, it is relegated to the second rate citizen of the family – women. Men would rather get fat, rot their minds with mindless TV but partner their wives in household chores. This mindset is visible amply in TV ads too.

P&G has famously decided to be a ‘force for the good’ with its women empowerment pledge. So while P&G is progressing ahead, being a voice of sanity, Unilever is regressive with its terribly sexist ads.

What is more worrisome is, Unilever is one of the biggest advertising spenders in India. It sets the standard and trends of advertising for a lot of other brands and agencies. And if it itself indulges in casual sexist ads, it does not bode well for Indian advertising. It is a leader and it should act as one.

 

 

“Being a force for good to grow”

“Perhaps the loudest alarm is that despite spending $600bn (£454bn) a year on marketing, our collective industries still aren’t growing enough, holding stubbornly on to low single digital market growth,” Marc Pritchard said. “You might say that never have so many done so much for so little.”

Marc Pritchard makes some very important points in this talk about transparency, brand’s voice and partnering with platforms (in effect marginalising agencies). He talks about brands being a ‘force for good’. And I am glad that someone as powerful as him is pushing for more advertising that is good. So many of us in advertising do sexist, classist advertising and then we feign ignorance about advertising’s social impact. So someone pushing for being more conscientious with brand messages is a fellow soldier I want to hi5 with.

But when he said about being a ‘force for good’, initially I didn’t take it as simply the brand stance being progressive. I had a more radical idea in my mind. The problem he talked about was of low growth and what is the most common-sensical thing to do for an FMCG player to grow? Sell to more people!
Who could these ‘more’ people be?
Millions of refugees are braving death and worse to reach safer shores. Surely, if they find safer havens and are given the opportunity, they will stand on their feet soon enough and very well could become loyal consumers of brands that helped them.

So here’s the radical idea in a nutshell –
Grow by Doing good – Helping refugees find save haven and become self-reliant economically.

Western markets are saturated, real growth is practically the sole preserve of  developing economies of Asia and Africa. Whatever growth you see in US/ UK is speculation based – lottery bets on who gets to dominate the world in the future by monopolizing some commons or the other – amazon, apple, FB, google.

Helping refugees seems like the obvious answer to brand’s growth woes. By helping people grow, brands would in effect create a new and growing base of customers.

It would be cheaper than global campaigns – $600 Bn is spent on marketing by brands, he said, for declining growth. “…You might say that never have so many done so much for so little.”
Imagine what could be achieved with even a fraction of those funds if employed in service of humanity.
Imagine being a refugee. Imagine a P&G volunteer helping you with supplies when you reach safer shores. Imagine being helped by brands to set up your home. Would you be more likely to buy P&G products or Unilever products, there after?
Brand contributing to the cause would not be simply creating customers, they would be building possibly lifelong loyal relationships.

So here’s a radical idea Mr. Pritchard, How about companies like P&G and Volkswagen and all the rest of them… how about doing a concerted effort, perhaps by setting up a shared fund among all the global conglomerates to help refugees.  A fund to help the refugees find a home and in turn, create a new middle class that could consume your wares? You have the power to do good and you have lead with example with the empowering messaging. Here’s a stronger way to grow and to lead.

After all, inequality is market growth’s nemesis. No matter how much efficiencies you increase and smarter algorithms you create, if more people get poorer they simply are not going to buy enough for you to sustain your growth.

Helping refugees is the only way to sustainably grow over the long term.

Making slavery palatable

Check out this latest ad. Keep in mind that this came out in year 2017. The year of pussy-grabbing Trump, the year of men associated with ruling party harassing girls and then others joining in victim-shaming instead… well just another year where patriarchy tightens its grip on the society and all we can do is impotently outrage at it.

Anyways, coming back to the ad. The way I see it, its a day-in-the-life of a mentally unsound family. The protagonist, the housewife/slave, is a thin gaunt woman who compulsively smiles at her subjugation. Smiling at the absolute disregard with which people treat her. Gulping down insults to her self-worth like they are inevitable pills for an illness that can only be controlled, not cured.

It’s a ‘normal’ uncaring, narcissistic household where the housewife retreats from imagination of people around her and she comes in forefront only to service their needs and desires. She could very well be a slave in 1700s of USA, of Indian caste system of all times, of smuggled adivasi children made to work as maids in Delhi.

It’s all ‘normal’ – true of the world we live in. Most of us know about people around us who live these lives. Some of us recognise this injustice and know the delicate nature of interventions – the futility of arguments, the futility of ‘rescuing’/ ‘making aware’. The strategy of acceptable increments and subtle nudges. Some people might see this ad in that vein, that this ad is bringing to fore what is a hidden but common practice.  But it fails because it reinforces the injustice, it rewards the injustice, it makes no petition to conscience, it makes petition to tokenism.

The ‘identity’ of a ‘great hindu family’ is tied to subjugation of women at its core. There is no ‘tradition’, no ‘culture’, no ‘pride’ if there is no woman in the household to subjugate. The narcissism of the Hindu family is absolute. I imagine, a lot of middle class Indians agreeing, commiserating with the ad – feeling good along with the client, that indeed if they use one less utensil, they are doing a good deed. In their little regressive heads, they think that they are ‘good people’ to sacrifice the comforts of using more dishes. The complete absence of even suggestion of the man contributing to the chore is evidence of their lack of self-awareness. That there can be a world where men also contribute to the household chores. That children are not little inconsiderate assholes. That being elders does not mean being infirm. That individuals can and should take care of themselves.

No – that is an alien, ‘western’ concept, one that is against our Indian culture. It is easier to brush every injustice under the carpet of ‘our culture’, ‘our identity’ and then be smug about it. It is hard to look at ourselves for who we really are – narcissistic assholes who are subjecting vulnerable individuals who depend on us to inhumane subjugation.

In this narcissistic and ‘cultured’ home, the men are useless assholes who think their role in family ends at earning a living. Their career is an investment, the returns on which are paid by the housewife, over and over again, with her labour, her dreams, her identity and her soul. She must extinguish any shred of her identity if she has to be a ‘good wife’. That is our Hindu culture.

It is also our culture to raise our children into pampered dolts who can’t tie their shoe laces or even boil water. I know of men who say that they can’t cook with a certain pride. Apparently, they “simply can’t“. They are completely unable to. They say that they tried but they are handicapped. So essentially it is Indian culture to raise severely challenged and handicapped children who can’t take care of themselves, who can’t think independently. Anybody sound of mind would call on this bullshit – the faux inability is an excuse from responsibility. But it is not our culture to be conscious of the world around. It is our culture to be in denial. 

The ad is wonderfully shot – it brings out the characters really well. I think the director understood the regressive nature of the idea and subversively directed a film that anyone can get revolted with. Kudos to the director. Its the client and the agency who are undoubtedly mistaken in their beliefs. Because they are trying to start a movement of ‘use one less dish’ in the hope of being perceived as a progressive brand. What they are instead making clear is that they are products and proponents of the very patriarchy that their ‘consumers’ – the women – abhor. I worry that women who suffer from patriarchy also subscribe to the same patriarchy for their own identity. They are good wives, mothers etc. And this ad talks to that terrible version of self-worth. The ad just might work – especially in the cow-belt, where a cow is more valuable than a woman. That is the worry – patriarchy winning unashamedly.

This is the India that I do not want to be a part of. Unfortunately also the India that is winning against the argumentative, secular, progressive India. 2017 is a sad sad year of capitulation of modernism against the onslaught of regressive patriarchy.

___

If you agree that this ad sucks, please do sign the petition to the advertising standards council to rein in the advertiser. Sign here. (A change.org link).

 

Irresponsible brand #57: Maggi addled brains

Irresponsible brand #57: Maggi addled brains

Context:
Out from a deep slumber, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has gotten into a hyper active mode. It started with discovery of Maggi making us eat poison. Soon it turned out, half the products that we daily depend on for maintaining our lifestyle are fucking with us one way or another.

Aftermath:
Some people have stopped using some of these products. But the most visible and loud portion of Indian humanity – the upper middle class that is active on social media – has responded in a surprising fashion (and hence this blog). They feel cheated! They sense a rat – not in the product, but in the discovery. They have responded with a sense of loss. They see it as an an unjust act of aggression by the government. They see it as an attack on their way of life.

What does this reaction mean?
1. People trust companies more than government in India.
Edelman’s trust barometer had found out that earlier. But this episode truly reflects the extent of trust that people have in India towards companies and distrust of the government machinery. Even when told about the mortal danger that these products pose, their instinctual reaction is not of running away from threat, but to question the findings. (arm chair restless souls that we are – conspiracy theories are our digestive tracts for consumption of inconvenience.)

2. Convenience is important.
It underlines how integral ‘convenience’ is becoming to our lives. We will trade convenience over quality of life. Even then inconvenience is not strong enough a trigger for people to react. (People do not even react to injustices around them. People only react to threats to their own identity or to the ideas of their utopia.)

3. Identity preservation over life preservation.
Most importantly, people reacted the way they reacted because they saw the discovery as an inquisition over  their way of life. Its not just about the product or its consumption, its the sense of belonging to the world of the makers of these products. This upper middle class got into the upper middle class because their papas (and a few mamas) had a job with these companies institutions. MNCs typically paid more, paid on time, were fair enough in their dealings and maintained the supremacy of English language. MNCs were doors to the best of the west.  The English speaking children of this generation have grown up in image of the branding efforts of these companies. People chose to identify themselves and their lifestyle not with their own acts or rituals, but with acts of their consumption of MNC brands. “I love my maggi.” “i poop apple.”

And hence calling into question a brand is akin to calling them out as idiots, which they obviously resist. When someone says that Maggi has poison, their identity preserving part of the brain says – ‘That can’t be true. The poor maggi (the poor choice of mine) is being framed.’ The identity preserving part of the brain deflects the darts – with conspiracy theories, with blame game, with pointing fingers, with ennui.

There very well may be many questions that need answering – quality of food safety department’s work, more funding for them, vested interests..
But no matter the impetus, the fact remains: maggi has lead. lead is poison. hence say bye bye to maggi. It doesn’t matter who instigated the inquiry or what lead to the finding of lead. All that should matter is that the food has lead.

Maggi’s reaction by itself is disingenuous. They say that the lead in maggi is well within permissible limit. So I googled what the limit is. WHO says that ‘There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.’
Essentially, maggi is bullshitting us. and that is a bigger worry than this one instance. It shows that Nestle does not respect lives and would resort to lies and half truths if it helps them in feeding us dangerous junk.

The takeaway:
Why bother wasting time and thought with conspiracies?
The only relevant question here is ‘will it kill me?’ 
Long term or short term doesn’t matter. If it intends to kill you, you run away from it or you kill it. You don’t sit and ask its back story.
And once you kill it, you may work towards making the system work better or punishing the smaller culprits in conspiracies. Don’t loose focus you gadfly.

Unicef flushes good money on bad poo

Unicef flushes good money on bad poo
Just saw this campaign from Unicef done by JWT. It is called Poo2Loo. Apparently its been running for more than a year now with major focus on digital media.

Who is it aimed at?
It is in English. the styling in international. The setting is urban. probably Mumbai. The nearly 3 minute long video does not tell you anything new – why is it still a problem? why do people defecate in open? How can one help? All it does in those three entertaining minutes is elicit a nod from the upper class Indian who feels disgusted living in Indian cities. It reinforces disgust, without telling what is to be done about it. ‘take the poo to the loo‘ doesn’t count because it doesn’t mean anything.
It does not feature the people who defecate at all. Leave alone empathy, there is no recognition of the other class.
It is from a point of view of a class which does not see the other class of people, only their shit.

The video merely bolsters cynicism towards India. It talks to the generation and class of young people in India who want nothing to do with India that exists around them. The campaign talks to the young India that forever lives in digital bubbles of their own making. The campaign depicts the one moment of breach in bubble – the moment when they soil their feet walking on turd while busy texting.

What was the objective?
To break the taboo about talking potty among young apparently. People might share the video but that is not all. They are sharing cynicism with the video about India. And the cynicism perpetrated is not constructive either. It merely is.

Its like saying ‘Just say no‘, but worse
(worse because it is useless)

‘Just say no’ was a command to the drug user by a clueless non drug user. Just say no was  not as much about actually solving drug abuse problem as much it was about making the non-drug users feel good about themselves. “We know better and we are telling you to stop doing it.”
It was more harmful than useful.

About poo2loo… “The best way to start is to spread the word that this is not acceptable in the India we all want to live in” says a bureaucrat from Unicef

So Unicef is consolidating the view of what is not acceptable among upper class Indians through upper class channels in upper class language about lower class Indians who do not have access to toilets for whatever reasons. And it fails to communicate to those who do it about what is not acceptable. (I guess, Unicef rightly assumed that people who defecate in open aren’t necessarily poor. They have TVs, mobile phones. Many of them use internet once in a while. But do they seriously think that this video will reach them? They could have just checked out content on the mobile phones of the guards and drivers who work in Unicef office. They don’t download multimedia off net like we do. There is a whole micro economy of content that feeds into phones of the lower middle class. and this video cannot possibly find its way in there.)

Poo2Loo has a catchy song and command to be bandied about by the upper class. The fact that no solution was even hinted at in the video is not a coincidence. It was meant for the entertainment of the upper class. If even a hint of something useful were to intrude the jingle, it would have gotten too real too fast. It is like the problem animators face with the valley of uncanny. getting real spoils the broth. the video would have never received even the modest views that it has.

But then what is the point of making the video?
exactly. good money wasted. I bet there was no strategy planner involved with the project from JWT. It is a vanity project by a creative team with intentions of award in craft and a client who wanted to show something appealing to higher ups abroad.
Tell me if I guessed wrong.

Inventing indulgent future for the rich

Inventing indulgent future for the rich

Saw this promotional video for Bosch’s automated driving system. There are similar efforts being attempted by other corporates too, notably Google.
But here again, I feel corporates are trying to answer the wrong question.

‘In the future’ – we shouldn’t need to travel unless we desire to travel (that is to say, travel only for leisure and not because you must to earn your bread). Our scientific endeavors need to be geared to completely remove commutes from our lives. In which case, driving would become an activity largely undertaken for leisure.
But the fact remains, the way our economy is geared, people must leave there homes and travel greater and greater distances to bigger and bigger cities to earn. In China alone, 120 million youngsters leave their homes to find jobs in a year.
Why is globalization only aiding economy and not human will? (Jobs migrating to cheaper and cheaper venues, forcing people to migrate towards jobs. As against, people moving to different places on their own volition without economic coercion facilitated by globalized economies that only aid mega-corporates.)
In the age of cloud-this and cloud-that, why do we still need to commute to earn? Why are companies not trying to reduce commutes and are instead are trying to automate commutes? Even Google, which is in the business of cloud this-that.

We need our best minds to focus on the way we are going to work together, live together; not on the way we indulge ourselves.

P.S.
Also, where are all the new cars going to go? the virus like expansion of cars on our roads will make it astronomically costly in future to own/ operate one. only a few would be able to afford mobility. Drive around Delhi and know what a dystopian future of road looks like. there are no more roads for more and more cars! We will be forced to de-incentivize individual driving.  

Why invent for a future that is not going to present itself ever? why invent for indulgence of the rich?