What does the ford figo controversy mean?

1. What is it all about?
A few risque ads were released on a showcase website that features ads from across the world. I won’t get into details here as it has been amply dissected everywhere else already. (this one reading might help get you up to speed.)

Lets get the obvious out of the way – Of course the ad is appalling. (and of course scam culture must die.)
Perhaps its existence is unwarranted. But the reactions to it were confused. What I am interested in the curious collective response: It is a mix of regression, repression and pandering to powers that be.

2. What are they exactly reacting to?

God knows.
Some people read the ad as ‘condoning of rape culture’. Some were reacting to ‘Berlusconi’. Some to existence of ‘scam ads’ and quite a few others to the fact that it came from Ford.

In the absence of context, all readings are fair. But the absence of context itself is unfair.

The context in which the ad was created is this one – The ad was intended for other ad folks who appreciate bad communication (the kind that is needlessly layered, needlessly twisted, needlessly ‘smart’). Irony is in fashion. The ad was ironical. It was sure to be a success in that context.

The context in which the ad existed – of wall-less web: The web necessarily destroys walls and hence creator’s control over the message. and hence the hate that Justin Beiber receives, unjustly. Justin’s audience perhaps are the 13 year old girls (or the ones who feel that way). So if you are not a 13 year old girl, perhaps you should simply not listen to his songs. The hate mongering is unjust. The absence of walls, puts the onus on the listener to chose what he listens to.
So the first reading is who chose to read it? – The media.
Media is doing its job of magnifying things that need to be magnified. Is it’s reading unjust? Perhaps, because it pushes out the creator’s intent altogether. (However, the intent itself is problematic, a subsequent issue that was thankfully brought to fore and would hopefully culminate with the end of scam ads.)
It is also unjust because media must be conscious of the effect it has. The superficial analysis in most media outlets, created confusion regarding the outrage. Everyone was outraged, but no one could exactly put a finger on what.
The confusion is terrible because it creates uncertainties. In uncertainties, when you want to play safe, the casualty would be the space for brand’s interaction with the greater society.
This uncertainty is the mother of ‘doublespeak’. Welcome 1984.

3. Would it have been such a scandal if Berlusconi was not featured in the ad? Replace him with say N.D. Tiwari. What would have been the reaction then?

Certainly, it wouldn’t have received the international fame (infamy?).

Slate.com cries ‘off with the head’. Agency complies.(and here Slate is being irresponsible for not analyzing the issue, but raging like a troll.)

A frequently reposted FB meme, words of Voltaire apparently, tells me that “To learn who rules over you simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
If the ad is read as a social commentary on Berlusconi’s misadventures, the reaction tells me that Berlusconi was not too pleased with it and turned a few wheels to make himself feel good.

If brands and corporates are increasingly becoming more powerful than entire nations, and are the central arbiters of culture, ecology and our fate, Brands must interact with and communicate broader social issues. 

5. Which brings me to the question of authenticity. How does the brand-agency complex address the authentic voice issue. If someone else (agency) is paid full time to talk on your behalf (brand), the other person at best will be communicating what he ‘feels’ is authentic voice of the person who is paying him.
To ensure authenticity, unfortunately the dialogue between the agency and brand is about ‘control’ – Guidelines, checks and balances.
The ford incident has turned into a statement about the slip in control – hence people getting fired and apologies being extended.

A relationship hinged on the language of control is a prelude to crisis. (Go on, try controlling your friends/ spouse)

6. Ford didn’t intend to say what this commercial said, but it possibly didn’t intend to say what it said with its earlier commercials as well. It was the clever JWT sweet talking me into buying a ford car all this while!

a. Isn’t there something gross about outsourcing your speech? Is outsourcing speech similar to outsourcing cooking your food and laundry? Surely, outsourcing labour is different from outsourcing thoughts and communicated intent. That is why we have the farce of ‘Vedanta’ and ‘Coca cola happiness’. (The issue here is of reading a communication alone (open happiness) v/s reading the communication with the cognizance of who is saying it in what context.(merely saying ‘opening happiness’ while harming local cultures and ecology.))

b. Often agencies present to brands, alternatives of what the brand could say/do. and like a restaurant patron, the client chooses from the menu, what he might want to say/do. The dialogue is in essence in a binary language – yes/no. Imagine, how limiting that is! (Vocabulary of a thousand words v/s vocabulary of ~ 2 words)
If a brand of today was a person, he would be without lips. (how often do clients write actual briefs for an ad? (rhetorical question.))
He needs another person to do its talking. This other person (agency) would be entirely made of sensory organs only – eyes, ears and a big mouth. (Agency = Brahmin. Brands = Kshatriya.)

The reaction tells me, that the organs have failed to evolve together as a single organism. We need more ‘authentic’ voices from within the brand itself, rather than the voice being packaged outside.

Times has come for renegotiate the modern imperative of super specialization – for the sake of authenticity, more producers themselves should also talk. Agencies perhaps need to take on the role of training producers in talking truth engagingly. (hey, big monies there. white space.)

Brands, often lacking in imagination, needs agency’s creativity to appear in sync with the times. Agency people need the podium that brands’ money can buy. Currently, the incentives are structured in a way that will only increase such incidences. (scam ads, misfires, public oops, inauthentic messages)

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Originally published at http://thejinxedone.blogspot.in/2013/04/what-does-ford-figo-controversy-mean.html

 

 

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Irresponsible brand #56: Bisleri

See these ads -> Bisleri500 Angry bride, Bisleri500 Casanova, Bisleri500 Superhero

Tell me you didn’t find them disturbing. If you did, stop drinking this irresponsible brand, and if it can be helped, bottled water altogether.


Story of the bottled water

If not, let me shepherd out the outrage.
What do you think is the brand trying to do through these ads? Its a classic advertising attack on your current behavior.
Not all behavior change objectives are bad, but they always have a big responsibility – In your quest for increased usage/ preference, you don’t want to bring harm to a culture or people. I believe Bisleri has been tremendously irresponsible in multiple ways.

The behavior shift sought here is that from shared drinking to individualistic drinking. While traveling you would often see us Indians sharing a bottle, sharing food. Sharing is a big part of how Indians define themselves.
However, sharing is perhaps a newer value that India tried to inculcate in its socialist days. Deeper in Indian psyche is the notion of ‘impurity‘ – the impurity of low caste that might pollute your food/ drinks. In marathi the word for a vessel/ plate/ food item that is eaten/ touched by someone else is ‘ushta’. In Hindi, is it ‘zootha’ (false?) All local cultures have a word for this sense of ‘pollution’ of food when it is touched by someone of lower caste.
The socialist ideal sought to change this corrupt culture. The culture of sharing was born in reaction to the divisive culture of caste. And Bisleri goes and sabotages the whole 60 year exercise in undermining the caste structure.

See the reactions of all girls in the ad film. Then see this documentary – ‘India Untouched’. (Every Indian must see this documentary.)

 India untouched

What do you think now? What is Bisleri advocating? Why the outrage? why the slap? Bisleri is asking Indians to react strongly to anyone drinking from ‘your’ bottle.
I work in an advertising firm. Ads try to propel individualism further as it is usually beneficial for brand. But the objective here is not individualism only. The objective is the reaction – a violent reaction. 

Perhaps there is a slight distinction here. The purity sought here (consciously. Though subconsciously this ad will turn the wheels of caste) is not from a caste perspective. Its from the modern phobia of ‘germs’. See any westerner in India – how obsessively they drink only mineral water. They have a valid reason for the same, India is a large dumping ground and hence dangerous to their health. If you drink from tap in Mumbai, you might as well be drinking from sewer. It would be absolutely foolish for anyone to drink from open source water in urban India.
But what has happened is, carrying a mineral water bottle (Plastic) has become a ‘class symbol’. You would see idiots buying and then throwing the plastic bottles near the pristine Himalayan streams in Uttarakhand and Kashmir. Monkey see monkey do – Indian ‘aspirers’ see westerners drinking only from plastic bottles, and then mimic them blindly. (And then restaurants (the modern arbiter of class) use this wonderfully to their advantage where if you ask for tap water, the server would look at you quizzically – as if sizing you up. )

Bisleri is not trying to instill a new culture. It is taking a small culture of fear of these aspirers and then propagating it further.
Why is it always women who get angry in the film? Its not a coincidence. The pallbearer of hygiene and traditions, women are the early adopters Bisleri is after. There’s another insight about Indian women here. You won’t find as many Indian women traveling alone as you would foreigners in India. Why do you think that is the case? Yes, India is a despicable place when it comes to Women safety and hygiene. But how do so many westerners manage it, whereas so many urban Indians cannot? Why do urban women forever live in bubbles of their own? What does it say about us? Perhaps a debate is to be had later.

Finally, I come to the ecological aspect of this brand exercise. What is the ecological cost of a individual plastic bottle used once, shared never? Undoubtedly, the brand is trying to increase its usage – frequency and units (more people more often). So this translates to quadrupling of plastic waste. How is Bisleri going to do its bit to unclog Indian waste?

I believe brands must be taxed for the cultural costs, ecological costs that they outsource to tax payers. Right now the Bisleri500 bottle is priced at Rs. 10. Which does not take into account its ecological cost to Indians. The bottle will wound up in a sewer, clogging it, causing floods. It would stay around for thousands of years polluting the atmosphere. It is undermining traditional practices of water harvesting/ water distribution and even the traditional free tap water distribution systems. (Why do you think, these days so many of the public drinking water faucets are broken or tampered with? The local Bisleri dealer had nothing to do with it?)

Lastly, see the end of all the TVCs. Everyone is as if slapped into behaving in the new 3 step way. Isn’t it time, India slapped brands like these into behaving more responsibly?

P.S. – You might like to join this community started by a friend ‘Planet trash’. and also check out the cool venture called ‘waste ventures‘.