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 link).



We can do this.

We can do this.

In a smoke-free meeting room, a tin box of crackers goes around with a dozen people munching, masticating, marauding the little round rascals. The biscuit is no good, someone opines. But that doesn’t stop him from dredging a fistful of those from the tin box. The box’s golden underbelly is now visible and that is causing visible disbelief to a few.  They had hoped it to be bottomless. Alas, they don’t make magical ever-full tinboxes of yummy, crunchy biscuits any more.

Is it the biscuit or the clank and clink of the golden box? The eyes in the room are narrowed and the smiles almost reach them. Must be the evening. A good way to leave office – on full happy tummies after hearty bouts and jousts of the brain. The preceding hour had been one of ideas been coaxed out, thrown around – like a beach volleyball. The idea gets tossed from one person to another. The difference being, in this game of volleyball, the ball mutates with every bounce – it changes colour, shape and its feel. The CCO sitting there gets worried from time to time – he is worried the ball will mutate into a lemon. But when the game is on, there is no stopping the mutation. It is a delicate art to stop the game when the ball is a pristine orb of furious energy and shining originality. It is easy for it to end on a sour lemon of an idea, if someone holds on to it too dearly. The chief creative offer then has to coax it out of the biased hands and set to back and forth bounce again.

Like a bunch of bandicoots made to wake up by digging them up at the height of noon, the end of game feels disorienting to many. But the CCO has found the shining beacon of originality and awesomeness. It’s time to make the idea happen.

The chief and the planner walk in, “so what’s the idea?”.

There is a moment of silence as no one is ready to start the new conversation. There is alarm in their eyes – eyes that are also dying to roll at the profusion of what-they-think-is, bullshit that is to follow. They are worried that the chief and planner duo will shoot out darts and puncture the various mutated globes they are holding in their arms so dearly. Most of their ideas would be punctured now. Only one idea will leave the room alive. Most will be killed pretty mercilessly.

The CCO makes an attack. Attack as in the music, not war. A confident start to the symphony that leads to the crescendo of ideas. It starts playfully, with laughter and grand pronunciations, with witty observations segueing into grand visions. Like an experienced conductor, he shores up confidence among his fellow team mates and encourages their ideas to be pronounced in sync with his melody. The rhythm unfortunately is set by a misogynist joke. But people weather it, knowing well that the joke is the support that swells the confidence in the conductor and questioning it now, will derail the symphony. The composition is more like jazz – improved upon as it gets performed.  The planner and the chief, seeing that the ideas are not ‘too bad’ and ‘to the brief’, sing along too. They add bass of reason and strategic perspective to shore up the melody. They envision what the client will react to and steer the idea in a direction that would be better appreciated.

The music changes – now it’s a call and response gig. The planner suggests, the creative team reacts, the chief questions, the team builds upon. The give and take goes on until everyone in the room is confident enough of winning hearts with the idea.

There is palpable excitement in the air. We can do this. Goddamnit we are gold.

If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.

Traditional advertising agencies were essentially amoral tongues on rent.  In the pre-digital age, where there was no other way of knowing the truth (or rumours) about products and brands, advertisements was the only major source of opinion/ information (after WOM) about the product’s usefulness/ efficacy/ likeability.
There was a role for advertising in the lives of people. It was global village’s emissary of good times. It was the window to a new lifestyle. It was the helpful aunt who knows solutions to all our problems. And it was all in good cheery humour. Oh, golly-gee. What a wonderful world advertising was building for people. In a media-starved world, people lapped up the shiny world painted by advertising. The modernist utopia was painted by advertising.

Internet broke that world. It made the world transparent. People could verify claims, could complain, could rally fellow consumes into shaming advertisers who were dishonest. Advertising just didn’t ring true any more. At best they were entertaining distractions. At worst they were insidious worry-mongers who amplified the worst aspects of humanity – misogyny, racism, greed…Mostly they were an annoyance best muted or ignored.

From a brand point of view, ads were not efficient anymore in telling consumers anything they didn’t already know or wanted to know. Advertising simply had lost the plot.

Then came Amazon, facebook and google. And boy did they take the life out of advertising. Many agencies are dead, they just don’t know it yet. They see pitches, dwindling margins as symptoms of economy, politics etc. They don’t see the picture. The disease is different. The disease is ‘death of brands’. And with it, traditional agencies.

People do not need ads anymore to inform/ educate/ convince them about anything. thank you very much. They have google, facebook for that. They stream their brand experience (mostly if it is bad) live on facebook. They pummel the brand social media handlers when brands do a faux pas. They’ve got the power and they know it.

People buy ‘products’ on amazon and flipkart now. They don’t care for brands anymore.
With Amazon’s Alexa and Prime, amazon will ‘seamlessly’ relieve the burden of choices and chore shopping for wealthiest of consumers. That means hello private labels and small players, bye bye big CPG brands.

Sure, some people might continue to believe that they must drink redbull and eat tacos and drive audis and exhibit iphones… but the vast majority of non-lifestyle CPG brands, daily use brands – brand on which we spend most frequently. They will see erosion in their ‘brand value’.

Go niche or go big. There is no middle ground anymore for most brands.

What that means for agencies? Forget the age of ‘lines’ and brand ethos. ‘brand with a purpose’ and ‘lifestyle defining brands’ can only be a handful. Most of agency clients are not these brands.

Agencies of the future need to help most brands become more ‘uniquely useful’ to the consumer. Agencies need to be able to create opportunities and harness unexpected opportunities for brands. Here are some interesting brief to work for.

‘How can we ensure that the consumer searches for my brand name and not the category name when buying on amazon?’

“How can we change the amazon prime habit and get the consumer to buy stuff at my store on his way home?”

How can my brand reach consumer better, quicker, more delightfully than amazon/ google can?

and so on.

The point it, days of ‘lines’ and ‘scripts’ are gone. We must be able to solve real business growth problems and be ready to leverage any medium/ expertise/ experience. If agencies remain married to ‘ads’, agencies are doomed.

The slowness of digital life

The slowness of digital life

Digital connections = Speed.
Instantaneous reactions,
Instantaneous gratification,
Instantaneous outrage
and so on.
Everything is instantaneous.

Or not?

Recently, while my own phone was getting recharged and I had no option but to look around, I saw a person sitting there, with phone in hand. Waiting with anticipation for a like, a comment or some such. The digital slot machine was not throwing up interesting enough things for him. I went away and came back a while later.

The man was still there.
exactly there.
with exactly the same blank face and wide eyed anticipation.
And apparently the same screen.

Nothing had changed. He was still. and he didn’t know it.

We are all still. and we don’t know it.

In reality, everything is not instantaneous. Our expectations though, are.
In search of dopamine hit, we keep refreshing, checking, rechecking… but real world refuses to move with the speed we want it to move. We prod at it with refreshes. We pull at it by pulling down at feeds. We push buttons to see ‘what else’.

But our world remains adamantly stagnant, the more adamantly we force a refresh of it through our screens.

As such,
little of consequence
really happens
through screens
in our lives.

Digital life in reality is a terribly slow life.

We don’t advance in life through screens. We stay still with screens.


Originally published here.

“That is the creative challenge”

“That is the creative challenge”

If clients, planners, management folks and even creative directors make a habit of envisioning their idea before talking about it, we would be spared of a lot of bullshit.

So recently we presented an elegant campaign that was not ‘exciting enough’ to the client. They thrashed it mercilessly.

“Its a 20 seconder, we don’t have the time for a story.”
“Print needs to say ‘this’ and ‘that’ and ‘that’ and ‘this’. Make it all big. How will consumer know this. He needs to know that too……”

Essentially, they wanted to talk about five different things in an exciting manner in a twenty seconder ad that should also be clutter breaking since they had low budgets compared to competition.

I told them that the ad might work better if we concentrate on the most important thing – one thing to talk about. We might then have a chance of making memorable successful campaign. But nop. They wanted to say it all and apparently that is the creative challenge‘.

‘That is the creative challenge‘ is a phrase I have heard often enough. Its the lazy way out of having to make decisions. It is the lazy way out having to work as a team to arrive at better ideas.

It is precisely at this moment that one knows – the campaign is going to be  a dud. At a strategic level, the client has already made a mess and does not want to own up to it, to make sense of it. And no amount of creativity now is going to salvage it. And even if by the stroke of dumb luck, creatives come up with something workable, the idea will get ‘dialed up, dialed down‘ as the client tries to retroactively make sense of his / her strategy.

The antidote – Make people think along

If by some means you could inculcate a habit, inculcate this. For every meeting – briefing, brainstorming, client presentation etc., – make it a habit of visualizing the idea being presented. What could the idea mean actually? What are the best/ worst ads you can think of in that direction?

So if the planner gives you shitty brief with big words – ask him to give him an example of a ‘bad ad’. Give it a go. The planner has not thought through his brief if he doesn’t already have a few ideas himself.

So if the servicing guy comes back with client feedback that seems to worsen the creative work – ask him/ her to think along – how do they visualise it? how has the client visualised it?

so if the client asks to ‘dial up/ dial down’ or add this/ that – ask them to think along. ask them,

What should the ad say?”,
“What would the people remember from this ad?”

If no one has confident answers for these questions – there is no point in starting to work on a script/ idea. Get clarity about ‘what the ad needs to say/do’ first – not in abstract bullshit terms but words that anyone can visualise, actions that anyone can relate to.

Specific diseconomy

Win awards with scam
Fight competitors with self-destructively cheap pitches
Create walled gardens for petty rent seeking
Delude yourself by thinking that creativity is the sole preserve of your kind
Do not grow your people, nurse a few egos
Advocate brave disruption to clients, but do not attempt it yourself
And when someone does try innovating, fight them for petty egotistical causes
instead of thinking along for better ideas

This is advertising industry working against its own interest. This is the “Specific Diseconomy”* of  advertising industry.

Instead of communicating, we are fabricating hollow “purposes”.
Instead of inspiring certainty, the cumulative effect of advertising is that of overwhelming doubt.
The industry has set loose to ‘attention-and-trust-deficit’ monster that devours humanity’s time and resources, leaving everyone poorer emotionally and physically.


*It is a “measure of the degree of institutional counterproductivity that is occurring —referring to the exact degree to which, for example, the medical industry induces illness, educational institutions induce ignorance, the judicial system perpetuates injustice…”




The philosophy of advertising

What is common between a car, a cancer clinic, an app, wall paint and insurance?




#YOLO (You only live once.)

I have worked on brands in each of these categories which ended up talking about #YOLO (more or less).

YOLO – is a restless soul’s yearning for a fix – usually with caffeine or alochol. Often imagined with adventure sports, spontaneous face-melt or traveling like an #instahobo. The imagery of which is used then to sell everything now. EVERYTHING. Everything is about instant gratification because #YOLO. Everything is about ‘you’ because #YOLO. Everything is about the fear of #FOMO (fear of missing out) because #YOLO.

And since everyone is #YOLO, no one is. Long live clutter.

And hence we must stop doing the #YOLO. Stop advocating ‘bad faith‘.