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.

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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‘.