Advertising is not art

Well, of-course advertising requires creativity. It is one of the most creative industries. And that is about the only thing that is common between advertising and artistic pursuits.

The thing with art is – it means different thing for different people. The beauty of art is in its plurality of purposes or complete purposelessness. An artist may chisel away for perfection at one corner of his mind for that one specific purpose. Another artist may move around aimlessly, exploring worlds through his subconscious. Someone else might simply want to evoke reactions. Someone purely wants to push limits of her craft/ morality/ possibility.

However, advertising can afford none of these explorations. Often, young creative writers justify their copy with ‘poetic license’. It’s almost a knee jerk reaction to defend one’s work. I have never seen a senior creative guy however justifying work for its artistic merit. And that is one of the key things that a creative learns as he grows in industry. The poetics are to be used only to accentuate, to increase the impact of what we want to say. And what we say is in the service of increasing someone’s business, not for creative pursuits.

In an attempt to become an artist or a poet, ad folks like us often create muddled and  half-baked commercials. Sometimes even planner like me are swayed to go with a tremendously creative idea even when it might not work for the objective. This is bound to happen, as it is mostly people with ‘artistic aspirations’ that come to advertising (and even some marketing departments of clients). I am one of them. It has to be a conscious effort not to be awed by ‘mind-blowing’ ideas that do not fit the strategy.

But it is not an easy battle to fight, especially if the client is also taken by the creative idea. And once a client is in awe of something, you can’t choose the less appealing but strategically correct route. Clients, if not seasoned, are more likely to fall for creatively stunning but superfluous ideas. They don’t push hard enough for better ideas. They get happy far too quickly with the first ‘decent enough’ idea that comes their way. They live vicariously a ‘creative’ life for the duration of the project. They do everything they need to, to sell the project internally. They like their names in the credit. It is natural. Our decisions are always emotional. They fall prey to the same emotional bait that they intend to lure with the consumers. They just bought themselves a creative ego massage that was served in one of the lazy creative routes.

But smarter, more experienced marketers know better than that. The key determinant here is, would the consumer we are trying to target react with just as much awe to the commercial? He/she is subjected to hundreds of commercials everyday that they are increasingly capable of ‘tuning out’ of. And most ads look the same to a layman. We, consumers, while consuming media, don’t give a rat’s ass about the ‘thought’ behind the commercial, or how lovely it all looks. All commercials peddling the capitalist philosophy of #YOLO look the same.

The commercial must work for the favourable reaction of the person who the advertiser is trying to influence. No one else’s reactions matter.

 

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Rebels without a cause

Saw ‘Tanu weds Manu returns’ yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. 🙂 (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)

I – Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies – men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie’s plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s – macho, 70s – angry against system, 60s – stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly ‘bubbly’ (females leads), ‘spunky’ (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume – self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai (“We can be irresponsible and successful too.”) and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who ‘do things’, who ‘are fun’, who ‘travel’, who are ‘foodies’ and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) chooses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn’t matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones ‘can’t handle the truth.’
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn’t point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which…

III – Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is – ‘manage’. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own – he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.
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Originally published at Rebels without a cause.

Food as love / food fetish

1. Food as love

“Jevan zala?  Kay khallas? ”
(Did you eat? What did you eat for dinner?)
Phone lines across the world are clogged with concerns of lovely people. In absence of real intimacy,  families and lovers resort to questionnaire of food intake and bowel movements. In absence of touch they want to ensure the mortal vessels of the their loved ones are well taken care of.
The questions are  not an exercise in inanity. They are expressions of love.

2. Food fetish

Idle chat at office lunch tables,  conversations with acquaintances…
Across the world, (perhaps the upper middle class world that is not currently being destroyed by wars and proxy wars) people are filling the space between burps and bites with conversations of food and restaurants.
Incessantly.
The virus of foodieitis is spreading faster than Ebola. Everybody see themselves as foodies. A virus that hollows out the brain of thoughts about anything but indulgent excesses. For the afflicted person, excess is desirable. excess is exciting. excess is a way of life.
Food doesn’t cure hunger; it affirms their identity; it renews their unnatural desire towards consumables. It a love affair gone too far, too weird.
and yet, because it suits the new economy, it’s the new virtue for the herd with low expectations. Consumption has become art. connoisseurs are the new pandits of this ritual of junk workship. It is narcissism projected inwards. (to the stomach.)
3 years ago, everybody wanted to be a photographer. Now everyone wants to be food porn maker. Food that looks out-of-this-world and very well might be, in all probability made from cardboard and motor oil.
Food that never satisfies, but yet that never ceases to be desirable.
Food that mothers warn about to their children.

Stop bitching. Start acting.

Exhibit A

Have you seen posts like these on FB lately?

What are they about?
A person witnesses some ‘wrong’ act. He/ She promptly takes a picture of the wrong act. He/she hurries to upload it to social media in an effort to shame the person in question.
Earlier, a photograph of a car’s number plate did the rounds online. apparently, the guy driving the car had spit on the road. and so on… all misdemeanors that should ideally be sorted in ‘real world’ of flesh and bones through polite conversations.

Exhibit A-
Here, a grey haired gentleman opened a door to a cafe for two other gentlemen. The other two gentlemen supposedly did not say ‘thank you’. Were they too busy? Were they in a serious discussion, the sort where you forget the world altogether? Do we know anything about them at all? No. We don’t.
All we have is this one photo that the indignant-FB-guy (IFG) took without asking the two people in question.

and look at the reaction – It ranges from ridiculing these two strangers to turning this non-incident into a symbol of all that is wrong with India.

“whn ppl do that to me I say ‘You’re Welcome’ loudly.
.OMG ##### the man has the biggest HORNS on his head……..what did you expect…..Cattle class !!”

As an Indian, I always wondered if its the sheer number of bodies perpetually jostling around us, which make us immune to so many civil and civic sensibilities… but then I think of Japan, which is even more congested than us, bowing their butts off..”

Lovrd this. The so called educated forget basic courtesy and need to be publicly shamed

I know them. They share the same name: “Most Indians” “

What does it tell you about how these online people see themselves? 
They are ridiculing strangers for a misdemeanour that they did not know for certain if it happened or not. But one serious breach of manners and ethics went unnoticed.
No one is asking IFG, if it was right of him to take a picture of stranger without their permission. Is it good manners? Is it ethical to invade privacy like this?

Secondly, see how quick we distance ourselves.
me who knows better v/s most Indians, the cattle class. 

On social media, even I am a theorist and intellectual. So obviously, there are a few ones who dissect the incident, albeit in a congratulatory tone. 

Its like an online group of bullies, trying to bully someone who is smaller than them, not present at all!

Everybody relishes in this online distance – I can safely be a voyeur and a judge! I am omnipotent and always right!

What do you think should be a pre-digital, pre-cowardice reaction to the incident? Wouldn’t it be easier to go over and ask for that ‘thank you’ that you think was a right response?
It’s quite certain that IFG wanted to ‘teach a lesson’. Everybody online feels that way, so I don’t blame him. But why not teach a lesson there and then. Wouldn’t it be more effective?
Or was IFG too scared of a possible altercation afterward? Or did he think that he would receive more satisfaction if he posts it online.

Why am I bothering to write about this at all?
I don’t mean to disrespect IFG or commentators. But I am worried about a growing trend of voyeurism and cowardice. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we would rather take their picture from safe distance and post it publicly, than go and talk with them and try to understand them. We are so afraid of interacting with other people, that we are becoming less and less human-like.

Why is it a worrisome trend?
Do you remember reactions of people who were passing by naked limp bodies on the street that fateful morning in Delhi’s winter?
Do you remember the incident in UK where a person was busy taking picture while he could have saved a man’s life?
and there are so many other such stories.. it just fills me with hopelessness. and it feels even worse when I resort to blogging about it.
And there is really only one thing we need to do to change things. To react at all time. question the wrong. Talk. Help. Prod. Call someone. tap on the shoulder and say thank you/sorry. whatever.
But we must REACT as and when a reaction is due. A delayed online reaction for self-gratification will be the doom of our civilization. I am not exaggerating here.

In real life, often we have immediate costs and uncertain gain. We chose online because it gives you immediate satisfaction with seemingly no cost.
If we converse with a stranger in real life, there is a risk of having to waste hours if the stranger turns out to be a bore/ danger of a psychopath… versus the possibility of pleasure in conversation and learning new things. We are increasingly choosing to converse online since you can shut out anytime online, but if the conversation is pleasant, one can take it forward.
Similarly, even about social consciousness – India is starved of volunteers who do actual work, but there is no dearth of online campaigners.

and worse of all, in times of distress. Honestly ask yourself: The last time you saw someone in distress, what did you do? Did you help the person? or did you walk away after telling yourself some comforting fiction? (‘There might be someone else who is helping her/him’, ‘there are already people there, what is the need for me?’, ‘I really shouldn’t get involved in things like these. It might be dangerous’)

Long term scenario
Imagine our dependence on law and authority that this kind of behavior will necessitate. Imagine the sheer terror as people relinquish reactions and stop even acting in self preservation. We are becoming so fragile and wary of danger. We are increasingly less alive.

Answer to all current questions
Questions like – increasing safety concerns for women, increasing feeling of purposelessness, increasing distances in relationships and even the prevalence of bad manners…
Answer to all these question is in a shift of our behavior.
We have to consciously make an effort to react with action, thought and empathy right when it is due. 
If you see someone throwing trash where he shouldn’t. Help him be better.
If you see someone trying to harm someone else. raise an alarm/ call police/ use your brain.
If you see someone in distress. You better help him/her. If you don’t, you are just as responsible for his/her plight.
If you see someone who doesn’t appreciate your good manners, tell him what you think of it. Don’t worry, no one’s going to bite you. most of us are quite decent folks. (scared and with different world view, but decent nevertheless).

If your action is to only post about it online, it really is an exercise in narcissism. It is not a benevolent act. It is a selfish act where a person could have been helped, instead you chose to victimize him and derive pleasure out of this public shaming.

Here’s a little chant that you could memorise and tell yourself at all times – ‘React! React! React! React! React!… 108/42/786 times (depending on your religious inclination) and repeat.
If we all react when it is due, the world would surely be a much more safer, kinder, confident place.

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Originally published here.

The N-generation

Just read a post from the crowd-sourced diary of narcissists – thoughtcatalog.com

The post is called ‘Why I’m Trading A House And Salary For A Motorcycle And Map
Please read it, because this blog post is a reaction to it.

Let me quickly summarise here the intent of the post anyways. Its a self congratulatory essay that crowd sources validation for a seemingly ‘crazy’ idea of the author. And apparently there is a moral to the story. Curious thing to note – the gratification is pre-action – the author has not actually done anything of note yet. He plans to. Maybe. and that is why this post is such an important artifact defining the current times.

The author is an adult. (atleast 30 years old. Also the fact that he owns a house that he can sell. and in his words “I’ve officially notified everyone who works in my office“.) But not quite. (the entire article. Also, he mentions the word ‘motorcycle’ gushingly 6 times.)

Some of his gems.
1. “People are legitimately awesome!”
This realization came to the author when he saw people encouraging him.
yes sayers = awesome.

2. He has a plan where he will

“try to be a coffee farmer in Jamaica with a man named Thunder, attempt to build houses in El Salvador, and try to work at a Sky Diving school in Utah”

He plans to try. these awesome hipster things in third world countries/ state.
He is planning his facebook feed, not his life. 

3. “They said they wanted to follow my blog.”
He is building viewership for a reality show that has not even started yet. The objective of the project is not traveling. It is the spectacle, it is the image. That is why he already has an idea about what he will do in his travels – farming in Jamica with Thunder! planned!
Where is the uncertainty? The author has already read ‘the alchemist’, ‘Siddhartha’ and such. He already ‘knows’ what he will learn.

He is already far into the future where he will write his illuminating experience. In the future, he will be looking back at social media mentions and pop philosophy books to inform his eyes about what to see, ears about what to hear and mind to what to experience.

4. “sharing dreams that they had and plans they wanted to make”

The N-generation wants to make plans. Not necessarily execute it.The thrill is in the plan and in the acknowledgement that others know of your plan. If there were no others, there would be no plan, no thrill.
The joy is crowd-sourced. The plan is cowd-approved.

5. “off the cuff speech about following dreams”
a. Appearance of spontaneity is important. (off the cuff) For a generation that is neck deep in images, the biggest concern is about authenticity. Hence ‘get real’ black music. Hence clinging to brands for identity. Hence organic. Hence ready outrage.
b. Author mentions casually about his ‘speech’ (college kids?) where he exhorted them to follow their dreams. Obviously, the author places himself firmly at the center of the universe. Has he achieved anything? Has he created anything? No. He is merely planning to try to build houses in El Salvador. may be.
Why is he going all TED on poor college kids? Isn’t ‘following dreams’ a tried old message that everyone hears about 1548435024 times a month at least?
Has his ‘following dream’ served him any good? why should he talk on the subject?
Its not about the students or the institution. Its about his image of him sharing his wisdom in an institution.

6. The prof. who coordinated his little talk “emailed me and shared so many awesome things that she was doing and things she wanted to accomplish.”

a. He finds needs validation. from his coworkers (“come into my office with tears in their eyes”) and more importantly, a professor – an authority figure. Obviously, he subscribes to the educational authority. That is why he is maybe planning for a PhD. For quite a few confused souls, PhD is an excellent break (atleast in their heads before they enroll for the course) to postpone their life – to push confrontation with life’s issues even further. To evade adulthood.
(Maybe planning – that deserves a separate post altogther. Something that I am guilty of too.)
b.  In author’s narrative, the prof. rushed to share her accomplishments and wishes with him. Because in his narrative, the authority has been subverted. In his world, now he is the authority in whom the prof. wants validation.

8. Then the author meanders through old lame complaints before getting here –When a person bottoms out they start from zero. They get to recreate the rules.”

Our generation is in desperate need of ‘bottoming out’. We want an antihero who would bring down the ‘system’. But as TLC says, the problem is not the system, the problem is you. (Read the blog cautiously. Very insightful stuff, though cloaked under a high amount of sarcasm, smarty aggression and American references that we might not always be aware of.)

We don’t want to build incrementally or bring in a revolution. We want to ‘recreate the rules’.

9. “So to everyone who is just now inheriting the world…”
Inherited the world. INHERITED.

10. “We’re going to create something. We’re not hippies. We’re something new that has yet to be determined.”

We are desperate to build an identity. But we just can’t choose. So we start with exclusion. ‘we are not hippies.’ We are afraid of concrete realities. Hence we are ‘something’s. We are ‘new’ and ‘creators’. Everyone is an artist.

30 and still a man-child. that’s the N-generation.
Narcissistic

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Originally published here.