The sad reality is that many of us are extremely apathetic to social issues, however important they may be. To be brutally honest, we don’t give a solitary damn! Many of us are too focussed on ourselves, our needs and our immediate family, and it’s difficult for us to think beyond ourselves — of the immediate community and of the world at large.
Communication, however, can play a big role in making us aware. But it has to be interesting, grab our attention and be not boring .
The trouble is that we equate serious subjects with ‘lecturing people’. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I say ‘lecture’? Boredom (Just ask my poor students!).
As David Ogilvy said, “You cannot save souls in an empty church”. Interest the viewers, get their attention and hope that they will be roused from their apathy.
One of the long-standing examples of communication that really impacted viewers was the ‘pregnant man’ ad done over three decades ago. The advertising agency that created it won accolades.
This ad created waves and even made it to the cover page of Time magazine! Why was the ad so successful? Because it was based on the consumer insight that men, who have to be careful, don’t take precautions while having sex and more importantly, don’t care because it doesn’t affect them! Would they be more careful if they were the ones who got pregnant, questions the ad, making a viewer think.
Creatively solving problems
India is a diverse country with a multitude of problems. Often, these are unique to this country. Where else can you find people scared of using the word ‘condom’? We are a nation of shy people who shy away from saying ‘condom’ and perhaps even shier of using it, if our population growth figures are any indication.
So here are a series of commercials that show how uncomfortable different people are — be it a policeman, a lawyer or even a coolie in a railway station — even uttering the word. These commercials were done some time ago, but they still make for interesting viewing. The buzzword here is ‘interesting’, because if the creative doesn’t catch people’s interest, the entire communication can go waste.
India is a vast country, and not everyone is up to date with today’s developments and advancements. . A lot of people don’t even realise the value of basic things such as the need for toilets.
They need to be communicated to, and for decades, the government has been sending out messages on a variety of issues, whether it is population control, digitisation or even cleanliness. Sadly, a lot of the communication is boring and dull. It has the stamp of ‘Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity’ in every frame. Consequently, these messages are largely ignored. Here’s a sample of something that we get to see.
Don’t you think it could have been more creative?
So, what’s happening here? Crores of rupees are being spent, but very poorly, in my opinion. What will elevate it to the next level? Clearly, it has to be more creative and that is where it fails.
Now let’s take this discussion further with a recent film.
Not so sanitary
Recently, I watched an interesting film, Padman ,which, for all intents and purposes, could have been made into a documentary. It was dealing with a sensitive subject. It addressed the issue of getting women to use sanitary napkins, which were earlier unaffordable. It is based on a real-life story of a revolutionary man, who had the vision and passion to transform rural India.
While the thought was powerful, executing it on-screen could have been boring. It needed someone from advertising to transform it into an emotional and inspiring movie, with enough gripping situations and characters that made for an inspiring and entertaining film. I am sure films like this can actually lead to a change in behaviour and action.
So what’s the lesson?
The lesson is simple. We have enough causes to communicate in this vast, complex country called India. The reality is that lots of money is being spent. But the question we should be asking is: How is this money being spent? Is there a better way of spending it? Is there a better way of accessing the best creative minds in the country to work on these causes and bring them to life?
I am sure agencies want to do exciting work and win awards for their creativity. Public service advertising, when done interestingly, can move people while winning accolades at the same time. Let’s make it interesting for the creative people in India to work on these social projects. You will be surprised at the dramatic change in interest and action that will happen.
But will we do it?