Tuesday, October 19, 2010
I was in the TV room of my hostel watching cricket. Waiting eagerly for Sachin to complete his 49th century and just when we thought nothing could go wrong he lost his wicket. The room fell silent. The milieu resembled that of a graveyard and everybody started expressing their disdain. As soon as Sachin began his long walk towards the pavilion he was replaced by a much jovial Version of him selling insurance and cement, stressing on its dependability. It was ironic and funny at the same time. It was followed by several other advertisements making tall claims. They were all very neatly done, attention grabbing, entertaining, funny, excessive and larger than life. In short effective.
We marveled at their creativity. It was a perfect setting for a long and interesting discussion among the budding management students that we were. While many appreciated the advertisement there were some who criticized it. They carefully dissected the whole plot and educated others on how advertisers and marketers manipulate our psychological needs and play with our emotions. The room overflowed with management jargons in no time. Terms like product mix, POD, POP, marketing mix and communication channels started floating in the air. The conversation evolved into a heated debate and both parties countered other’s argument. Some one questioned fair and lovely’s fairness cream ad’s ethical rationale; others quoted examples like Axe deo-spray, nimarose soap and what not. The argument leapt from psychological exploitation, Unethical practices, irritable, irrational pricing to being informative, creative and scientific.
Although the debate wasn’t conclusive there was a general agreement that at least some advertisements are exaggerated and even misleading. The history of marketing and advertising as a tool of marketing is filled with such examples and the line between advertisement and entertainment are becoming nonexistent. Perhaps the Most common unethical practices include guerilla marketing, stealth or ambush marketing. For example- the Sony-Ericsson company invented a new cellular phone with a built in camera. They hired a group of actors to walk around Times Square in New York City posing as tourist acting as newlywed couples on a honeymoon. They would go up to strangers and ask them to take their picture as a part of Sony’s stealth marketing practice.
The Internet is one big place that seems to have the most of this kind of advertising hosting misleading ads about how to make millions. Even Wikipedia popularly known as people’s encyclopedia has been used to create misleading articles and has generated the need for corrective applications like wiki-scanners.
The sprite-mountain dew feud and pepsi-coke war are perhaps the most memorable instances. Advertising isn't just about the things we buy. It's about how we feel about things, including ourselves. That's what makes it interesting but as it seems in the grand scheme of things marketers fighting for every inch of ad-space and consumer attention in order to fulfill the soul purpose of maximizing return on investment have chosen to overlook minor things like ethics.
From using children for advertising to making people practice self medication they have used every Trick in the book to sell their products.
In more ways than imaginable the work of a marketer commands more responsibility than what is observed. In an attempt to lure the customer one has to make sure that one does not dupe those who offer themselves to our advice and judgment.
On the part of the consumer, as the famous advertisement issued by the ministry of consumer affairs says ‘jago grahak jago’. It is perhaps time that the consumer takes a heads up and uses all the tools at his disposal like the consumer court and referring dedicated media to make an educated decision about his purchase. It is time that he literally imbibes the following words – ‘dikhavo pe na jao ,apni akal ladao ‘ ( sprite tagline).
FT 2010-2012, Section A