Views on Zomato outdoor and the MC-BC controversy

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An outdoor campaign created by Zomato was in the spotlight last week. In my view, the campaign was brilliant as it had several good things going for it (a) it passed the first test of any advertising – to get noticed (b) the creative execution was largely based on popular culture references and brought a smile (c) they were best suited for a fleeting medium like outdoor – snappy, memorable lines (d) they were relevant to the category and brand being advertised. Among the creatives, ‘ladka nikal gaya hai’, ‘mera pizza ghar aaya’, ‘oonchi hai building‘ were stand outs. The ads were also announced through a Zomato employee who is very popular on Twitter. All of this led to a lot of buzz, which is great for any brand.

Zomato outdoor
Image source: Twitter

Among the creatives, there was one which had a reference to a common abuse in Hindi. It seems to have riled a few while many other defended it. Those defending it asked the other party to take a ‘chill pill’ and not get offended over such silly stuff. Some have also that ‘Dirt Really Lies In The Mind Of Thinker’ as such language it is part of common parlance in Delhi (and elsewhere among Hindi speakers).

In my view, that particular creative crossed the line into a territory which is highly avoidable for a brand. Here’s why:

Brand communication has both a tactical and strategic (long term) aspects. Every piece of communication should ideally contribute to both. It also has to be true to a brand personality which is built over time. A few brands might consciously take the risk of creating ads which might shock or offend some people. Brands like Benetton, FCUK, Diesel come to mind. I am not sure if Zomato wants to be that kind of brand in terms of personality and tone of voice.

‘Does art imitate life or life imitate art?’ is a common question. Whatever be the answer, there is no denying that cinema, television and to a certain extent, advertising influence minds. They are great tools to change attitudes and behaviour. Cinema is perhaps the biggest influence especially in India. You can witness that in fashion trends, ‘Bollywood-ification’ of wedding ceremonies, production values of television shows and generally what is considered ‘acceptable’ in popular culture. In Hollywood, for example, the ‘F’ word is common for a few years now. It wasn’t as if people did not use such cuss words in real life but it wasn’t cool to portray it explicitly on screen. And when it became so, it only gets more people to use such language in real life, especially those minds which can be influenced a lot – the young. Even western music has such explicit lyrics, beyond just the use of the ‘F’ word that we have begun to accept such as normal. Even in our movies, cuss words have become common. But it is not advertising which is creativity with commerce. They can cite artistic license and all that to portray reality or fantasy. But advertising has a responsibility to the brand and the consumer.

Smoking is another habit which was made cool thanks to the influence of movies and to a certain extent, advertising. Over the years, the anti-smoking movement has gathered steam in many parts of the world so that many consider the habit un-cool. In work environments, smoking is definitely not encouraged (thankfully) and media influence limited. The point behind all this: popular culture has a role to play in shaping, influencing behaviour. They have an impact on behaviour – both positive and negative. In that context, should we encourage use of cuss words in platforms which are not regulated? We are already seeing such language in web-only films which are not censored in an industry where there is no self regulation. Should mainstream advertising contribute to it? I don’t think so.

Admittedly, advertising has limited influence. It can only reflect popular trends – as is evident in how ads portray the protagonists. It is common to see ads reflect startup culture, women leaders in work environments, common folk taking on social causes and so on. These are positive trends and should remain so as they have a business angle – they have to impact the brand’s business. Negative developments (of which there are plenty) and trends are best avoided by brands. When they choose an unpleasant topic it has to be relevant to the brand – as was the case with Terre des Hommes.

The use of MC-BC term was meant to attract attention and bring a smile as there was wordplay involved. But it will remind people of the abuse, Dirt Really Lies In The Mind Of Thinker not withstanding. Even if abuses of the MC-BC kind are common, it does not automatically mean it is cool for brands to reflect that. As for the view that it is just harmless, playful and not meant to be taken literally, I don’t think brands should get into that territory especially when the reference is derogatory to women. In my view it is not a laughing matter to be brushed aside. In 2015, there was a campaign during Raksha Bandhan urging people to not use the term ‘BC’ as it is demeaning to women. Unfortunately, it was a one-off effort. In any case, no one would like such abuses hurled at themselves or their own family members. Even influential sports personalities have realised that how they portray themselves on screen has an impact on kids and have curtailed abusive language which demeans women. Safety of women, their dignity and violence against them have been in the news of late. In that context, even an oblique reference which demeans them doesn’t find relevant in my brand book. Your views? Comment in.

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1 Comment

  1. The f word has become so common that even a 4 grade kid says “they were using F word in school uncle” and of course without knowing it’s true meaning.

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