Residual imageries are powerful. Deep down in our minds there are visual and word associations towards events, festivals, countries, celebrities and brands. Even to a non-Bengali the mere mention of ‘Pujo’ is likely to evoke an imagery uniquely associated with the festival with no ambiguity. Similarly, select countries, monuments and strong brands evoke visual cues. Diwali (or Deepavali as it is called in the South) has such cues too. In the South it is associated with early morning oil bath, pujas, rituals, fire crackers, sumptuous meals, special dishes and wearing new clothes – it *is* a Hindu festival. In the North, aside from the pujas, dressing up and feasting, playing cards and alcohol consumption (possibly in certain strata of the society) are also part of the festivities. Advertising during the season has followed a certain ‘look & feel’ across categories. Bright colours, lighting of lamps, happiness, relationships are common elements. Beyond the world of advertising, there is a strong association with faith and religion in the festival among most, which is natural. There is a section in society – mostly affluent, with Western sensibilities and English speaking, for whom faith may not play a prominent role. The beauty of India is that there is room for all kinds of persuasions and beliefs.
In that context, the latest one from Tanishq (the 3rd one to be pulled off air by the brand after social media outrage: Titan’s Tamil Nadu Collection ad and then the Ekatvam one) seems to appeal to that niche. The visual cues (pastel shades, conspicuously absent bindi on women, ethnic fusion kind of attire), the language (English) and the messaging (preaching a certain way of celebrating the festival with emphasis on no fire crackers and ‘lots of feasting and dressing up’ is likely to appeal to that affluent, upmarket audience. Also notice that such preaching is only reserved for certain festivals. In the overall context of ‘people not like us’ (which applies both ways) and the polarised nature of social media which can take umbrage to anything this *will* rile up a large section of those who see the ads as talking down to them.
I am told that the product too is likely to appeal to such a segment and not those who seek traditional designs which is found in the myriad regional players or national players who started off as small regional players. In the context of residual imagery associated with the festival it is nowhere close to that of the mass market or strongly held beliefs.
It is the kind of imagery and messaging one sees in upmarket fashion, lifestyle and women’s interest magazines such as Vogue, L’Officiel and others. Understandably what is advertised there or is featured there as a news story would be out of place and irrelevant to an audience which reads say, Grihashobha or Kumudam. A photo feature which would seem in sync with the rest of the content in an upmarket fashion magazine would be risqué in a mass market women’s magazine.
If the Tanishq ad were to be print ad it would probably feature in the earlier set than the mass market ones. I am not suggesting any one approach is superior to the other or choosing to not wear a bindi is somehow automatically associated with being progressive. Traditional attire is not uncool. Women’s attire, especially at work, has changed over the years with less of sarees and more of salwar suits or western wear. While a bindi does not go well with western wear it is also not part of the dressing up routine with salwar suits. I wonder if associations of ‘uncool’ or ‘old fashioned’ are attributed to wearing a bindi.
To me the Tanishq ad seems to have been ‘made by and made for a Bandra West’ audience with similar tastes, mindset and values. There is a hint of ‘us superior folks will now tell you how to celebrate your festival’. There could be many such ‘Bandra Wests’ in major Indian cities. So it speaks to an elite audience but have made the communication visible to a mass market audience on Twitter. They have not had an opportunity to limit their communication only to an audience which would find the overall ‘package’ attractive. So in effect they are inviting comments from an audience who appears to be not their core. Moreover, brands preaching an audience on how to lead their life or changing their mindset or way of life for good is ok if it is limited to topics such as water or energy consumption. The moment it treads into faith, religion and political overtones it is bound to invite comment of all tonalities.
Jewellery buying maybe a high-involvement purchase (and not mayonnaise) but the central idea of what Samuel J Scott says makes sense: it is best to avoid being ‘political’. Unfortunately in today’s polarised world everything is seen through the prism of political affiliations and camps.
The world over, be it Christmas, Eid or Diwali festive advertising is inclusive, tells great emotional stories and is high on the feel-good factor. I am not sure if a bunch of talking heads conversing among themselves and giving preachy vibes achieves that.
Do share your views.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.