In my nascent career as an observer on marketing, I have come to realise that more than anything else, legitimacy is a prime consideration for every brand. They want you to believe that they are for real, their product works, and they actually do what they show in their ads.
I can understand that. We have become very jaded. We have seen it all. No movie, song, commercial, political speech, or book truly entertains us: we look for reviews, for links to art in the past, for any evidence that enables us to laugh in its face. We have lost the art to appreciate and we have lost wonder. We analyse everything to death and in the process, become incapable to be delighted.
Over the past few years, I have seen marketers look for new ways to legitimise their product. You can’t buy a shampoo anymore; you have to buy into a system comprising a shampoo, a conditioner, and a third item which I have yet to comprehend. I am looking at you, Sunsilk and Dove.
In a more innocent time, I remember Sunsilk containing both shampoo and conditioner. In fact, for some markets, Pert Plus (a P&G product) contains shampoo, conditioner AND liquid soap. The truth is, shampoo is soap – P&G says so. Whereas previously you could get two hair care products in a single bottle, now the ad campaigns and the bottles themselves keep on reminding you that they are part of a three-product hair care regime.
Reason? Added complexity. All sorts of medical attributes are being attached to shampoos in order to turn them into some kind of ‘medicine’ for bad hair. You can’t get away: according to shampoo makers, your hair can be damaged from exposure to wind, sunlight, the hijab and finally, WATER. Yes, “water damage” is a term you must have heard in a recent advertising campaign. Instead of creating needs, brands are now creating problems.
Another example is Colgate, which, as a former general-purpose brand, is now pandering to every market sector. In their latest TVC they tell a group of children that EVERY food is responsible for creating cavities. Hello: it is not food, it is NOT KEEPING YOUR MOUTH CLEAN that does that! Some doc you are!
Every cooking oil is now medicated, be it Habib or Dalda, or a lesser brand. It has to contain some chemical that fights against the perceived effects of using the very product it is mixed with. Confused?
Floor cleaners are no longer just for shiny floors; they also fight germs. Washing powders no longer clean clothes; they kill germs too. Skincare products no longer give you a glowing skin; they kill germs too. Baby cereal is not just a nutritious and light alternative to our traditional foods; they also kill germs.
And, the most glaring and in my opinion, regrettable instance: our beloved tea, the all time favourite beverage of Pakistan, isn’t allowed to be tea anymore – it has to clean your arteries, act as a weight loss supplement, regulate your bowel movements and generally keep you out of hospital.
Similarly for Supreme, it wasn’t enough that a leading Bollywood hero and heroine were endorsing it – they had to preach about its supposed medical benefits (Supreme healthy hai – remember?).
Interestingly, Unliever’s competitors in the tea market have made no attempt to medicalise tea; be it Tapal, Mezan or they smaller players, they continue to emphasise taste and refreshment as their chief selling points. Oh wait, no: Vital and now Tapal’s Mezban are somehow linking tea with social reform. I am as perplexed as you are.
Can we please have our products back? Why can’t tea be a simple, refreshing beverage? Why can’t shampoo just be something to keep your hair clean? Why can’t a cooking oil make food delicious? Do I buy washing powder to act as a disinfectant and a disinfectant to act as a soap substitute? Do I buy air-conditioners to keep germs out?
The answer is no. Bad news for advertisers: we still use your products for their intended purposes. We want our toothpaste to freshen our breaths and fight cavities – we don’t want FOOD to do that. We want your appliances to work, not kill germs. We want shampoo to clean our hair, not fight cancer. Legitimacy does not automatically come with a lab coat.
Are you not confident enough in your product being good?
And finally, no, you cannot touch tea: it is forbidden ground. A suggestion: try pushing coffee as a fat-reducing, digestion-regulating, cancer-fighting, AIDS-preventing, chicken pox-curing super-duper medicine disguised as a beverage: I am sure you will do wonders!!