Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Poetry or vulgarity?

Updated 06 Jul, 2015 01:00pm
Is the trend of using crass language in advertising a smart move?

Let’s do a fun (?) exercise. Which one sounds better?

1) Enter a world of supreme luxury and live your ultimate dream with our new (insert brand) that will transform your life and enable you to achieve the pinnacle of your ambition.
2. Yeh le (insert brand), kha, pee aur ja!

At first glance you may well think of these two (hypothetical) ads are worlds apart. They are not. Both could be for the same category/product/brand.

Proposition 1 is classic Pakistani style. Wordy, jarringly OTT (even more bizarre when one considers the fact that such ‘elaborate’ copy is used for stuff ranging from cars to biscuits; for example, take Olper’s launch ad where a pack of milk seems like a ticket to Switzerland).

This was pretty much the norm. From FMCG to durables to services, brands have always aimed to entice audiences with claims that soar above even the grossest of exaggerations. Hence a brand of soap can give you the world, a tube of fairness cream will see you wedded, and as for something genuinely ‘big’ like a fridge, well – that gives you immortality, I bet (cryogenics, anyone?)

This approach has been criticised by brand managers, copywriters and everyone else for years (I should know, having sat through many such futile meetings), while Indian ads have been held up as the gold standard of creativity for many well deserved reasons – chief among them their authenticity. Indian ads look, sound and feel real. Where we use ‘poetic’ copy, plastic models and pristine locales, they opt for real people, real language, real settings. Ads are meant to sell and fantasies are not necessarily the ideal route. Which is why maybe in recent years, there has been an attempt to shift away from dreamlike advertising to a grittier style.

And this is where proposition 2 makes a grand entrance.

In the quest to imbue local ads with a genuine vibe, creatives have opted for informality of language (aka slang), which is the reason why you come across lines such as ‘line pay ajao’ and the ‘thandak (or nimbu soda) ki thaa’ commercials, which are the opposite of what we have become accustomed to and are a refreshing change in fact.

Thandak ki thaa, for example, elicits a strong, clear sensation that audiences not only can relate to, it may also inspire them (not in the life-altering sense) to actually grab a cold one. After decades of samey advertising, this is a welcome evolution.

However, as all things Pakistani, other brands have been quick to follow, irrespective of whether such an approach is relevant or not. Crass or informal language for the sake of standing out is immature, evoking images of cheeky adolescents desperately using rude language to appear ‘grown up’. Besides, what works for one audience/brand will not work for another. I mean, if you are hoping to scare people into paying their electricity bills, using language like ‘lag gaye na… chandelier’ may not be entirely suitable or even effective-potential electricity thieves far from being cowed into submission may take offence at such messaging and remain resolutely defiant (yes, this last bit is conjecture but if it were me, I would be irritated and unmoved. No, I don’t steal electricity).

So which approach is better? As with all things, meeting half way is ideal. Personally, I would ditch flowery language, especially the sort that strains credulity. I would stay away from linking toothpaste to perfect happiness and opt for stuff people actually – you know – say in real life.

Having said this, I wouldn’t dive headfirst into the arena of vulgarity either. In some cases, it works - for a fun brand, younger audiences, a light-hearted impulse, using slang can create uniqueness and an instant connect (provided the word or phrase rings true). But I wouldn’t force-fit slang into a random ad without taking into account what the product is and who it is for. The chances of backfiring are substantial. I mean, just imagine airing a TVC exhorting someone’s grandpa to invest in a new car by shrieking, ‘khareed le aur touch mein aa ja!’ I have a hunch it wouldn’t go down too well.