“How did you know your daughter was raped?”
These aren’t the words of a stereotypically heartless police officer, or a sadistic detective from the 1950s. This question was actually asked by a female morning show host, barely a week or so ago, to none other than the father of a girl who had been raped and murdered. And no, the host is not a spring chicken dealing with such a situation for the first time. She has been at it for years. This is just the latest in a long line of spectacular gaffes from her.
She is not alone though. Most of our morning shows are not driven by a desire to instill positive attitudes in society. Their sole purpose in life is to pull in hapless viewers and get as many TRP points as possible. That, in turn, ensures hefty advertisement revenue.
Can you blame them? There are plenty of morning shows that are hosted by knowledgeable, serious individuals who avoid sensationalism and offer a blend of news, entertainment, life advice and lucid interviews with genuinely accomplished individuals.
They don’t sell though.
It is the old chicken-and-egg argument that is all too familiar to anyone who has been following our film industry (such that it is) for seven decades. Them: We offer banal content because viewers demand it. Counterargument: Viewers watch banal content because that’s what’s on offer.
The truth is uncomfortable.
There are no ‘unwashed' masses as the industry is so likely to assert. A large portion of our population is educated and urbanized. However, there is a virtually negligible difference in content preferences. What works in one sector, works equally well in others. Yes, we like to get on our high horse whenever cultural issues are discussed. Yet, one look at the discourse on social media is enough to prove that any differences in cultural preferences based on demographics in our society are at best superficial.
Hence the universal paradigm of ads featuring female models, films always being musicals, dramas revolving around exploitation and the most popular morning shows highlighting either domestic violence, rape, ghost stories or extravagant on-screen wedding ceremonies.
However, guilty pleasure does not translate into a positive association, and this is where brands need to think twice about associating themselves with our morning shows. Yes, they will get eyeballs - but what about the relationship with the viewer? Or, let me simplify it: would you buy a skin cream that is advertised during the screening of a pirated Indian film on cable? Would you buy Kit Kat talcum powder, as much as it amuses you to watch it over and over?
Brands are built on association. There is a reason why, when Facebook (for better or for worse) became embroiled in a perceived conspiracy to suppress free speech and encourage disinformation, many major brands quickly withdrew their ads from the platform, no matter the cost. Names like Adidas, Ben and Jerry’s, Coca Cola, Dunkin’, Ford, Honda, Levi Strauss, Microsoft, Sony and Starbucks are just a few of an ever-expanding list of brands that eschewed the unparalleled reach offered by Facebook.
Why did they do it? Because sometimes image is more important than sales.
Consumers may not differ in their preferences (or moral compass) as we like to believe, however, they definitely vote with their wallets once it is time to make a buying decision. Most of the time, the process is subconscious. Studies have proven that the shape of a logo, the colour of the packaging, the likeability of a celebrity associated with a brand, all affect our purchasing decisions. Our choices are broadcast to anyone who can see them and we don’t like to broadcast a bad image of ourselves.
In this day and age when we are mostly confined in our movements, the media is our sole connection to the outside world. There is renewed social scrutiny of everything that appears on TV, and this has started to yield tangible results. It is no longer enough for a brand to be present; it needs to demonstrate sensitivity and inclusivity. And one can safely say that most of our popular morning shows, while offering reach and ratings, fail the social test.
Advertise at your own peril!
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night. firstname.lastname@example.org.