There is no way to disguise the huge money-making potential of the month of Ramzan. For some reason, our nation sees it fit to contrast empty stomachs with over-indulgence in the name of iftar and shopping.
Advertisers and marketers know this, yet recently, they have taken to pretending they don’t. This is why, in an ironic twist, many Ramzan campaigns don’t highlight the month; rather they present lush productions designed to evoke the ‘inner good human’ inside us – nothing to do with the holy month, we promise!
As with all insincere efforts, jaded viewers (such as yours truly) can see through these campaigns for what they really are: awkward product placement efforts within mini soap operas. Furthermore, advertisers need to realise the value of balance: many of these ads are so overwrought, they become burdensome, especially on the frayed nerves and weakened powers of reasoning of a fasting nation.
Take, for example, the campaign for a leading biscuit. The ad starts with that most overused of tropes: a Sufi singer singing in the street. The street, by the way is, as usual, decorated like a Valima ceremony. The protagonist appears on the balcony holding a cup of tea. He listens to the singer’s platitudes of gratitude to the Almighty and tears up. As the singer continues, he goes inside and sees his family who are busy going about their business, but a single sight of the biscuit in question causes them to gather together, laugh pointlessly and of course, consume the biscuit in a most unnatural manner.
The first problem with this ad is the tone. The song is well composed and sung, but it is jarring and too loud and the whole act is overdone. Together, these two factors make the ad a pain to watch, despite the best of intentions. It also fails to highlight any unique merit of the product, except that people like to eat it. It could have been anything – a brand of oil, tea, or even cola.
Speaking of colas. Coca-Cola is running a campaign which is simple and elegant. It shows different people around the world connecting over a bottle of Coke. It is a message of inclusivity and unity. My only issues are (a) people exchanging heaped platters of food at iftar which is in jarring contrast to the message of the ad and (b) the muted colour palette which lends the ad an overdose of pretentiousness.
Another interesting ad doing the rounds is Surf Excel. It shows a group of orphaned children visiting an old-people’s home, enjoying a day of fun. As the children leave, the head of the old people’s home suggest that since both groups have lost their loved ones, they would be happier being together. The in-charge of the children nods solemnly and thus, a union violating a thousand child protection laws is cheerfully cemented.
The ad takes a refreshing approach in conveying vital information through visual cues. If only it was not sanctimonious to the extent of being depressing: the elderly men and women have long faces even when the children are playing with them. Even the children cheering as they return to mingle with the seniors takes on a superficial quality against the cloying seriousness of the ad. The direction is right, but Ramzan does not mean a month of crying. Certainly one may cry while praying – but nobody wants to cry while watching TV. The ad makers should lighten up a bit.
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