Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jan-Feb 2016

How not to mock your audience

If we want people to like us advertisers again, we have to give them some respect and some reward for their time.
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

So you have a CEO and his driver. Both spend the day together (more or less) and eventually go home together. Each one has his own burdens and challenges. The CEO facing taxes, staff demands, competition and production challenges; his driver facing relentless traffic, uncompromising potholes and an often upset boss.

Both work for a living and feel entitled to comforts in life – however these entitlements may be defined. Both probably have an occasionally irate wife, a bunch of kids, bills, schooling, fear of being caught in the next bomb blast, getting mugged, health concerns and maybe a paan or smoking habit.

Both are exposed to an onslaught of bad news in most conversations regarding their country, city and homes. Everything it seems is under threat.

They may have desensitised themselves to these worries (like most Pakistanis) but they still take their toll. The different parts of their day collectively make it a very, very long one.

This applies to you as well. If you think about it, your day too is filled with events, concerns, thoughts and people, all of which don’t bode well for your future.

Not to say that there aren’t moments of victory and joy. Of course there are. But by and large, as a society, the conversations around us, the vibe and texture, seems focused on the bad news. Scroll through your timeline if you disagree.

(I am now assuming the point that the emotional requirements and demands are the same or similar for people from completely different demographics, has been made.)

Now when both these gentlemen come home, flip open their Facebook (your driver has a Facebook account, get over it), or they watch TV, what exactly are they trying to do? Overload with more information? Make their lives tougher? Nope. All they are trying to do is take a little break from the insanity that has chased them all day. Isn’t that essentially why you watch TV or go on Facebook?

And in the middle of this well-earned and much deserved break, along comes, advertising.

Yes, glorious, highly effective advertising, sometimes designed to terrify with hidden germs, or conversely, charm with a 40-something mother of three who looks like she is 26, and probably is. Or with food that will never look like food at home, or air conditioners that calculate a nightly bill based on a room temperature of 28 degrees centigrade. This list of re-engineered truths could go on and it wouldn’t matter, because this rant is not about people hating advertising because of re-engineered truths. People expect lies and accept them as a part of life.

The reason why certain advertising in Pakistan are so liked by people is not because of the severe migraine inducing strategic and intellectual orgy that took place in the ad agency’s boardroom; it is because the people making those ads understand that in a stressful country like Pakistan, people want to be entertained.

The reason people hate advertising is because of how insulting the advertising version of the truth sometimes is. How little imagination the story has, and how serious the whole affair is. People are emotionally intelligent, driver and CEO alike.

Many argue that advertising as a concept is worthy of cynicism and I struggle to give examples where it deserves anything but. Consumers see an ad and think “they want my money”, and well, they are right. Advertising largely wants to keep money in rotation, or at least influence behaviour that will keep money moving.

The insulting part is the lack of context. I will give you an example. Take Christmas and Ramazan. (Please don’t see this as a desi versus gora advertising debate; most western advertising is pretty appalling too.)

Every year, John Lewis acknowledges the Christmas spirit and tells a story that is not only insightful, but entertaining, within the atmosphere of celebration, togetherness and giving.

Note how this year’s John Lewis campaign did the exact opposite. They used fear and loneliness among the elderly to evoke the sense of Christmas, and being a retailer, they wanted people’s money too. Yet, it was still liked. It hit the mark.

People give their time and money to people and things that they like. Fact.

What made it so likeable? It was a good story. People ‘liked’ watching it. It didn’t talk down to viewers; it didn’t bring pretentious boardroom ideas of what a middle class home looks like. Simply put, it was selling the usual bullshit without bullshitting the audience. The campaign respected the audience, just like any good performer. That is all people want; that when a brand interrupts their time – show some respect and make them feel rewarded.

Compare this with a Pakistani Ramazan ad. Year after year, 99% of Pakistani advertisers refuse to acknowledge that the Ramazan climate is irate and hungry, people are generally pissed off because of the forced piety. When Pakistani Muslims come home during Ramazan and sit around the iftaar table (after dealing with the same day our driver and CEO have) what they basically get is either bad news amplified and sensationalised on TV, or Ramazan ads interrupting their favourite TV shows. Ads that mock them by portraying lives which are untrue in order to blatantly sell stuff. At least John Lewis made the effort to seem honest.

The reason why certain advertising by some brands in Pakistan are so liked by people and score so high in research (hint: one is orange, the other sells in pairs and the third looks like milk) is not because of the severe migraine inducing strategic and intellectual orgy that took place in the ad agency’s boardroom; it is because the people making those ads understand that in a stressful country like Pakistan, people want to be entertained. In the middle of a horrid news break, they could use a cheerful tune, a funny joke, or a dramatic dance routine. That is what clutter breaking is. The context of the clutter itself. Where Christmas was the clutter that John Lewis broke, our negative and anxious social fabric is the clutter we need to break.

A sad, clichéd, heavily worded, unreal, animated story does not make for a good commercial break. It’s not even our break; it’s the consumer’s break. Audiences may be stuck with whatever we throw at them on billboards, radio and TV. They don’t have a choice. As advertisers, WE have that choice and we make it for them.

If we want people to like us again, we have to give them some respect, some reward for their time.

It was never about the lies; it has always been about the box they are presented in.

Muzaffar Manghi is General Manager, Adcom Leo Burnett Pakistan.