What Ads Say About Us

India has changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 100, says adman Prahlad Kakar. The pioneer of TV advertising in the country tells us about the relation between ads and society

Advertising in India reflects changes in society that have reached a minimum critical level, and then spreads the message among many more. Topics we often discuss, such as second marriages or successful dark-complexioned women, came from here – second marriages were already happening and many dark-complexioned women were successful. Advertising just brought this to the forefront of Indian society and made us sit up and take note.

The Cadbury television ad film the 1990s (with the jingle “…asli swad zindagi ka”) was very good! It was path-breaking, as it showed a woman openly celebrating her boyfriend’s achievement. Back then, nobody would have actually done that. But most women would want to make some gesture to celebrate such a happy occasion. That is how advertising moulds change – it narrates one story and inspires thousands to follow. And indeed, we’ve been inspired so much that we’ve changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 100!

The Tatas realised about 10 years ago that there was a place for social media in advertising. That’s what was so good about their Jaago Re campaign – it fit in well with Tata Tea, as both had to do with the idea of waking up. Ads don’t exactly influence society. Society affects ads and ads reflect a society’s con-science and subconscious. Ads are about tomorrow, about the collective dreams of people. People hook on to an ad not on a rational level, but because of its irrational story that resonates with their lives. Their lives are not like the ad, however, they would want them to be so.

Prahlad Kakar

People tend to forget their dreams because when they wake up, the dreams dissipate. Some actually sit and write down their dreams; most of these people are creative souls who realise their dreams are a huge bank of imagination. The capacity to want to live a dream is the future, because currently you are stuck in some job or place where you don’t have the money, the ability, the lifestyle or the opportunity to do what you want to do – so you do it in your dreams.

The heart of advertising is the business of imagination, of a writer trying to reach out. There is an aspirational quality to advertising – if you want to improve your life, do this, and things will open up for you. Any rational person understands that it’s not going to happen just by buying a product. With a fancy suit comes the need to improve your language, your manners or something else. So you adjust your life to suit the suit. If you’re not what the product promised, you have to improve. Though it is considered science, advertising is actually a lot of intuition and imagination.

The Pepsi ad (below) defines Prahlad Kakar for many people. He, however, has also worked as an assistant director for films such as Manthan and Bhumika, and appeared as himself in Corporate and Guzaarish

Artists listen to their inner voice and believe so specifically in their dreams that they replicate them in real life. Most of us don’t, because we are too scared to take that risk. Some people do, including many successful entrepreneurs, travellers and filmmakers who didn’t start off from where they are now.

I once met a Dutch sociologist who wanted to know how modern India thinks and how the culture and history of the country affect their thinking. He suggested we look through the 100 most successful advertising films over each of the past four years – not the most awarded ones, but the ones that sold the most products. After viewing the films, he concluded that India is a nation in transition, where young people have a lot of buying power – and thus many of the ad films were directed at them.

– As told to Gaurav Nagpal

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