Speaking of approval based on looks, has anyone noticed the L’oreal Paris Excellance Hair Colour advert with Aishwarya Rai? When I first watched it, I was aghast while mentally comparing the earlier ads with this one. Remember the “5 problems, One Solution” campaign, and the little red dress she wore in it, with her entire body on display? In this one, the settings are black, her dress covers her up to her neck, her hair is more voluminous, and the camera literally never pans down below her neck- all, apparently, in an effort to draw attention away from her post-pregnancy chubby figure! I was disgusted. Only humans could take a beautiful, natural occurrence like pregnancy and motherhood and turn it into something ugly, unwanted and repulsive. She had just become a mother- why should she feel the need to disguise herself after that? After coveting and fetishizing it for so long, suddenly her body becomes undesirable and something to be hidden away after the natural changes it had undergone?
Hello there, internet verse! Blog post on Shashti Eve- what could be more auspicious?
I have been missing for a long time, but for all the right reasons- exams, writer’s insecurity and my modem getting fried after being struck by lightning.
Yes, that actually happened.
I’ve got quite a lot of stuff to share; including three poems I’m indecently excited about (I’m finally clear-minded enough to pen poems again! Let the rainbows and unicorns rain down!) I’m also, finally, in a happy state of mind. I think I now know how to be happy. Is this the road to peace?
Anyway, let’s start off with a piece I’ve had brewing in my mind for a long time- about six months, to be exact. Mostly due to aforementioned writer’s insecurity, I never quite got around to writing it. After the quasi-philosophical question I asked, it’s back to earth with a bang as I stare down the barrel of that triumph of consumerism- the advertisement industry. Ooh, I amgoing to enjoy this.
Perhaps due to the interest I took in the TV show Mad Men a couple of months back (Christina Hendricks. Swoon.), I’ve recently started scrutinising ads with the attention that they deserve. Ads are some crafty pieces of work, let me tell you. They surround us from a painfully visible to an almost subliminal level. They can be nuggets of crassness or beads of art. They can uplift as well as destroy. They can herald a changing era or hammer in ancient mores. Like any piece of art, they simultaneously reflect the artist as well as the societyhe or she lives in – sometimes the bestof both and sometimes the worst. “The cruellest have a perverse psychologicaltwist to them”, like the Capitol’s muttations- they not only target but exploit our most deep-set vulnerabilities. Watching a well-made ad, I can practically hear the evil “muah ha ha” emanating from some ancient castle set deep in the land of Consumer Behaviour. It’s astonishing to what level they control, or at least seek to control us, and how little conscious attention we pay them. Here are some of my favourite ads, and some of those that make me want to hit their creators in the face with a brick.
Let’s get the worst quickly over with, first. At their lowest, ads are epitomes of objectification. Needless to say, at the top of the list are those absolutely loathsome“fairness cream” ads. “Become fair and become successful!” my posterior. Any and every celebrity who has ever endorsed them is a social criminal and ought to be held accountable by any and every self-respecting individual targeted by their simpering campaigns, especially women. I’d say the same for the age-reduction cream ads, but at least they have the decency not to hide themselves beneath blatant lies: most limit themselves to exactly what they are- a cosmetic tool of vanity. In this respect, the Lakme ads are a distinct improvement. They talk about “sculpted” and “nine to five” looks- but they make it very clear that they are about looks, and that looks inspire confidence within ourselves and thus affect our own behaviour, rather than stressing that the outside world will approve of us only when we look a certain way.
Do you see the difference?
Okay, rant over. Let me just pause and down a glass of water.
With that, we move on to more pleasant stuff. Let’s start off with ads of men’s cosmetic productswhich, I am proud to say, have made the evolutionary leap from vanity objects for testosterone-driven apes to vanity objects for men. The Old Spice ad is the first one on my regularly-makes-me-cry-and-thank-God-list. I first saw it on Youtube and I was delighted when it premiered in India, because it showed the evolution in the urban Indian audience- they are ready to accept and appreciate such a concept, and laugh with it. But do you realise just how much intelligence and withave gone into this ad?! Every aspect of a traditional men’s aftershave ad- their outrageous claims of sexual appeal, the really fake suaveness of the man involved, the abilities that the perfect man is supposed to have, the implied arrogance and condescension in them- has been torn apart. The irony is evident even in the choice of the model; a dark-skinned man is rarely shown in ads as the ideal man, as per the eternal hypocrisy of humankind. It is perfect. Whoever came up with this ad, I aggressively propose marriage to you at this very minute.
Here is a Benedict Cumberbatch version of the ad. You’re welcome.
Anyway, I could demand likewise of the person/s that came up with the Park Avenue Beer Shampoo ad. (In fact I think I’m going to. One can never have too much of a good thing, or several good things.) This piece of gold shares exactly the same basic premise as Old Spice-it’s a parody of traditional adverts. My favourite bit is the “Just because it is beer, you do nooooooooooooooooot drink it- you shampoo with it, like a man!” Did I mention the bubbles coming out of the guy’s mouth? And him hitting that block of wood to reveal a perfectly sculpted statue (so telling)? And the three women surrounding him at all points? And him roaring at the bear? I’m sorry, but what more could a self-respecting semi-feminist outspoken kickass woman of the 21st century want? Hell, I’d force my boyfriend to buy it. You know, if I actually had one.
That impeccable tagline.
Park Avenue has produced a quite wonderful deodorant ad, too. Seen the adorable basset-hound-faced in-his-mid-thirties guy who was the face of the “Zara soonghke toh dekho”campaign? The one who took his deo on a bike ride and had a bubble bath with it? That was the second paradigm-changing ad in the dawning era of the coming-of-age of men’s cosmetic ad campaigns. The concept was perfect- take a sniff and fall in love. There were no screaming women involved and no claims of enhancing anything. I think for the first time since the emergence of such products, this ad went back to the basic premise of a deo- the fragrance! And notice the face of the product– a perfectly next-door man with a jiggly belly. Not only was this a refreshing change, it highlighted an important shift in the trends of the market- the ads were no longer aimed at women, as the homemakers and thus the buyers of the product; instead, they were targeting men as their main consumers.
Another beautiful campaign is the Axe Blast ad with Ranbir Kapoor– specifically the one that looks like it’s been shot BTS of a Broadway production. I freaking love this one; I love the fact that they show the stage designer hitting on Ranbir, I love it that he grins, shrugs and adds to his counter, I love the guy who acted as the stage designer- he was spot on with the mannerisms, and I just love the general unashamed badassness of the concept. I don’t think I can express in words the delight that this open inclusion of a gay character- a very, very touchy topic in India that can land their propagators in seriously hot water- gave me. It is truly a groundbreaking leap forward in primetime TV content- and the only one of these ads which gives importance to the soundtrack.
This isn’t the first Axe ad that caught my eye: remember the “Chocolate Boy” one? That was my guilty pleasure at the tender age of twelve *cackle snort*; also “Even Angels will Fall” (above). I’ve always loved the Axe ads, because they are so loveably unpretentious. They strike me as simply badass while not being vulgar, because of its unapologetic objectification rather than in spite of it. There is no hypocrisy about Axe- it offers you a pure, unadulterated formula for sex in a bottle- and that is exactly what its ads show. Along with an undeniable element of fun, they have an actual concept and a connection with the product. Also, for a change they objectify the man rather than the women, which seems fitting, considering it’s a men’s product. But I realise that my definition of not-vulgar may not agree with everyone. The funny thing is, you’d think if I like these ads, I’d have no problem with the Fastrack ads, but I’ve always hated them, which appear crass and sexually charged for vulgarity’s sake.
Can you see Castiel?
Moving on to a different premise, some ads are remarkable for their aesthetic beauty. One of the first ads that I studied with close attention was Skoda’s “Big Fat Indian Wedding”. It was freakin’ beautiful! It told an entire story in a meagre 30 seconds, rather than merely espousing a concept; the music was seamless; the cinematography was stunning- loved the soft pastel colours, and it was one of the most beautifully and cleverly shot pieces I’ve ever seen. The ad was not only produced, it was crafted: fitting in perfectly with the values that Skoda, as a company, appears to value the most. The recent P C Chandra “Wedding Collections” ad follows in the same vein: the basic idea is similar, the setting is the same (ubiquitous modern international wedding destination: Rajasthan!) and even the ending, with the lanterns, is common. What makes this ad stand out is its music. The original Bengali soundtrack made me feel all floaty and dreamy and romantic: a husky-voiced singer hitting just the right notes, with minimal music, that somehow makes you feel nostalgicfor something you haven’t even experienced. Witchcraft, I tell you. Visually, the pink-curtained boat and lanterns above the glorious splendour of the Lake Palace in Udaipur was mesmeric- an almost ethereal panorama. It wasn’t just about the product: it was about the experience of the princess’s fairytale wedding.
Turns out I’m a sucker for short romances.
The music. The music. The Hindi version is here.
Can you spot the differences? And the awesomeness?
With that, we have reached the end of this list for now. I’m really looking forward to adding more in the coming times. Who knows, maybe later I’ll make another post with a whole new list. Going back to Mad Men, I must say I came across some really good concepts in that show, such as Peggy’s “Basket of Kisses” idea for lipsticks.
I am not going to use that for my Applied Art Paper ever, no sir, because that would be cheating. But in general, I’m extremely glad to see that we’ve moved on from ads of the sixties- here are some examples. One I stole from the Graham Norton Show.
This one stung. Ouch.
I spy the source for the Beer Shampoo and Old Spice ads.
Holy crap tbh
That is literally the most ridiculous shoe I’ve ever seen.
As true now as it ever was.
This one really takes the cake. Newsflash! I’m useful!
Feel like throwing up? Good. That means you belong to the slightly more egalitarian 21st century.
Have fun, all, and happy Puja. See you soon!