Signboards of our times

Even the commercial break is downbeat these days

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published:March 3, 2009 12:38 am

What does Mayawati share with A.R. Rahman? An oh-so perfect set of teeth they could be brand ambassadors for Colgate Active Salt. Ditto the slumdogs who bared their front row for the Oscars and the world. Don’t be surprised if you see some or many of them in TV commercials.

And not a moment too soon. Television ads need to be rescued from the recession as much as the economy. If TV ads are a sign of the times,you know we’re in serious trouble when Borin Mouth Ulcer Paint,Vicco Narayani Cream for Pain and No Scars Cream are advertised as sinecures. Things must be pretty grim if in the same 30 seconds we’re offered Pantene hair oil — why worry about falling hair,Veet hair remover — why worry about growing hair and LIC Jeevan Anand — worry about hair,not the future.

Here’s what: there are fewer ads,fewer new ads,fewer consumer durable ads and many more government ads. The gleaming cars,the glamorous models (human not vehicular) and all things bright and beautiful which sold Incredible India have vanished from the shelves,sorry,screens while Incredible India doggedly continues to peddle dreams.

These dreams have shrunk visibly,overtaken by fear. So what else is new? Advertising has always gift-wrapped fear before selling it as a mouth freshener or a new engine oil. But now,when the dark mood of the market needs more than fairness creams to lighten our load or loans,what’s on offer? A bar of soap: Fiama,Nirma Beauty Soap,or Dettol to save you “from germs that could assault you”; Lizol for germs that could assault your homes. It’s insta-quick-fix time: Pampers for wet baby bottoms,Maggi soups and Saffola cooking oil for a healthy life (instead of a healthy economy?). There’s even an emergency contraceptive for an accidental tourist!

The feel good factor has been downsized to India’s growth expectations. TV ads now offer,not new homes or home appliances but biscuits,toffees,Kitkat Break,a Five-Star bar and a Bournville with the additional inducement of a free ride with a bird, better known as kite-flying. A few cellphones still jingle,a Hyundai whizzes by,but the glory days are past.

How to be secure in roller coaster times? First,climb into your tight-fitting Swagat undergarment or Rupa Frontline vest (yes,they’ve survived the recession); then build yourself a home with J K Lakshmi Cement which Om Puri says,will give you a safe and secure sleep,fortify it with Kamdhenu Steel (still propping up the nation) and place a Sintex tank on its roof as a “permanent” fixture. Still got the wobbles? Try Eno.

For complete chinta se mukti try ESIC (“ largest security organisation in the world”),Birla Sun Life and HDFC,State Bank of India’s pension plans and ICICI Prudential. All promise a 50 per cent discount on fear of the future!

Failing all else,the government is here: there’s NREGA lightning the people’s load,Bharat Nirman commercials applaud the country’s progress,BSNL proclaims Hindustan badh raha hai (towards what?). Five years ago,the NDA sold India Shining (dimming its own fortunes); now the UPA is selling India Smiling.

No smile is broader than Mayawati’s in ads which would have given Smile Pinki competition in the Oscars’ short documentary category — for her smile and the length of the commercial. Amitabh Bachchan had tried to sell the Samajwadi Party to UP by appealing to the people (Ramdev is doing it now),saying,UP mein hai dum — kyunki yahaan jurm hai bilkul kum! They knew better than to believe a Don. Mayawati sells kanoon ka rajya and everything but crime: industry,IT,education,agriculture,science,girl child,communal harmony pyaar-vyaar,Satish Mishra and herself: kyunki mere paas unka saath hai

Will Congress retaliate with kyunki mere paas unka haath hai?

Jai ho.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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