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  Global Views
The Mad Mad World of Ads
Special Contribution
By Shobha Shukla
Come to Marlboro Country

Have you ever wondered why Mrs. Sharma's son is exceptionally good at sports or why Mrs. Varma's daughter performs brilliantly in her studies, in direct contrast to your own mediocre run-of-the mill sweetie pie. The answer is simple enough. Mrs. Sharma washes her son's clothes with a particular brand of detergent powder and Mrs. Varma ensures that her daughter religiously eats her daily dose of a special energy food available in the market. Are you doubting my mental faculties, thinking that only a lunatic could offer the aforesaid explanations? Yet the persons who proclaim these and other crazier notions are not called mad men but admen (or women) with a flair for creativity.

The advertising business seems to be a thriving one ,with crores of rupees struggling to create lasting audio visual impressions of their products on the users.The highly successful adman is, at his best, a confidence trickster with his bagful of deceits which are thrown at the consumer who is presupposed to be gullible and has to under go the excruciating experience of pretending to be fooled or even getting caught in the trap set for him.

The howlers on the screen are the worst offenders or, in the advertising language, the most imaginative. That charismatic smile which sets several hearts ablaze, or that sweet breath which wins you a wife , is promised to you by umpteen manufacturers of toothpastes. This very wide choice available to you might tempt you to use all of them, one by one, only to discover not an iota of improvement in the colour,texture and symmetry of your teeth nor in the cure of halitosis

Again if nature has been a bit miserly to you while dispensing beauty you need not despair envying the stardust celluloid beauty of your favourite heroines. Most of them owe their silky smooth(?) and rose petal(??) complexion to the miracle power of this and that bathing soap. Ditto for the virile masculinity of your favourite male superstar or cricketer. There seem to be as many soaps as there are you have a wide choice. But if this choice has given you only a more pimply skin and has not toned up your muscles, then the fault ,dear user, lies with you and not with the product. For ,after all ,beauty is only skin deep.

Moving further on the wide canvas of advertisements we discover to our delight( or horror ) that medals at international sports events are won not by the virtue of years of dedicated practice but by simply using a particular brand of detergent or whitener on your clothes. And isn't it exhilarating to know that any young professional can maintain a glamorous and expensive lifestyle simply by smoking a particular brand of cigarettes or by consuming a special type of liquor. Whoever said that TOBACCO KILLS or that DRINKING DRIVES YOU NEARER TO DEATH.

Thankfully there are now stringent laws against any blatant veneration of cigarettes or liquors through ads. But who can browbeat our ad wizards? They are now resorting to what is called 'surrogate advertising.' ( did you say that you had heard of surrogate mothers only? ) So we have Napoleon Bonaparte's bravado and Julius Caesar's conquests linked directly to a special brand of whisky with the words 'golf accessories' written in very small print in some corner of the ad. Similarly we have cigarettes advertised in the garb of life style stores. Not to be left behind are the miraculous healing powers of medicines, especially those for headaches, coughs, colds, bodyaches and sprains, which offer almost instant relief.

It would be worthwhile to have a word on matrimonial ads. Judging from their contents, they reduce men and women to commodities to be sold and/ or bought in the marriage market. The qualities sought in the prospective bride or groom are rarely of love, sincerity, sensitivity, tolerance or even aesthetic and academic interests. Instead , one seeks a pleasing exterior, financial durability, a high social status and at the best the uncanny ability to combine household chores with a high profile job in the case of the bride-to-be. Even a cursory glance at these ads shockingly suggests that every prospective bride should be 'gori', convented, belong to a high status family and preferably employed. The groom on the other hand ought to be a civil servant or an MBA or a doctor or a chartered accountant etc. Whether both would respect each other and be sensitive towards their emotional needs seems to be of little consequence.

In today's global economy it seems that one needs not only possess talents but should be able to sell them. So we have teachers and coaching institutes guaranting you sure success in any and every exam and proclaiming to make intellectual wizards out of idiots. Then again ,if you are dejected in love or are unemployed or life is generally not treating you well then there are several 'world-famous' astrologers ready to end your woes for a small fee. The attractive language of these ads sometimes fools even the sensible ones who are then too ashamed to share their experiences with others.

Thus, barring a few exceptions, most of the 'highly creative' ads offer such easy solutions to such difficult problems that one marvels at their gross stupidity. Also, every product advertised not only claims itself to be the best in the field, it also denigrates other similar products.

Of course ,it is not my intention to undermine the necessity of ads in today's culture, which is essentially an 'audio-visual' culture. Commercial advertisers have taken over the traditional function of poets and priests of the past in order to fabricate a secular mythology in the service of the production and consumption of goods. But I plead for this mythology not to base itself on deceit alone. Advertise as much as you want, for how else will anyone be kept posted with the latest product development and innovation in any field. But please call a health drink, a health drink and not a magic potion. Let us prevent commercial advertising from becoming somewhat like a political propaganda which seeks to achieve its ends by suggestion, repetition and deception.

Ms. Shobha Shukla has been teaching Physics at India's noted Loreto Convent, and has been writing for The Hindustan Times and Women's Era in the past. She can be contacted at

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Ms. Shobha Shukla has been teaching Physics at India's noted Loreto Convent, and has been writing for The Hindustan Times and Women's Era in the past. She serves as Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS). She can be contacted at






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