Advertising, someone said, is Prostitution of Art.
You create a work of art, but it’s not an expression of your feelings or creativity, but to sell a product/service/idea.
Advertising has been around since the time human beings began buying and selling products. Whether it was the fish-seller shouting out to people, or the high-tech digital ambush campaigns that run across media devices today, advertising is as old as the art of selling itself.
If you look at the history of advertising, you can’t say with conviction that it was always sensitive and mature. Our ancestors in ad-agencies took whatever route there was, to get their point across.
In India, the earliest known forms of advertising have been billboards and print ads. Before that, there were local ads and walls painted (before they got peed on). However, the largest campaigns were run for large organizations (Lux, Air India), and all of them were run by foreign run agencies that had Indian branches.
Advertising over the ages has changed a whole lot, due to a number of factors. Sensitivity has become a topic of debate today, and you can’t just have a cement ad with a girl coming out of the water in a bikini.
Oh wait, you can. Sorry.
Advertising in India is also regulated by government orders on what can/cannot be advertised, and monitored by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). In the NDA’s first term, alcohol and cigarette ads were banned from print and television. Since then, companies have gotten by around the regulations, peddling us their products, using creativity, and highly underpaid copywriters to do so.
Over the decades, there are a few brands that have built a reputation of coming up with innovative ads for their products. While some, well, suck.
Here’s a list of the best and worst advertisements in India.
WORST ADVERTISERS IN INDIA
- IDEA MOBILE NETWORK:
Every time I see an Idea Network ad, two things happen.
a) I get into a bad mood, wondering how dumb people can get so rich so as to design an entire campaign. b) I call up my dealer and ask him to step up his game. There are other brothers getting much better stuff than me, clearly.
Idea Internet network, which began as a collaboration between Aditya Birla, Tata, and AT&T Wireless, the company is now almost wholly owned by Aditya Birla Group and its subsidies. For one of the oldest companies in the Indian telecom scene (the company was founded in 1995), they sure make shitty ads.
Someone at Idea Cellular decided to tackle every single problem of the nation by using Idea Telecom connections. Overpopulation? Give Idea 3G to people, so they’ll have less action. Caste discrimination? Everybody will be called by their Mobile Numbers. Climate Change? Use mobile instead of cash transactions.
Idea has made it such a habit of coming up with shitty ads, that it doesn’t even surprise people anymore. Who comes up with these ads?
Well, No Idea.
- FAIR AND LOVELY
How India’s fairness cream industry for men began is a very interesting story. Apparently, it was found that 40% of the fairness creams being sold were being used by men. And as a result, we began to have fairness creams for men too.
But the title of the worst advertiser has to go to the baap maa of fairness creams – Fair and Lovely. For twenty years now, they have been selling just one idea – You have to be fair in order to succeed. Want to be a cricket commentator? Get a fairness cream. Pilot? Fairness cream. Dancer? Ditto. I mean, look at Michael Jackson!
Fair and Lovely is not only terribly offensive; they are utterly dumb as well.
One of the biggest brands in the world, Pepsi Cola began in 1898 when a pharmacist arrived at a winning solution. The company went bust in 1923 and 1931, but recovered and is present in nearly every country today.
Pepsi Cola has a history of advertising that’s both enviable and questionable. In the 1940s, their President Walter Mack, a progressive man, began a campaign that was led by African-Americans. This led to them facing insults and threats by Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacy group.
In India, Pepsi follows its global strategy of signing the biggest stars. In fact, one Pepsi ad in the US was infamous as Michael Jackson burnt his hair in the shoot. Pepsi ads in India mostly featured Shah Rukh Khan or Sachin Tendulkar. Due to their immense likeability, the ads were popular.
But judged purely on the idea, the ads weren’t much. Most of their campaigns are vague – Oye Bubble India, or Change the Game.
Pepsi makes it to our list simply because they have such large budgets, and could do so much more (like one of their competitors, who will feature in our list later).
Founded by William Colgate and first sold in the year 1873, the brand Colgate today belongs to the American conglomerate Colgate-Palmolive. Colgate is one of the world’s largest companies dealing in tooth-related products – paste, brushes and dental floss.
However, their ads in India leave much to be wanted. Traditionally, Colgate ads featured a dentist in a white coat giving random dental advice to strangers on the road. This is how all Colgate ads go:
*Girl sitting in the park eating an apple alone* “Aah!” She looks at the apple, and there’s blood on it.
Suddenly, a dentist appears out of nowhere. ‘You have bleeding gums, you need Colgate Toothpaste’
(Looks at the camera) ‘All the dentists in the world prefer Colgate themselves, as it kills 99.9% germs’.
(Nobody bothers about the girl, who’s probably walking back depressed about her life in general, and stalker dentists in particular).
Colgate has used the same campaign for more than decades now, and while admittedly there isn’t too much you can do with a toothpaste brand in terms of creativity, they surely could have done better.
Launched in the 1920s in England and presently marketed by Reckitt Benckiser, Harpic is one of the world’s leading toilet cleaners. Harpic in India, however, is cursed by every family in the afternoon while having lunch. For years, Harpic has had one overall strategy – to freak you out.
Just when the entire family sits down for lunch, one guy in a blue cap appears on the TV. In seconds, he welcomes himself in, and walks up to the stranger’s bathroom, without even enquiring if the husband is in the house in the first place.
What follows is a close-up of the family’s dirty toilet, making you think twice about your daal-chawal. By the end of the ad, the toilet is sparky clean, but your appetite has gone for a toss. Honestly, man. I understand it’s a toilet cleaner, but do the ads have to be so shitty?
BEST ADVERTISERS IN INDIA
- Bajaj Auto
Founded by Jamnalal Bajaj in 1930s Rajasthan, Bajaj has used advertising to create a connection with Indian audiences, thanks primarily to their spectacular ‘Humara Bajaj’ campaign in the 90s. The ad still counts as one of the best ads in India.
In the 90s however, Bajaj lost much of its ground to Hero Honda, thanks to their sturdy, mileage wale bikes. In 2001, Bajaj came up with its biggest game changer – Pulsar, with the tagline – Definitely Male.
Since then, while not all their bikes became as successful as the Pulsar (some of them simply vanished like ‘Wind’ and ‘Caliber 115’), Bajaj has consistently come up with attractive ads to peddle their bikes.
Founded in 1991 in Britain, Vodafone is the second largest network provider in the world (second only to China Mobile, because you know, population). With presence in 21 countries and partnerships in another 40 countries, Vodafone has consistently used great advertising as their strategy.
The company arrived in India by buying off stakes in the company earlier known as Hutch Essar, which had great ads by itself.
Since the brand Vodafone arrived in India, they consistently churn out creative ads, the most prominent of them being the multi-award winning Zoo Zoo series, which ran for four years during every IPL.
Vodafone continues to make short, smart ads that aren’t preachy, or obsessed with blowing your mind. Their ads are smart, cheeky, and to the point, making them one of the best advertisers in the country.
A company that was born and brought up wholly in India, Pidilite’s biggest brand is Fevicol, a company that has time and again released winning ads on TV and print.
Fevicol’s ads have won awards both nationally and internationally, and while the number of ads have come down, the brand has acquired a cult status in India due to their good work over the last two decades.
- Coca Cola
The third largest brand in the world, Coca Cola originated in the US in the year 1886. Deriving its name from its two main ingredients – Coca leaves and Kola nuts (caffeine), Coca Cola has historically been driven by their innovative advertising campaigns.
In fact, Coca Cola first popularized Santa Claus in red attire for their company, and it has become the world standard colour for Santa Claus today. Coke has historically run mega campaigns in two directions – the Holiday season (for Christmas), and sports sponsorships.
In India, since the economic liberalization in 1992, Coca Cola has consistently used brilliant advertising for their campaigns. The foremost among them being their brilliant Thanda Matlab Coca Cola campaign in the early 2000s, starring Aamir Khan.
To this day, Coca Cola comes up with smart, attractive brands, giving the brand a young and fresh image.
Though the brands have nothing in common, both Titan and Raymond have run campaigns that reflect essentially Indian values of respect, love and memories. Using signature tunes that have today become iconic, Titan and Raymond ads find their place in the Best advertisers list for their timeless ads.
- Dairy Milk
Started way back by Cadbury’s in the year 1905, Dairy Milk has concentrated its campaigns around their one defining quality – milk chocolates. In fact, their logo has two glasses of milk pouring out into a chocolate.
In India, Dairy Milk arrived with a splash, with the ad of the girl running into the stadium when her boyfriends hits a six.
Since then, Dairy Milk has run beautiful campaigns centered around traditionally Indian festivals like Diwali and Holi, apart from abstract concepts like ‘Pappu Paas Ho Gaya’, ‘Real Taste of Life’, and ‘Kuchh Meetha Ho Jaaye’.
Currently on their ‘Kiss Me’ campaign, which is partly playful-part sensual, Dairy Milk is another Indian brand that comes up with creative ads.
Do you agree with our list? Are there any good/bad advertisers that we missed out on? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll add it to our list!