The Festival of Freedom

14 Aug,2019

 

By Avik Chattopadhyay

 

We are a land of festivals. There is a phrase in Bengali that goes like “12 months, 13 festivals”.  Just the Bengali ones, mind you. If one were to add up all the festivals across all faiths and occasions, we would end up with probably 10 times that. We just love celebrations, of all types, shapes and sizes. And most brands around us surround us with their specific pieces of communication for each festival. Wishing us health, prosperity, happiness and most of all, spending money.

 

Two such festivals fall end-January and mid-August.

The “feeling nationalist” festivals.

Tomorrow is one.

When as a nation we shall see a surge of nationalism and being Indian.

 

Over the last one week many of us would have bought the national flag.

Ones for our car dashboards. Ones for pasting on our windows.

Ones for placing on our work-desks. Ones for our verandahs and rooftops.

 

We will wear traditional clothes and gather at parks and community centres to hoist the national flag, sing the national anthem, exchange pleasantries, hear out a few speeches, and then carry a little box of a samosa and a laddu back to our world of WhatsApp, Twitter and Instagram, passing judgments, drawing conclusions, pouring vitriol and acting holier than thou.

 

Brands also have this seasonal booth of national pride.

We actually have multiple “freedom sales” going on.

Amazon simply calls it the “Freedom Sale”.

Flipkart says “it’s all about your freedom…”

Snapdeal promises it is #AzadiKeFayde.

While Spar encourages you to “Celebrate India. Strength of Many. Power of One.”

How utterly ridiculous can the entire thing be!?

First, you misuse the sanctity of an occasion like the Independence Day to push out a commercial activity. And then you wrap cheeky communication around it that makes you think you look smart! What about my freedom does Flipkart really deliver? And what “fayde” [benefits] of freedom does Snapdeal promise me? The Spar one actually goes one step further by saying things that are totally inane. The marketing heads behind these exercises need some brain scanning.

 

Then we have lots of brands espousing national pride and the spirit of unity on television. Liberty Shoes. Benetton. Manyavar. Times of India. Lava. And so on. There are some truly ridiculous ones that you can watch on YouTube in collections called “Independence Day Ads” part 1, 2, 3 and so on. I found one by Oyo featuring actors Manoj Bajpayee and Raveena Tandon totally demented. And there is one by PayTM that claims that a cashless India will be corruption free, even if you may give people in kind. The mind boggles. Then there are quite a few that are forcing you to be misty-eyed. But then there are ones by Ambuja and Bajaj that strike the right chord.

 

I have three observations to make on all the advertising that is specially prepared for occasions like Independence Day [or even Republic Day].

 

Why not for the whole year?

The values of freedom and being part of a nation cannot be restricted to only 2 weeks of a year, like any other festival. They need to be communicated through the year, in all languages, to reinforce the true meaning of being an Indian, in its inclusiveness, openness, progressiveness and the responsibility that lies in each of us to preserve, nurture and propagate these values. Only then can the message register and resonate. Otherwise we will continue to have one week of cacophony and then slip into yet another festival.

 

Why always feel good and not feel disturbed?

Every piece of communication wants to tug at your heart, create a lump in your throat and leave you misty-eyed. Like a television soap. Freedom entrusts us with the responsibility of not just sharing the good stories but also highlighting the issues of concern. The nation need not be sung to sleep but also woken up rudely with uncomfortable truths staring us in the face. Communication needs to provoke the recipient into thought, debate and positive action. Brands can take up a cause that is close to their heart and wake people up, beyond shares on social media.

 

Why not encourage people to give instead of buy?

Do not make people buy. Instead, teach them to give. To a cause. To specific sections of society. To the underprivileged. To the exploited. To the deserving. We Indians are terrible philanthropists, bordering on being downright inconsiderate and selfish. Let all the e-commerce platforms encourage their members to move beyond the donation boxes in the places of worship onto the streets where millions of our brothers and sisters could benefit from our little contributions.

 

Wish brands accord the occasion its due respect and stop treating every national holiday a shopping spree. Also try to resist the temptation of melodrama in your communication as that quite ridicules the sacrifices of our forefathers for the cause. As Netaji had said, “Freedom is not given. It is taken.” Jai Hind!

 

 

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