Sanjeev Kotnala: Should advertising rethink its role in communal harmony?

04 Mar,2020

By Sanjeev Kotnala


Should Advertising seriously think of these emotions it fuels at times? Is it evaluated during the debate of cause marketing? It does not matter if the end if perfect and everyone lives happily ever after. It has been a thought that was not verbalised for the sake of freedom of expression and creative licence.

During the recent DemoCrazy times, it forced one to rethink. There was some help in thinking from the What’s app university of knowledge. I am fortunate enough to be a member of a few groups that poke you with exciting reading, thoughts and debate them out.

In one such group, dear friend Prahakar Mundkar shared two articles:

One from Live Mint by Manu Joseph, it said ‘Riots happen because we tend to romanticise chaos’.

The other one from Harvard Business Review (HBR) by Nicole Torres which speaks of a study by University of Warwick’s Andrew Oswald, in which they found that Advertising makes us unhappy. That more advertising leads to more unhappiness.

I realised we referred to a specific incidence or an event everytime we touched the emotion and associated feeling of secularism, inclusiveness, regional and regional unity,

In a way, we reiterated that it is not an everyday affair. Where was the fun in creatively using it, if these were part of our daily life? They would lose their potency.

In a way, reignite the skew between communities, their primary deep down reasons of angst and distrust.

Can we be a bit more sensitive while using such narratives for a commercial purpose? Do not at any stage hint at any of the reasons of conflicts based on religion, caste, creed and gender. Currently, more important is to consciously avoid Hindu-Muslim, Minority- Majority conflict even if it is used to reflect on the positive side. Daag Aache Hai par Har Daag Aache Nahi hai. Spots are good, but not every spot is good.



Now with this in mind, see the following TVC and rethink of the emotions they fired up.

The Google ad- Reunion, which is about two friends across the border meeting with the help og Google.   It reminds of the raw emotion of partition.


Daag Achhe reminds of the gap between communities.


The cement advertisement that I was so enamoured with, now reminds me of the internal rivalry and the interference of religion. The Ambuja Cement Independence day ad.


Even the Tea spot by Red Lable  silently reminds you of the gap and the mistrust among communities.


The famous cricket world cup communication was all about teams and nations. Yet, there were undercurrents of religion and hatred. It is not for anything that whenever we are in such a condition- we are willing to accept losing the trophy but loosing to the neighbouring nation.


There maybe many more such advertisments which may not pass the new scrutiny. However, these were the few that immediately popped up in my mind. And it speaks about their potency and impact.


The Question Remains Unanswered

Can we really avoid creating such ads?

Is it asking too much from the Industry?

Should Government interfere in this or should ASCI self-regulate such representation?

Once you start thinking about it, it becomes clear that this battle of self-regulation is far critical than the fairness, magical remedies or celebrity brand ambassador issue. Even this article in a way contributes to polarising your thinking, hopefully in the right direction.

I am sure that none of the advertisements and the brands I listed had anything other than a positive outcome in mind.

What I am not sure is how much subconsciously they provoked the very thinking that they wanted to avoid.

You know, if I ask you not to think of Micky Mouse or Eiffel Tower, you will feel about it. You can’t avoid it. And that is where I rest my case.

I like the writings of Sadat Hasan Monto, and they are compelling stories. Unfortunately, they also keep igniting the wounds that the nation may want to forget. Should such films, literature and advertisements be banned? Or am I unnecessarily linking them? Will it be further strangulating advertising with social expectations?

Do share, What you think about it?



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