Hot air about airbags?

13 Sep,2022

Picture caption: Image shows car crash test at 40km/h with crash test dummies with different safety measures: safety belt and airbag (front), safety belt only (back, right) and no safety measure (back, left). Source: Wikimedia



By Avik Chattopadhyay


Avik ChattopadhyayThe Ministry of Road Transport & Highways has released a piece of advertising on social media and television promoting the need of six airbags in a car. Take a look at the same before I carry on…


akshaykumar latest advertisement on airbag – YouTube


The piece of communication has been well-timed, just after the shocking death of Cyrus Mistry in a horrific road accident. Therefore, with the grapevine abuzz with talks of seatbelts and airbags, a piece of consumer awareness advertising with mascot Akshay Kumar is bound to get the eyeballs and… hopefully create a groundswell of customers walking up to showrooms wanting cars only with six airbags!


This would have been the logic that would have been played out in the Ministry and the Minister would have been pleased as plum. For long has he been leading the mission of having all cars with six airbags as that will make the Indian roads safer. The timing, the brand ambassador, the message, and the context were all perfect.


Lo and behold, within just three odd days of its amplification across all media, the backlash has been unprecedented and I daresay, egg on the face!


As you would have observed in the film, a car is being given as dowry. Also, the policeman seems a bit of a bully, gatecrashing into a private event without being invited, not painting the desired picture of the police, especially in the north. Lastly, the communication is all about having airbags and not about wearing seatbelts, which is actually more important for an occupant to be saved in an accident.


Three cardinal mistakes. Basic things but totally overlooked. If one were to pardon the policeman as he is Akshay Kumar and therefore allowed his usual bullying, what about the seatbelt bit? If one were to ignore the seatbelts as the narrative is all about bulldozing the automakers into providing six airbags in every four-wheeler, what about the dowry? Even of one clarifies it as a ‘gift’ from a loving father to his daughter, why allow such discussions in the first place? How could this pass the keen eyes and sensibilities of the advertising agency, the ministry officials and finally the minister? Social media is busy discussing these aspects of the communication rather than the desired central message. And the minister is receiving substantial flak for the same. Unmitigated disaster!


This, dear readers, is yet another example of what I call ‘marketing myopia’ where one tends to go to the jungle to fell trees to build a sustainable condominium! In the sheer obsession to get the core message across at any cost, the overall aspects of the communication are overlooked. They become blind spots, to use a motoring term.


Mr Mistry was unfortunately killed in the rear seat as he was not wearing the seatbelt as per initial reports, not because the car did not have enough number of airbags. The airbags will get activated only when the occupants are wearing their seatbelts. Providing twelve airbags in a car will also not solve matters if the seatbelts are not worn. There is a cause and effect that comes into play here. Artificial intelligence is applied, algorithms get into action and there is a lot of science at play to keep you safe. Not just the airbags!


In automotive parlance, safety systems are of two types – active and passive. Active systems assist in avoiding accidents, examples being the brakes, traction control, stability control, heads-up display, low cabin noise, driver assist systems and road quality. Passive systems get into action once an accident occurs to minimise the impact and injury. Both the seatbelt and the airbag are examples of such systems.


One has to ensure the active systems are first in place, to ensure minimal use of the passive systems. The location where the accident happened that killed Mr Mistry is known as an accident spot as the road design is faulty, according to many experts. Better road design could have avoided it in the first place, coupled with safer driving of course.


The same applies to brand communication. The active narrative has to be clear before one gets into the passive props. Here, the simple message should have been about safe driving, instead of pointing the finger only at the car. Being clearly led by the agenda to mould consumer thought and opinion into asking for more airbags, the core message has been lost. The passive props of the wedding and policeman are just not required as they take attention away from the elusive core message.


Then again, if the active narrative were in place, the smoke and shadows need not have been created. These make the weak attempt at diverting the consumer’s attention from the core to the periphery, just like many films with weak storylines add songs to merely fill up time. or like at the Ramlila where a lot of paraphernalia is created whereas the core task is to burn the effigies. And people end up discussing the quality of the acting and the hairstyles rather than the need to ensure the victory of good over evil.


Just like a lot of hot air about airbags without getting the seatbelts buckled!


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