The advertising industry is in various stages of evolution in different parts of the world. In India and other parts of Asia, the industry is at an intriguing interlude. Much is changing, and yet not. For me, advertising is a form of modern art. Its patrons are the consumers and it’s from them and their lives that this art form derives inspiration and direction. It’s the societal changes that find a reflection in advertising.
Some of these changes are manifested in a more vivid form—as trends that are noticeable. Here are a few:
The reality quotient is on the rise. In India, somehow, we have always wanted to shun reality. More people than jobs, lack of adequate living space, a scarcity of things—we wanted to escape from all that.
Now, more than ever before, the gap between fantasy and reality seems to be decreasing. Deprivation is losing its air of permanence. Hence, more realistic imagery seems to be finding a way in.
Earlier, showing the differently abled, unless in a public service ad, was perceived as a depressing rub-off on the brand. There were reservations against showing fat people even if the product category so demanded—one had to try to make them look more aesthetic. Now we have the pluck to show old people, not as distinguished descendants of maharajas and maharanis, but real people. Reality is finding acceptability because the consumer sees possibility of change for the better.
The consumer has moved from king to emperor. He is more powerful than ever before. In TV programmes, scripts are being changed keeping in mind public sentiment. SMS polls have become the norm, apart from being a revenue model. Consumer feedback is instantaneous and no longer limited to focus groups or dip sticks. Blogs or consumer-to-consumer word-of-mouth (WoM) advertising have become a popular mode of expression. Sure, earlier too there was WoM, but then that was gradual, not quantifiable. Now it is instantaneous. A product, brand or ad is discussed and dissected from a personal point of view on a public platform. It is not that earlier consumers did not have a point of view; it’s just that now they have a ‘platform’ to express it.
The projected image is becoming bigger than the object. Many of us have attended award shows. Isn’t it becoming clear that the real audience of these shows is not the ones witnessing it live, but the TV audience? I have heard people say that watching cricket on TV is better than seeing it in a stadium.
Interaction of the consumer with virtual reality will increase further.
I have watched children playing cricket. They see themselves from a third person’s eye—the camera’s point of view. After each shot, they do a sort of an action replay. This behaviour demonstrates the power of virtual reality. A child’s point of reference for an ideal mom may no longer be his own or his friend’s mom, but one he sees on TV.
In future, advertisers might have to take inspiration from the consumers’ impression of reality. As advertisers, we will need to know what our consumers’ reference point is. We will have to know the consumers’ virtual reality.
These are some of the recent developments and future trends that we need to be aware of. We need to realize that, as a society, we are in a cusp-like state. While our burgeoning economic power and buoyant mood may be new, our value system deep down is still more or less the same. The marketing and advertising industry has to tread the fine line between the two for some time to come.
The author is executive chairman, McCannErickson, India.