If asked how advertising industry has changed in India over the past decades, most answers will be about the prodigious benefits of technology. However, in addition to the obvious technological disruption in the industry through animation, sound-mixing, etc, the more momentous shift has been in the way characters are displayed and the message they carry.
Let’s start with women. Ads on women were earlier limited to selling kitchenware (Prestige) or detergents (Surf Excel), aligned with the societal perception of women as only housewives. Now, women’s contribution to the society as an equal earner, decision-maker in many important themes, is brought out through advertisements. In a parallel drastic change, men’s portrayal has changed from strong and rugged to loving and caring, someone who can manage a home with as much as ease as his workplace. These are the more visible parts of the story, and this article is not about them. It is about those societal segments which are not so closely observed – kids and old people.
Ads earlier portrayed kids as per their traditional image, showing them playing and having fun. A marked shift occurred with ads like Complan and Bournvita that were built on the themes of success. Kids were no longer just interested in playing but in fighting to win. The idea of success as a vehicle of providing meaning to life was planted, and it was here to stay!
Reminisce how old people were depicted in the ads of the yore – crooked back, wooden stick, intermittent coughs and a medicine box are enough strokes to paint the picture! That picture was enough to send a message that that generation wasn’t particularly looking forward to anything in life, except ironically death. Contrast that to ads by SBI Life and HDFC Standard Life, which dwell on the vivacity of life irrespective of age.
To illustrate that advertising and real life work in tandem, pursuit of meaning is evident in the professional space also, as the discourse of this generation is to find a job that fulfils them, and not just their pockets. Jobs have transformed from means of sustenance to means of self-actualisation. More graduates from IITs and IIMs are venturing into traditionally unchartered territories like social space, entrepreneurship, etc. While that might help ‘some’ people land the work they love, the major flaw in this fiction of a meaning so early in life is the erosion of patience it begets in the youth. People are less willing to stick to a ‘boring’ job and start hopping jobs as if they were pubs in a pub crawl.
Hence, for better or worse, an entire generation is being pushed towards finding ‘meaning’ in their lives. And the force of advertising in that push is undeniably immense.