Have you ever heard a spot on the radio that you liked? I’ve wracked my brains and the only one that comes close to being acceptable is the series of spots for Appy Fizz. The ones about the ode to the refrigerator or the TV. Otherwise, it’s as dumb as you can get. From Bindu Appalam to God Knows What peddled at Audio at Max level, screeching brand name repeated 10 times in 30 seconds and the same set of voices playing everything from young college boy to aged aunt. (That’s the subject for another post – the amazing lack of variety in voice overs in India) You get the same tired set of voices and you can jump through hoops with them but they have essentially done every variation you can think of. Like Shah Rukh can only be Shah Rukh, whether he plays Devdas or Emperor Asoka. One in traditional Bengali attire, the other in a period outfit with smooth shaved torso showing.

I prefer the cacophony in the car to the cacophony of traffic outside. I must have listened to nearly 800 hours of programming - everything from FM Rainbow to Radio Mirchi to Suryan FM to the recent entrants - Big FM , Hello FM and Radio City. What is astounding is that you can switch between Smiley Sulabha and Mirchi Suchi and barely make out the difference. It's all the same one minute banter, 30 sec general gyaan, 30 sec. traffic update - this is normally to tell you that all the streets in Chennai are blocked or free.

The listeners are all asked the same questions - What's your name? Where are you from? All fine at home? Will you sing a song out of tune... or...answer some dumb downright stupid question? And guess what? They flunk most of the time.

Then we get to hear the same 30 songs in various permutations and combinations. I've heard the latest hits - New York Nagaram to Paarta Mudhal naalil...oh, lots of times. It's not the songs that grate as much as the sameness. There's a bland South Indian breakfast item - Upma, made out of wheat. It's OK once in a way, but if it's served day after day, 15 times a week...it makes you pick up the remote and change channels. Only to get another variation on the same theme from the other one. I wonder what all those programming executives at Radio stations think about. Let’s have a Call-in show. Or go around asking people which song they like from which film. Whoever said that Change is the only Constant  has not listened to radio stations in Chennai


If you look at it, a TV commercial has a lot to do in 30 seconds. You have roughly 45 words to do it with. Within that time, you must introduce the product, make the pitch and end on a persuasive note. (45 words up!) You could argue that this is done hundreds of times on every TV channel, so it must be easy. The best commercials have evolved a very superior form of shorthand, one that speaks volumes with the smallest time span. The next time you watch the Hutch commercial or for that matter the Bank of India commercial, count the number of shots. Few last more than a second - some of them even less. And yet, the story arc is complete. (Grandfather teaches boy the first rule of investing. Start early. Go to someone you believe in. And stick with them) Time actually seems to slow down when you watch the commercial.
I see criticisms of ads which say - all ads use stereotypes. Of course they do! 30 seconds is not, excuse me, time enough for character development. So you start with a stereotype. Bad boss. Stern Mother in Law. Nerdy teenager. Cool Dude. Whacky Babe. Religious Nut. Goofball. Nervous boyfriend. Nosey Neighbour. As you read this, I'm sure images come to your mind. And I'm willing to bet that they are from commercials that you have seen. Even if you can't recall the exact product or service. Think about that the next time an ad manges to catch your eye. And refuses to let go.


Politicians rank just slightly above or below lawyers on the believability index. So does advertising. Products are glorified, exaggerated claims are made - everything from deodrants setting desirable women on fire to  creams that delay the process of aging.

But advertising is like flattery. People need lies to enhance their self-confidence. They need to see the  glowing skin of the model in the advertising or the strands of hair that cascade silkily, blown by the breeze. Do people really believe they can get hair as nice as that just by using the shampoo? No way. But they are shooting for an ideal - if the shampoo can make that model's hair look so good, may be it can make my hair a trifle better than it does now.  I can't be as popular as the boy in the toothpaste ad, but I can at least fantasize.

Advertising is the only realm in which fantasies come true. The most outrageous ones where children come home after bathing in dirt and are met by an indulgent happy mother. Or a boyish cricketer getting to watch an adult film simply by sharing his biscuits

It's never true. And that's precisely why we need fantasy. If only to escape the humdrum. This is a world in which nothing goes wrong. Or if it does, it can be set right, by using the right mouthwash. The pimple ads show a girl with just one pimple, not an acne- scarred, Martian crater cheek. Families sing and dance, they don't sit morosely around a dinner table. An appointment letter is reason enough to break the world's high jump record. It's as if emotions are turned on to max. Smiles are siesmic. Words are perfectly intoned, thoughts come in a logical sequence. Shy guys impress gorgeous girls. Not having bad breath is enough to have the prettiest girl in class swoon over you.

So what does all this have to do with politicians? Simply this. Politicians sell you dreams as well. They charge you nothing. But the price they extract is heavy.  They promise the entire country that life will be better. That they can expect social justice. And jobs. And a great future for their children.  Comparing advertising to politicians is like comparing the pick pocket to the mafia.