Monday, 23 August 2010

A virtual call for action!



Have you noticed something new in advertisements these days? Sorry, I should have first asked whether you bother to read or watch ads. I do, purely out of habit because not very long ago I used to make a living from them. No, no, no. I wasn’t involved in buying old newspapers and selling them, I was in a profession lower than that. I was (and sometimes I still am), involved in the making of advertisements.Yeah, it is a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it, right? But please don’t tell my children about it. Which reminds me of that famous French autobiography, ‘Don’t tell my mother I am in advertising, she thinks I play the piano in a brothel’. That’s a loose (no pun intended), translation and unfortunately the book was never translated into English.

Else I would have been happily playing the piano in a brothel to the eternal pride of my children.

So what’s new in ads these days? Before we go there, let’s take the Time Machine and go to a brothel. Sorry, to the past and find out what old ads had in those days. Apart from curvy women holding packs of engine oil (or some such product),and promising enhanced performance (of car engines or some such product), most ads ended with what was termed a ‘Call for action’. (When I wrote my first ad my boss told me to put in a ‘Call for action’. Eager trainee that I was, I went back, smoked five cigarettes in one hour and returned with: ‘We challenge you to a duel with six-shooters. Venue of your choice.’ I was merely following the venerable tradition of the Wild West books I had read. Needless to say, from that point on my career steadily went South.) A ‘Call for action’, as I learned the hard way, was a line or a voice that urged the reader or the viewer to visit the store and buy the product being advertised.

Of course, I believed (and still do), that every element of an ad adds up to a call for action where the words and pictures come together to create an irresistible proposition and drive the reader to either buy or at least consider buying the product being advertised. But that's another story, one that has been written by writers better than me.

Some ads also urged the reader/viewer to call up on a certain phone number – these ads were released by companies who had more telephone operators than salespersons and since they couldn’t sack them because of trade union issues were forced to create work for them. As the intelligent reader knows this problem was sorted out with the arrival of ‘Call Centers’ and instead of we calling the companies, the companies started calling us...

But that was later. Most ads in those days were released by companies who wanted you to get your butt to the store so you could see their wonderful products and they could see your wonderful butt. Sorry, they could sell you a whole bunch of their products to you (which of course meant they took your butt without even seeing it).

Now if you were to return to the present and look at ads carefully you will realize that this is not true any more. No, your butt still gets taken when you go shopping but ‘Calls for action’ are mostly missing these days. Instead they have been replaced by a new kind of ‘Call’ which I have loosely (no pun even here either), termed as, ‘Call for interaction’. Let us quickly sit in that Space Transporter and go to the brothel. Damn! Go and eavesdrop on a meeting between an ad agency and an advertiser and find out why:

Ad Man: Here it is sir.

Advertiser: I have seen the brief. Show me the ad.
A M: LOL. Love your sense of humour sir! This is the ad.
Advertiser: I am not joking. I hope you are not joking either.
A M: No sir. This is the ad.
Advertiser: It can’t be. There are too many words in it. Only the brief is allowed to have so many words. (Turns to A M’s boss.) Can you please control your trainees?
Ad Woman: Sorry sir. He is new.
Advertiser: Don’t you tell new recruits that no one reads ads?
A M: With due respect sir, that’s why people buy newspapers: To read.
Advertiser: To read news.
A M: Sir with the advent of the internet, people are reading more. Blogs for instance.
Advertiser: Because blogs are written by funny  men and hot women. (Turns to A M’s boss.)
A W: Sir can you dictate the changes please? I will write them down and get them done.
Advertiser: See young man, no one takes traditional media seriously any more. Internet is the thing! Digital is in! If you are not on the net, you are a dead fish. And nobody wants to read about your product or see its pictures in traditional media. That’s uncool. The new advertising mantra is: Spend millions on traditional media and drive them to the internet. The whole new purpose of traditional media is to drive traffic to our web site, to our Facebook page, to make them follow us on Twitter... Google Buzz!  Digg! And what not!!! 
So take this down: One glorious picture and no words except these, big and bold: Visit our web site! Follow us on Twitter!! Join us on Facebook!!!
A W: I got that.

Sorry. The Space Transporter has broken down and we will have to spend the rest of our lives eavesdropping on these meetings from the air-conditioning duct.

Look! A search engine!! We are saved!!! Blog, here we come.

That’s the new thing: Advertisers don’t seem interested in making you buy their products or even driving you to their stores. Instead they just want to look cyber-cool (new-age word for ├╝ber cool) - have millions of followers on Twitter, get record-breaking ‘Likes’ on their FB page and generate server-crashing hits on their web site.

Strange. But like I said, I am out of advertising, mostly, and don’t quite care. So I am off now. I have a piano class to attend. I hope you follow my progress on Facebook and Twitter.

To end, a classic from the archives section titled, ‘Ads that shouldn’t have been done:
Picture: Pair of stiletto-heeled shoes. Headline: Up to 50% off!

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