COMMERCIALS today are all around and all embracing. One can hardly visualize life sans commercials. Take the visual media, sports arenas, the roadways or what you will, it would be a futile exercise to even think of evading the wretched things. Like it or not, commercials are upon us like an epidemic. Try as the purists might wish to get away, the ads appear to have become an inseparable part of life itself. Does one even have the right to complain? Apparently not! This would appear to be the price that mankind has perforce to pay for the March of Civilization (?). Take the case of what happens to be undoubtedly the most popular entertainment media of today – television. The advertising industry shamelessly exploits the vast captive audience that this media enjoys. It is not that one is not inclined to make allowances for the financial constraints that make the airing of commercials necessary! Nonetheless, is it cricket for the godfathers of commercials to make a bid to virtually take over the electronic media? One can even go to the extent of showing understanding when a popular programme is snuffed out all of a sudden for what is euphemistically termed as a ‘short commercial break’. What galls one is that these ‘breaks’ are ominously getting not only longer and longer but also more frequent. More often than not, by the time the commercial break finally comes to an end, one has all but forgotten the context of the narrative that was so rudely interrupted.
A long-standing – and justified – complaint against advertising is the way it is used to exploit the captive audience of children. Children obviously are in no position to exercise objective judgment as to the quality and/or utility of the advertised product. The overtly aggressive and, at times, unethical way in which commercials aimed at children are devised leaves a lot to be desired. The accent appears to be on appealing to the minors’ immature minds in such a fashion that they are brainwashed into forcing their parents’ hand into purchasing products that may or may not be either useful or, indeed, suitable for the children.
Honesty in advertising can hardly be taken for granted. Commercial campaigns, more often than not, are extremely economical with the truth. Some agencies have no qualms about making outrageous and outlandish claims just to push up the sales of the products they have been contracted to advertise. The fact that most claims do not measure up to reality is for them of little or no import. The end, so far as they are concerned, is more important than the means. To illustrate the point, let us take the example of commercials for, say, hair- grooming products. Some of these products are advertised as a panacea for all ills of the scalp and hair. Hair, if one were to believe the claims aired in the commercials, would grow healthier, thicker and longer after the use of the miracle product in question. Such claims do appear a trifle far-fetched, to say the least. One has yet to come across a product with such miraculous cure-all properties. And yet our advertiser friends see nothing wrong in going on merrily making these outlandish claims. Another example, if you will! How about the way fashion shows are organized to sell so-called designer clothing? A selected bevy of svelte fashion models – who after spending years starving themselves and twisting have acquired wispy figures that are hardly the norm by any standards – are provocatively paraded in front of prospective buyers. The joke is that these buyers –all having surplus money (not to talk of fat!) to throw around – are actually deluded into believing that they would look equally glamorous in the clothing being modeled by the wispy models!
A trend that is spreading like a bush-fire relates to the matter of beautifying (read whitening) the complexion. If one were to believe these commercials, one is led to the conclusion that ‘white is beautiful’. Woe unto those damsels who are born with dusky complexions! Advertisers, unashamedly, promote products that are claimed to perform the miracle of whitening the skin virtually overnight. One is left wondering about the moral right of both the advertisers and the producers of such ‘miracle’ concoctions. Having said that, the fundamental question presents itself, begging for an answer: is advertising at all justified or, indeed, necessary? The advertising agencies would, naturally, have us believe that it definitely is so. In justifying their existence, these advertising companies claim that commercials help afford to the consumer “the right to choose”. The critics, on their part, argue that commercials make the consumers yearn to reach out for products that they could very well do without. The consumers, in effect, are not only paying a jacked-up price for the advertised products but also end up purchasing a lot of stuff they did not need in the first place and which they would not have bought had it not been for some clever – and misleading – advertising.
It would hardly be fair, of course, to condemn commercials per se. Advertising does help, in a way, to make the world go round. Print and visual media would be virtually non-existent were it not for the revenue generated through advertising. All in all, commercials, their negative aspects notwithstanding, are evidently not devoid of positive features. And — needless to point out — they do add a bit of glamour to what would otherwise have been a dull and drab existence. What needs to be done in the circumstances is to hone up one’s capability to co-exist with the commercials without at the same time getting hurt in the process. Easier said than done that, though!
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.