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06 July 2013

Sriram Narayanan on: Indian car ads

I have always thought Indian car ads to be boring. But the wailing over the Ford Figo proves we are getting exactly what we deserve

Sriram Narayanan
Car image



I have never tried my hand at racy literature. So bear with me while I describe my way through this. Ahem. The picture has the face of a woman with her hair spread as if she has placed it on a pillow. Actually, I am trying to tone things down. Anyway, the caption by it reads: You know you are not the first. But do you really care?

This is a print ad for BMW Used Cars. You may not have seen it. They never released it in our part of the world. Which is good. If they did, we would have accused BMW of equating used cars with – as us Indians tend to call them – women who don’t value Indian culture.

Daihatsu isn’t anywhere close to making glamourous or sporty cars. But that didn’t stop them from showing some cheek when it comes to selling MPVs on print. Like this line beside the Hijet MPV: Picks up five times more women than a Lamborghini. We will ban this ad because it equates women with objects to be picked up.

But women aren’t the only reason an ad could run into trouble. SsangYong’s Actyon pick-up truck wanted to highlight its quiet diesel. So it released an ad with an image of the car next to a wild boar that is oblivious to the car’s presence, and a guy standing on the cab of the pick-up aiming a gun at the creature. I don’t know if this ad caused any commotion in its intended market, but I can imagine animal rights activists sharpening their knives citing insensitivity to animals.

Let’s face it. Everybody doesn’t make a Lamborghini Aventador. So if you have to catch attention, or highlight a specific feature of your product, some tongue-in-cheek ads help. Indian car ads so far have been unintentionally hilarious at best. If they aren’t going overboard with trying to be international, they will have fake adventure junkies climbing mountains or attaching para-gliders to cars that have a 0-100 time of over 15 seconds.

Then came the Figo ad.

Some may be offended with the Silvio Berlusconi bit of the ad. But Paris Hilton kidnapping the Kardashians was brilliant. You see, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are perhaps the only two people in the world who earn fame and a living by virtue of being themselves.

Anyway, so the people who have a problem with these two depictions seem to be completely okay with Schumacher kidnapping Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso. Which means it’s okay to have F1 drivers, or rather, men subjected to abuse. So is sensitivity to be applied only to scantily clad women?

Personally, I’d have gone easy on the binding and gagging bit, which makes the Figo seem like a kidnapper’s car. Ford claims that the Figo ad was not meant for public release, and what we all saw was an unauthorised leak. But for all of its un-intentions, the ad did one thing really well. Highlight the Figo’s boot space in a manner that wouldn’t put you to sleep.

But then, you know us Indians. We can’t appreciate any humour. And we always seek joy in ignoring real issues and thrashing the daylights out of inconsequential ones. I guess the people who think the Figo ad encourages crimes against women are the same modern thinkers who feel women wearing sleeveless tops or denims are the main culprits behind innocent men transforming into rapists.

So, now that the ad has been nipped, and the people responsible for it at the ad agency fired, there must be a sharp dip in crimes against women and general kidnappings? Intentional or not, this episode proves two things: one – by creating pandemonium, we have elevated a simple ad to something worthy of influencing social behaviour.

And two – if you’ve ever cribbed about banal automobile ads, it’s just a copywriter and marketing heads of manufacturers – quite justifiably – trying to retain their jobs. So bring on more of the “cheetah” car and the “caaaaar”. It’s what we deserve.

Tags: sriram narayanan, indian car ads, sunny, nissan, aventador, lamborghini, daihatsu, ford, figo

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