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Seeking divine intervention: Agencies walk a thin line when communicating noble intentions

When the immortals appeared in 30-second spots between soaps and mythological shows, in print or anywhere, naturally, God stole the show.

, ET Bureau|
Jul 15, 2015, 05.18 AM IST
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Earlier this year, Ogilvy & Mather invoked Durga, Vishnu and Ganesha in a PSA for the Indian Head Injury Foundation.
Earlier this year, Ogilvy & Mather invoked Durga, Vishnu and Ganesha in a PSA for the Indian Head Injury Foundation.
In India, you don't have to travel far, literally, to find God or a spiritual equivalent. Pick any city, curb, street or wall frequented by people with no bladder control. There you'll find a super star line-up, the pantheon of all the top Gods from deities to prophets printed on ceramic tiles and cemented into brick walls. Of course, we do this to keep devotees from turning our cities into giant shauchalayas. However, the one place God hasn't quite broken into is advertising. It's one of the few places where our ubiquitous Almighties have kept a fairly low-profile. Not that we haven't seen divine appearances in mainline communication. And not just the kind of proactive and edgy advertising which manifests around award season. Miracles do happen! However, when the immortals appeared in 30-second spots between soaps and mythological shows, in print or anywhere, naturally, God stole the show.

Earlier this year, Ogilvy & Mather invoked Durga, Vishnu and Ganesha in a PSA for the Indian Head Injury Foundation. In the hope that the foolhardy might take a cue from the Gods on exercising road safety. For instance, Ma Durga hit the brakes on her lion when she realized she didn't have her headgear. Lord Vishnu and Lord Ganesha did the same soon after they saddled up, on Garuda and mouse, respectively. Still, it didn't end too well for the campaign makers. Blasphemy, cried the people. And on top of a pile of hate mail, the film was served a legal notice for insulting the gods. Says Sumanto Chattopadhyay of Ogilvy & Mather, "The client insisted that it was a noble cause, that they were trying to save millions of lives and that they themselves were devout Hindus." Faith, and helmet, however, won't save the wicked, apparently. But not just the faithful cry foul.

In 2013, a campaign dubbed "Abused Goddesses" created by Taproot India for women's empowerment project Save Our Sisters stirred up a storm, not the biblical kind. There was no sound and light show, just angry chants. The traditional calendar-style posters featured the goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswati and Durga with busted lips and bruises like they'd just stepped out of an MMA ring but somehow with regalia intact. The copy read: '…Today, more than 68 per cent of women in India are victims of domestic violence.

Seeking divine intervention: Agencies walk a thin line when communicating noble intentions


Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to.' In this case women rights campaigners, too, took offense to the deification of women.

Says Priti Nair of Curry Nation, "People are overly cautious, because who wants to be pulled off air. Sometimes you do it because you don't have the budgets. So you create something that's polarizing. Controversy becomes the multiplier for the brand."

So, if one must call upon God to sell, say, clothes or pan scrubbers there are ways to avoid a ban or unhealthy protest at your doorstep. 3M's latest campaign plays it safe with a rather generic-looking deity in an entertaining film for Scotch-Brite. Says Ram Jayaraman of Grey Bangalore, the ad's creator, "We didn't want any direct resemblance because we didn't want to offend anyone." Good move. Because in a country of over a billion religious sensibilities, there are plenty opportunities.

God or religious motifs and themes in advertising might pass unhurt with brands intact if marketers use humour, the non-threatening kind. Or one could go the whole hog with emotional campaigns celebrating, for instance, the beauty of religious diversity. If neither creative strategy is the agency and brand¡¦s cup of tea, then we recommend you wait until we become a country of atheists.
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