POV: Does 'Sensitive' Advertising Hurt A Brand's Recall Value?

By Biprorshee Das , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | November 15, 2012
A recent TVC for a product called 18 Again carefully skirted the actual message of the brand till the end. Does such advertising compromise the product message?

Saji Abraham, vice-president, planning, Lowe Worldwide

Saji Abraham

In case of brands and products that tread on culturally sensitive issues like family planning, intimate hygiene or sexual health, brands normally tend to skirt around the issue especially if the category is nascent.

For example, condom advertising was very euphemistic to begin with and only much later did it get bolder and more explicit.

I guess this is because consumers are not ready for it yet and it causes awkwardness and embarrassment and it is difficult to sell a product with those attributes. Having said that, this of course causes the brand to be less upfront and apparent to the consumer. However, these brands often generate disproportionate conversation due to their innate unconventional nature.

For example the 18 again product has probably very little TV air presence but it has generated much more conversation. This more than compensates for a brands weak linkage in the commercial.

Sharda Agarwal, director, MarketGate Consulting

Sharda Agarwal

A taboo category or a sensitive audience cannot be excuses at all. You have to find ways to go around it. The primary objective of advertising must remain the communication of the product message. Also, the awareness for some products is very low, especially in the lower strata of society. While I understand and completely buy the point that certain communication could hurt the sensitivities of the people, particularly in a country like ours, one must still have to think of ways to communicate the message convincingly.

Categories have done it too. For instance, in the '80s and '90s, the sanitary napkin category was a big taboo. And yet advertisers and agencies have successfully advertised products over the years.

Alcohol has been subject to many restrictions in this country. But that hasn't stopped manufacturers from creating brands out of their products. In more recent times, contraceptive pills have been advertised on mainstream media without the audience having to squirm when they view the commercial.

It is incredibly difficult, no doubt, when one is faced with building such 'taboo' categories. Too many minefields have to be encountered. But therein also lies the exhilaration of the challenge.

Nima Namchu, executive creative director, Cheil Worldwide

Nima Namchu

This is a rhetorical question! It shouldn't.

In the case of brands such as 18 Again, I don't think the message was diluted or lost at all. From the word go, the visuals and the Indianised-version of the Madonna song works together to grab the attention and the curiosity of the viewer and leads to the product section that explains the product story quite efficiently.

I was only shocked by the fact that there is a demand for such products and they are now available over the counter (OTC).

The option is to be upfront and showcase the product benefit. If you remember, that commercial for a genital skin whitening cream did exactly that.

Both were touchy subjects and one just did the job more tastefully than the other. But, having said that, I am still in a state of shock.

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