The plethora of 'regressive' saas-bahu soaps on television might be sending liberals and women's groups into a fit, but it can't be denied that these very serials have Indian television audiences giving the term 'appointment viewing' a whole new meaning. Every evening, homes across India laugh and cry with an assortment of Tulsis and Parvatis, and the goings-on at the Virani parivaar (or its multiple equivalents) are vivisected around the office cooler - or during the evening stroll - the next day.
But how deeply do the white-as-driven-snow Tulsi (of KSBKBT) and Parvati (of KGGK) connect with the Indian consumer? In the eyes of consumers, how believable are these self-sacrificing characters with hearts of gold? Inversely, what impact do 'negative' characters such as Kamal (KGGK) and Aarti (KSBKBT) have on audiences? Do consumers construe them to be as abominable as they are made out to be in the daily soaps? Or are audiences forgiving them their blemishes? These are some of the questions that a recent FCB-Ulka study - Stereotypes in Media - seeks to answer.
The primary objective of this study was to 'understand the reasons for the overwhelming success of the so-called anachronistic serials', and to analyze the extent to which 'they reflect or drive reality'. Explaining this to agencyfaqs!, Richa Arora, vice-president - strategic planning, FCB-Ulka, says, "The trigger was the saas-bahu serials. These soaps are very intrusive, and at some level, they are obviously working. Now all these soaps depict certain stereotypes when it comes to the lead characters. Our objective was to see if there were any learnings for advertising from these stereotypes." The ultimate idea was to 'glean learnings/implications on advertising content and the depiction of consumers'.
The study notes that in all, 24 popular stereotypes were selected from serials, ads and popular cinema (stereotypes from ads and cinema were added to serve as counterpoints). These 24 stereotypes were then segregated into the positive (the good) and the negative (the bad). The stereotypes were then exposed to TV viewers during mini-groups. The agency claims that it conducted 40 mini-groups to assess consumer reactions to the stereotypes. The target audience comprised both men and women in the 25-to-45 year bracket, and was drawn from SEC A and B, from Delhi and Mumbai. The agency further states that qualitative exercise was followed by a quantitative study conducted in Delhi and Mumbai. 'The objective was to capture the likeability and aspiration scores for the 24 stereotypes covered in the qualitative study,' the study informs.
"Once we mapped the stereotypes on likeability and aspiration, five distinct clusters emerged," Arora reveals. The first cluster consists of The Right Guys/Gals. 'High on aspiration and likeability, this cluster embodies perfect Indian values,' the study notes. A mirror of the traditional mindset, the woman is an obedient daughter-in-law, and the man is a doting husband and a loving son. No surprise that Parvati, Tulsi, Mihir (KSBKBT) and Kusum (Kkusum) find place in this cluster. 'Interestingly, all popular serials have one of the lead roles being played by The Right Gals,' the study observes.
The Villains, expectedly, are neither likable nor aspirational. Yet, these are the characters that keep the respective soaps going, and 'no popular serial is complete without them'. Needless to say, these are the schemers most viewers love to hate, and are embodied by Bulbul (Kalash), Komalika (Kasautii Zindagii Kay) and Ramola (Kahiin Kissi Roz). Interestingly, Neena Gupta's 'nasty anchor' act in game show Kamzor Kadii Kaun also falls into this cluster, as does the situation in reality show, Temptation Island.
The Advertising cluster is 'medium on both likeability and aspiration' the study shows. It adds that 'advertising stereotypes are less popular than serial stereotypes,' but explains this by alluding to the shorter duration of ads, and ad characters not being 'as fleshed out' and being 'somewhat uni-dimensional'. The study reveals that among advertising stereotypes, the 'mother roles' (like that of the Vicks maa) score better on both likeability and aspiration. The Ariel man and the Raymond man are the other notable advertising stereotypes.
Strangely, when it comes to the likeability factor, The Antiheroes cluster is second only to The Right Guys/Gals cluster. Yes, the antiheroes may not be very aspirational, but they do give a few of the advertising stereotypes a run for their money. The antiheroes are symbolized by Amitabh Bachchan in Ankhen, Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar, Sanjay Dutt in Vaastav and Manoj Bajpai in Aks. 'Unlike the Villain, the Antihero's misdeeds are always justified and forgiven by the viewer,' the study observes. Interestingly, no character from any soap figures in this cluster.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all these clusters is the Trendsetters. 'Caught between the Right Guys and the Villains, this cluster does not score high on either likeability or aspirations, but is high on memorability,' the study notes. 'Characters embodying this stereotype are Priya in Saans and Kaajal in Koshish - Ek Asha. Their distinguishing trait is that they combine modernity with some traditional values. They are different from the Right Gals in the sense that they are more assertive and less family-oriented.'
An interesting aspect of this cluster is the characters who inhabit it - Kaajal (Koshish - Ek Asha), Kamal (KGGK), Priya (Saans), Aarti (KSBKBT) and Ravi (Kora Kaagaz), in descending order of likeability. While Kaajal, Priya and Ravi are positive stereotypes, Kamal and Aarti are negative stereotypes - the bęte noirs in their respective serials. Kamal is, in fact, marginally more likeable (though less aspirational) than the Vicks maa from the Advertising cluster.
Explaining the success of these soaps, the study likens them to the Ramayana, and notes that their success hinges on 'perfection' - epitomized in the lead hero and heroine, the Right Guys/Gals. 'It seems that while viewers accept that perfection is unachievable, what generates TVRs and makes blockbusters are the utopian traits of family orientation, traditional outlook and rightness (as glorified in the Ramayana),' the study says. The soaps also bridge gaps in real life, in the sense that viewers want to see that which is missing from their lives. '…Lavishness of lifestyle, festivities in joint families, a perfect family setup taking centre stage…' The study observes that while viewers do not believe that this perfection in families/relationships is possible, '…the popularity of these serials reflects the viewer's yearning for a bygone era.' Of course, equally important in the soap's success formula is the presence of strong negative characters that contrast the strong positive characters. 'Serials with only a strong positive character (for example Kora Kaagaz) or a strong negative character (example Kalash) can, at best, be moderately successful,' the study surmises.
But where does all this point to as far as the implications for advertising content is concerned? For one, there appears to be a change in consumer attitude towards negative characters. While perfection continues to be sought, negative and flawed characters are also being readily accepted. '…Slight negativity is not really construed to be negative. Viewers tend to rationalize the minor wrongdoings and the flaws in the personalities of negative characters,' the study notes. Of course, extreme negativity (of Neena Gupta in KKK, and Temptation Island) still doesn't go down well. The study also shows a 'cynicism towards perfection' in the consumer's mind. 'Viewers are willing to give more leeway to negatives while disbelieving the ideal positives,' it says. Explaining this, Arora says, "Perfection is liked and is aspired for, but audiences know it is not real. So while a Kamal may be negative and low on aspiration, because the character is true-to-life, acceptance is better."
With stereotypes such as Kamal, Priya and Aarti gaining in acceptability, for advertisers, there seems to be something in the emerging Trendsetter cluster. Although these stereotypes deviate from the traditionally right way of doing things, and so are less likeable and aspirational compared to the Right Guys, their deviant behaviour actually creates strong space in the audience's mind. Interpreting this for advertising, the study notes that, 'While the old stereotypes still connect strongly with the viewer, the outlook of the 'old' perfect stereotype is shifting. What is seen is the emergence of the trendsetters, who reflect the 'more real' and 'evolved' persona of today.'
"In an ad, a positive existing with a negative is something that advertisers can explore," says Arora. "A slightly negative or non-conformist trait in an advertising stereotype could actually aid recall." Of course, this does not mean the use of an overtly negative trait/character. But why not one where the negative almost comes through as a positive? As the study states, a somewhat 'deceitful' and 'scheming' attitude can pass muster as 'smart' and 'extra smart'. "The emerging Trendsetter cluster gives advertisers the option of looking at an undiscovered territory." Â© 2003 agencyfaqs!