“The most important thing in the world is sincerity……once you learn how to fake that, you have it made.”
Waseem Bhai – or ‘seem paai, as he is known to the Lahori fans amongst his legions of fans the world over – recently participated in a ‘viral’ ad campaign for washing detergent Ariel. In the cell phone video, he is talking about taking a tough stance against an unspecified someone, but it is presumed that it is the cricket team that he is talking about. Or the Cricket Board.
Akram then took to his twitter account, asking his fans not to share that video and to wait for his announcement in a couple of days. Then, on the specified date, he revealed, in an ersatz press conference, that he was talking about the washing detergent, and not the cricket team.
The entire campaign, though out of the ordinary, fell flat on its face. Let us examine each of the three steps above.
The first, most crucial one: Akram is not a trained actor and it was immediately more than clear that he was acting. In fact, people who do act for a living also cannot manage to pull off a convincing performance, as Ali Rehman Khan, a local TV and film actor, revealed in an intended viral public awareness campaign. In fact, professionally trained actors in Hollywood, even veterans, have to go through several workshops when they are cast in a ‘found footage’ format film.
Then, his communication on Twitter, urging his fans not to share the video, made no sense. No one was sharing it, barring those who thought it was part of some sort of ad campaign. And third, the press conference wasn’t even a proper presser, which I’m sure the folks at Ariel would have been able to arrange. No, it was an ad, shot on glitzy film cameras, and only tight shots of the man himself, not the reporters, except the backs of their heads.
The problem here is not just that this was a poorly made ad. It’s just that the audience, jaded even by the most evocative of ads, responds better to fare that somehow feels more genuine. In the ensuing struggle for genuine fare, the companies have started employing tactics like the above. But what if they get better at it? What if it doesn’t seem like an ad anymore? Is that somehow a good thing?
Political parties in India, you know which ones, have gotten increasingly good at spreading fake political ads. Ones that lead to lynchings and pogroms.
Newspapers have to specify, by law, what is and isn’t an ad; they have to specify what is branded content. As do the television channels, as per Pemra rules. The same goes for radio, where even ‘weaved in’ ads by announcers not playing a tape, are clearly meant to be an ad (‘a word from our sponsors now, Al Naseeb Burgers, who have a new all-you-can-eat in anticipation of the third world war’.)
Even Facebook and Twitter have ‘sponsored content’ plastered above their..well..sponsored content. But that is the stuff that is being spread by Facebook and Twitter themselves. The bulk of the content on these sites is user-generated, who have no such compulsions. Even the most sophisticated of AI-powered algorithms can sniff out most native advertising.
There is no way the viewers can possibly know anything. We, the viewers, are just meat-puppet-automata whose emotions are open to be played with. Which is a bit of a kalyug, as our Hindus friends refer to it.
In the words of Don Draper, the leading ad man of Mad Men: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.”