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Advertising As A Reflection of Culture and Its Transformation

Advertising As A Reflection of Culture and Its Transformation

By Sakhi Nair

Edited by Anandita Malhotra, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

“Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century” – Marshall McLuhan

From vendors calling out their wares at markets to television commercials, advertising has existed ever since the advent of trade, and has undergone massive transformation ever since. What started with simple black and white ads in newspapers, pamphlets and posters have metamorphosed into innovative marketing in every form of media, including newspapers, television, radio, hoardings, social networking sites, viral videos and micro blogging website. There is no place devoid of at least some form of promotion.  Advertising is at a new peak today that it can sell practically anything, if done the right way. Ads have made their way everywhere, even into art, with Warhol’s rendering of Campbell’s Soup cans and Coca Cola bottles. Advertisements have always been a reflection of the culture prevailing at the time, transforming with each coming era.

In India, advertisements made their first appearance in print in Hickey’s Bengal Gazette, India’s first newspaper during the colonial times. However, their target audience was mainly British men and women, royals and the upper class, reflecting the practice of oppression of the masses by the British rulers. Even Lifebuoy was then called ‘Royal Disinfectant Soap’. A real breakthrough was witnessed with the arrival of J Walter Thomson, who set up shop in India and changed the face of Indian advertising, with iconic campaigns like BSA cycles and Sunlight Soap. It was also a time when advertisers found their best customers in children, who would coax their parents into buying products, and promoted products like canned rosogolla and Horlicks, which caught the eye of many as the first malted milk. The iconic Parle-G brand of biscuits appealed to the masses because it was a domestic brand and was affordable. By the 60s there was greater emphasis on creativity and independence from British products, bringing Indian brands into the fore. The industry had learnt the key marketing strategy of connecting with the consumers. Understanding that housewives provided a huge market, the focus shifted on women-centric ads, with actresses like Madhubala endorsing Lux Soap and other beauty products, and a mother figure promoting healthy food for her children and family, like Ovaltine and Dalda. This era also witnessed the first televisions in Indian homes, expanding the market for advertisers with television commercials attached to popular shows. The 60s gave us the unforgettable ‘utterly butterly delicious’ Amul campaign which remains one of the most iconic ads even today. Bollywood was at its peak in the 70s, with blockbuster movies like Sholay, when Amjad Khan as the feared villain Gabbar Singh and Amitabh Bachchan as the angry young man graced many ads, and so did actresses like Rekha. This was the ‘bollywoodization’ of the ad industry. Catchy jingles and taglines were attached to almost every brand, with the popular ones being ‘I Love You Rasna’, 2-minute Maggi noodles and Nirma’s jingle which entered markets during the 80s, along with other brands like Honda and Maruti.

By the 90s, liberalization brought foreign brands into the market, giving greater choice to the consumers, luring them with low duties and swanky, exotic advertisements. Not only did foreign brands advertise in India, but homegrown advertisements also reached out to the world, winning several awards for creativity and innovation. Beverages like Pepsi flooded the market, and youth oriented advertising was the trend. Even a brand like McDonald’s was made a huge success in a predominantly vegetarian country like India. Unable to sell hamburgers in a country that worships cows, they substituted their popular Big Mac with Chicken Maharaja Mac and Aloo Tikki, tweaked to suit Indian taste buds. Coupled with youth-appealing campaigns and economical prices, the brand went on to become one of the biggest fast food chains in India. Continuing their foray into the 21st century, even brands like Nike and Pepsi localized their campaigns. Ads have also become a part of pop culture with Vodafone Zoozoos making their way into everyone’s hearts. Keeping with the ‘bring a change’ sentiment of the people, many ads focus on social issues like women’s empowerment and unity. Since social media is the order of the day, brands try attracting customers everywhere on the Internet, from social networking sites to blogs. With an increase in awareness and education among the youth, it is not easy to pull the wool over their eyes, and the young customer makes informed choices, and so brands add tags like ‘clinically proven’, ‘no preservatives’, etc. to their products.

Advertising has become an integral part of our culture, even becoming an art in recent times. It has had a huge impact on the people and their mindset, having great potential and being an ever-growing industry.

Sakhi is a 12th grade student planning to pursue Mass Communication. She is a keen observer of everything that her eyes can see and never leaves herself out of a stimulating conversation. She considers the freedom of expression to be the fourth necessity of life and believes the world could be a better place if we could just listen. Her interests include photography, music and satire. You can wade through her musings at

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