By Harleen Kaur Bagga
Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Wherever there is something being sold, advertising cannot be far behind. From sitting “passively” in front of the television and being mute recipients of the advertising conglomeration, we now live in the age of social media as participating, interactive, and critical contributors. There are many who claim to be unaffected by the advertising buzz, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their head in a saintly “No, I’m immune to these gimmicky advertisers” unlike the “masses”. However, this confession is actually quite illusory. You look at an advertisement for the first time and register its content, absorbing and critiquing it. Yet, subsequent exposures are less conscious, where you switch-off active engagement because you have already done so in the past, giving the advertisement a chance to slip under your radar.
Rosalind Gill says that “it is clear that adverts are at the heart of social existence”. Products, by acquiring an “exchange value” form a part of identity-formation, with an important part of your ‘self’ being conditional on whether you buy the product or not, perpetuating a hedonistic culture. An effective way of undertaking this is by tapping into the emotive instead of the rational appeal. A famous and likeable advertisement by Google titled “Reunion” tells the story of Baldev and Yusuf, friends separated during the Partition, and the role played by Google in reuniting them. A little utopian, the advertisement nevertheless enjoyed its share of popularity all over social-networking sites. It received tremendous appreciation and reignited discussions about the India-Pakistan relationship and the tragedies associated with the Partition.
This format of story-telling has become a favourite amongst advertisers who seek to be transparent, consumer-oriented and emotive to attract audiences. Relying on the narrative structure, they aspire to be talked about and most importantly, remembered in the memories of the viewers.
Another emerging darling of the marketing-experts is the meme-jacking phenomenon. A concept or an idea that mushrooms on the internet, manifesting most popularly in the visual form, memes are being increasing appropriated by advertisers for their marketing-campaign. Richard Dawkins, who coined the term in 1976, described it as analogous to DNA, travelling from mind to mind. Some famous meme-adverts include the usage of ‘Success Kid’ by Virgin Media, ‘Y U No’ guy by HipChat, ‘What People Think I do/What I really Do’ by Hubspot and of course, the ‘Grumpy Cat’ meme by Friskies. These already established and popular memes benefit advertisers by attracting the attention of viewers already familiar with the meme. These emotive and humourous adverts illustrate the pleasant and agreeable expressions of advertising.
However, a cacophony of media is available everywhere and not all of it is acceptable. Take the increasing occurrence of clickbait for instance. Ever come across headlines such as “What I’m About to Show You Blew My Mind… OMG! Putting His Life on the Line or What!!!”? The same video was titled on another website as “Video Of A Man Hugging A Wild Lion Will Bring You To Tears”. And there is a vexing abundance of these, with “A Man Falls Down And Cries For Help Twice. The Second Time, My Jaw Drops” and many more. Buzzfeed and Upworthy along with numerous others heavily bank on click-bait with headlines hailing more and more viewers and the content usually, with a few exceptions, proving dissatisfying. Here, the main purpose is not to sell a product or an idea but to generate revenue by increasing page-views.
Another disconcerting trend is behavioural targeting and geotargeting. A few years ago, people started noticing that products they visit on some shopping website possessed the propensity to stalk them wherever else they went. So, a mobile-cover or a pair of shoes that you visit on one website will start following you around on other websites as well in display, pop-up or expanding adverts. This smart yet spooky tool raises privacy-concerns because of its cookie-usage as advertisers retarget their prospective customers by surveying their movements. Geotargeting accesses the user’s location by tracking the IP-address or the GPS and then adjusting presented information according to their deductions of the user’s profile. These occurrences increase massive concerns about privacy and anonymity.
It’s not simply product-advertising that impacts social-media but also social-media that has amusingly impacted product-formation. Recently, Birds Eye came-out with Mashtags – “#New and #Tasty” potato @ symbols and potato hashtags, reminiscent of McCain’s frozen Smiles.
Hence, advertising and social media, two ubiquitous phenomena, share a variegated relationship, with the share-button exercising tremendous influence in determining the success of ad-campaigns. Moreover, users have shifted into participative entities whose active questioning practices (the Oscar Pistorius campaign which received 5,525 complaints) help in raising awareness and creating an active and informed environment, heralding a new age in marketing.
Harleen is an Art and Literature enthusiast, currently studying English lit at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She lives in a world of hyperbole and Homeric similes and is irrevocably in love with descriptive words. Quite fond of stationery, the smell of old books, and the Harry Potter fandom, she most unfortunately possesses a traitorous mouth and a natural propensity to fall into embarrassing situations. You can reach her at email@example.com.