Monday, July 04, 2005
If you are a surfer of late night television, you cannot miss the ubiquitous teleshopping ad. From magic mops to machines which make your stomach as flat as Lijjat papad, there's a whole range of dubious products on offer.
Products which - they promise - will work like magic on problems of magnificent and everyday importance.
Do they? Of course not! Phir unka dhanda kaise chalta rehta hai, you wonder? Adman Prasoon Joshi offered a bunch of reasons in a recent column for Businessworld magazine:
The first is timing: often either late at night or in the afternoons. At this time, one is not at one's sharpest best. Or maybe, not much is happening with life at that moment, and boom! Somebody and some magical thing promises to change one's life so quickly and easily. It is hard not to get tempted.
Second is repeated reinforcement: instead of the regular 15-30 second commercial, what gets beamed ad nauseam is a 3-minute hard- sell of the product in question, literally lulling you into believing.
Next is the extensive use of testimonials, especially by many has-been or not-so-happening celebrities. What is disturbing is the use of celebrities, who are regarded as trustworthy by their screen image alone.
To the above list I'd like to add a few more factors:
The late night or afternoon time slot is one where you are likely to be watching TV alone. This is important because otherwise there would be some sensible soul around to scream "stop"! Before you actually 'call now' and give out your credit card number to buy a jar of magic car wax polish for Rs 1999. (two 'free' magic wipecloths included at no extra cost).
Secondly, the 'repeated reinforcement' is done in a very clever way. It's not like when you watch the same ad 3 times in a row before the movie starts at Sterling theatre. That's plain irritating.
The teleshopping ads are more like mini-soap operas with a mix of characters, drama and emotion. The 'Miracle Blade Knife' is an excellent example.
It's not just the way that chef chops up everything from tomato and bread to pineapple and fish. It's also the non stopbak bak and excited oohs and aahs that go with it.
The fact of course is - however great the knife and the blade - ultimately only years and years of skill and practice result in the spectacular cutting demonstrated on-screen.
Same goes for all those 'ab isolator' equipment. The guys who demonstrate it on screen are already reasonably fit. A genuine fatso - looking for the easy way out - would not have the strength or willpower to actually do those exercises!
But what teleshopping networks bank on is this: the gullible fools who bought those magnetic earrings hoping to miraculously lose weight will be too embarassed to tell anyone they've been duped.
And even if - over the long run - a particular product is discredited, there are always enough new products to be advertised. And enough bakras to be mesmerised.
Kya idea hai
If nothing, one has to admire the grasp these companies have over human psychology. And their 'creativity' in coming up with more and more saleable ideas.
My all-time favourite is the 'Butterfly abs' - a small device which they claim makes you lose weight from whichever part of the body it's strapped onto. So, you're told, wear it while sitting around watching TV, or in the gym, or even in office. Yeah right.
A person who used the product (tho she claims did not buy herself :) says the vibration or "buzz" from the butterfuly abs is so strong and uncomfortable you can't stand it against your skin for more than a couple of minutes.
Besides which - it doesn't actually work. If it did, I'm sure McDonald's would set up a factory and hand out a 'butterfly abs' free with every order! Now that would make their greasefest a truly 'happy meal' :)
The spirit is willing...
The new and ultimate masterstroke has been to transcend into another realm of products. A realm where performance is simply not a parameter. Where purchase is made on faith alone.
It started with 'Shree Yantra' - a crystal pyramid with beneficial properties which Tulsi bahu promoted as the harbinger of sukh, shanti, chain and aman in every Hindu household. Little mythological playlets and references to Ram, Sita etc are slipped into the ad. I'm sure they've had plenty of sales...
Now, Kader Khan appeals to Muslims to order 'Allah ke Darwaaze ka aks'. The infomercial used terrific Urdu, mixed with a muezzin's call playing subtly in the background and actual maulvis in the foreground. Declares an impassioned Kaderji: "Hum aapse is darwaaze ki keemat nahin maang rahe hain... hadiya maang rahe hain". (sirf Rs 1999, naturally)
I can tell you this product has just the right mix of novelty + religious call of duty to become a huge success. And surely Sikh, Christian and Jain products will follow...
Bottomline: Teleshopping may be borderline legal and you can argue it's upto each individual to safeguard his or her own interests.
But must these infomercials run on trusted channels - like Discovery and Sony? And are our celebs so desperate to make an extra buck that they will lend their names to any old thing?? Certainly looks like it - right now.
Some kind of regulation - whether self imposed or by an external authority - is surely in oder.