a Cardboard Cutout!
page report in the Daily Bangkok Post triggered in me an urge
to write this piece today. There was a picture of a poor peasant
with the front page lead item in the daily. The name of the
man was Banlue Yaemjad. The caption read, "Surin farmer
sits with his cow and calf at dehydrated waterhole yesterday
in Prasat district". The story was on the danger of water
reservoirs drying up. This man looked emaciated, older than
his age and wore a dazed hopeless expression on his face. Seeing
Banlue on the front page of the Bangkok Post, as I sat within
the confines of my comfortably appointed hotel room, the face
of Sobhan, the poor peasant of my village back home came to
mind. In Bangladesh, you don't even have to look around. You
can see a million Banlues all around all the time. What made
Banlue different is that in spite of thousands like him in Thailand
I made it to Pattaya from the Bangkok airport, a distance of
nearly two hundred kilometres, in less than two hours and I
literally flew over the city of Bangkok, almost half the way
through to Pattaya, where the Seventh Asia Pacific Advertising
Festival was happening. If you ever have a chance to travel
on this express way, you will know what flyovers really mean.
But then, they still have Banlues, just as we have Sobhans.
to start on what prompted me to write this piece. Because a
little more on the plight of the Banlues would make me tread
on dangerous grounds. And that should best be avoided. The Asia
Pacific, as I have noticed from my experience, is more South
East Asia and Far East than South Asia. Most creative people
in the congregation here were either from east of Myanmar or
from the west of Suez. I have no problem with that. What, however,
perplexes me is that almost all campaigns in their buff and
glitter were as blasé as any I have seen in the west.
We have, within the region of Asia Pacific, countries as India,
Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the entire South East Asia
and the Far East. Between Pakistan in the west and countries
like Vietnam, Laos or China in the East, the vast majority of
the population, I dare say, would not be able to consume communication
in the language that it is made in and displayed in such festivals.
Here, language goes to signify the content, manner and the intent.
The advertisements we saw in the Ad Fest were superbly conceived
and wonderfully executed and needed a minimum level of enlightenment
at the receiving end to be understood, let alone consumed. It
seemed to me that ordinary people did not live in these countries,
that there were no villages here and that the literacy rate
was a hundred percent. I felt very sad for the Banlues and the
Sobhans and others like them coming from Surin or Ratanpur.
I know about my country and I know that the majority of the
population are them. Only a few of us are like us. I may hazard
a guess and say that even in Thailand, the majority of them
are like Banlue.
where do we want to go with our communication that would sell
a product, a service or an idea to the majority of the population
living in countries like ours? In social communication we talk
about changing the attitude, behaviour pattern the belief systems
in which the people, by and large, are born. This is a fact
of life. How do we sell our shampoo to this target audience?
Or ask them to unlearn the fact that Tube Well water is not
a God's gift to human kind any more because it may be contaminated
by Arsenic? In consumer goods marketing we often hear things
like lateral expansion of the market, of expanding base and
the horizon et al. How can we laterally expand our market to
the vast majority of marginalised population with communication
that is reminiscent of the ones created in the Madison Avenues
of the world, the franchise of which have now extended to the
third world? After all, people are made of flesh and blood and
are not cardboard cut outs.
At the end
of the day, at the end of the Fest, I return home a sad man.
Sad for the Banlues and Sobhans of the world. Verily, age is
catching up with me.