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     Volume 9 Issue 2 | January 8, 2010|

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One Off

Farthest from Fad

Aly Zaker

Advertising in today's business world is known as marketing communication. This is because of the fact that advertising as an essential corollary to the activities of marketing of product, service or ideas has to be ultimately targeted to the people it is meant to reach. At this point it might be pertinent to give a short description of the trade and its history. Advertising, in some form or the other, dates back to the beginning of the recorded history. We are aware of the Town Criers walking through the streets attracting attention of those within the hearing range about some merchandise or the other. Indeed, it is not quite a history yet in our country where 'pheri wallas' make the round every day through the lanes of our towns. Writings on the walls were also very ancient vehicles of advertising from the by gone days. Even today this medium remains the vehicle of choice of political activists in the under developed world. We call them graffiti. Then there was the tradition of 'marks' on the goods, a little more attractively drawn than necessary, to draw attention. Various text books have given a variety of definitions to advertising. A very common example from standard text book is:

“Advertising is any paid form of non-personal presentation of ideas, goods and services by an identified sponsor.”
-John S. Wright, Willis I. Winter and Sherilyn K. Zeigler.
“The dissemination of information concerning an idea, service or product to compel action in accordance with the intent of the advertiser”.
-Manendra Mohanin

Be it as it may, as a dynamic industry, forever changing with the need of the time, none of the text book definitions may seem adequate or time tested. We have to pick the brains of professionals who have driven this trade to be so successful as to be called an industry in the present day world. David Ogilvy, the doyen of modern advertising and the founder of O & M, one of the largest advertising agencies of the world said a few words about what advertising is meant to achieve. In his words, “I do not regard advertising as an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to find it merely creative. I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product.” This is what necessitates looking at advertising from the point of view of marketing.

When Bangladesh came into being it was on transition from an agricultural economy to a mercantile economy. Industrialisation was about to begin. True there were some industrial ventures in the jute and textile sectors or very basic industries as foundries, tin sheet manufacturers etc. but any industry dependent on increased trading activities hadn't begun until mid-eighties. Therefore the need for marketing was still a far cry. As a result, marketing communication was not even a known sector of business. Advertising is a very sophisticated industry that is dependent upon the marketing of brands hence comes at the end of a chain of business activities like manufacturing of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), their distribution, merchandising and sales. But the most relevant in this regards is the apex activity called marketing. Today it is recognised the world over that for a brand to be successful satisfaction of the “consumer” is the most important denominator. The consumer is described in various terms for various purposes of business, e.g., customer, target group, end beneficiary etc. And marketing (both product and social) is the science to know the practice, behaviour pattern and the belief system of the consumer. Therefore, more than being only creative the thing that the advertising professionals have to bear in mind is the question of being able to explore and win the consumers' minds. Once the consumer becomes a known quantity it becomes easy to develop a communication for them.

It is with this end in view that we should define the market and strive to design our communication. In the context of Bangladesh we often see that people involved in the process of creating communication do not think beyond the place they are located in. Therefore our main city, Dhaka, becomes our focal point. It is the language, visual queues, allusions, dialects et al of this city that becomes the vehicle in which we create our communication. These days many describe this as the Gulshan, Baridhara, Banani and Dhanmondi syndrome. We try and emulate the expressions that have originated here. These are an upper class or aspiring upper-class language or nuances of language that stalks as the Nuevo Bangla we have evolved for ourselves--thanks to the privately owned English medium universities located in these areas. We impose what WE think as the common language of the 'common people' on the poor common people. We forget that our buyers of products, services or ideas are located far beyond our own confines and are meant to consume the communication we make for them. I have even come across strategists who pass on their gut feel or information had from their peers as researched findings. This is dishonest to say the least. Proper research that can really give us an insight is seldom done.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the volume for most of our FMCG comes from rural and semi-urban Bangladesh. The people living in these areas have been financially empowered because of remittances from our skilled or unskilled labour abroad that send most of their income back home. The activities of non-government organisations and their micro-credit schemes have also benefited our people financially and they now have a disposable income with which to indulge in novelty purchases. Add to it that vast number of women who have now been empowered by the readymade garment industries, now spreading to various semi-urban areas of the country. The mindset of this majority of the people will have to be understood fully and the communication designed for them should not go over their head.

It is seldom that we think of surpassing our immediate task of making an advertisement to the logical necessity of that advertisement in building a brand. This is not an easy task. If brands are a set of convictions, as many marketing gurus have described it to be (and a definition that is very close to my heart), then a lot more thought and effort has to go into building brands that would stand the test of time. Not many brands would pass this test in the context of Bangladesh. A clever ad that may evoke 'oohs and aahs' of the close circuit advertising fraternity may fizzle out in the market place and may contribute to the pre-mature death of a possibility.

One other thing that bothers me is that some people in the advertising trade believe that there should not be any question of ethics in the communication we create. This, I dare say, is a self destructive thought. If we want to win the hearts of the consumers, we better do it with a promise that is honest. Otherwise not only the communication will be thrown in to the gutter, with it the product will also find its final resting place there. In this context another thing that comes to my mind is the fact that we often say that it is not our business to be a teacher. True that. But this hypothesis does not absolve us of our responsibilities to our people and the society. Businesses thrive because people partner them. Without this partnership business will mark time as an embryo, forever. The observations made here are a take-out from my personal experience in the practice of communications business and in congruity with the definition/ description given by professionals from the industry.


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