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          Volume 10 |Issue 44 | November 25, 2011 |


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One Off

Banlues and Sobhans are ignored in our scheme of things!

Aly Zaker

A front page report in the Daily Bangkok Post a couple of years back triggered in me an urge to write this piece today. There was a picture of a poor peasant in the front page of the daily. The name of the man was Banlue Yaemjad. The caption read, “Surin farmer sits with his rickety cow and calf at dehydrated waterhole yesterday in Prasat district”. The story was on the sad plight of the Surin peasants because the water reservoirs had dried 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 could 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 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”.

Permit me 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 in the years that I grew up in I would have been dubbed a communist. I don't think the world has changed enough over the years. Therefore, 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, Myanmar, the entire South East Asia and the Far East. Between Pakistan in the west and countries like Vietnam, Laos or China in the East, a 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 some level of enlightenment at the receiving end to be understood, let alone, consumed. It did seem to me that “ordinary” people did not live in these countries, that there were no villages here and that they all had excellent education level. I felt very sad for the “Banlues” and the “Sobhans” and the others like them coming from Surin in Thailand or Ratanpur in Bangladesh. 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. So now, 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 with a world of seriousness about changing the attitude, behaviour pattern the belief systems in which the people, by and large, are born. Any communication on the fundamental issues relating to health, habitat, education or social behaviour has to be understood by them. They live in the bottom of the pyramid and have very little idea about the so-called 'state of the art' communication. How do we, in our communication ask them to unlearn the fact that tube well water is not a God's gift to human kind anymore because it may be contaminated by Arsenic? Or that physical or mental growth of a human being can be shaped within the first five years of their lives? What language or images would not only be comprehensible for them but be able to convince them? In consumer goods marketing we often hear things like lateral expansion of the market at the bottom of the income/ expenditure pyramid, of expanding base and the horizon et al. How can we achieve that to include the vast majority of marginalised population?

While I was going through the exhibits in that 'Ad fest' it also occurred to me that since the invasion of 'globalisation' things have been blatantly simplified. It seems that the global marketing experts believe that they know it all. They seem to believe that what is true of any third world country is also true of Bangladesh. Little do they know or care that the most important factor of culture is totally getting lost in the process. I have a feeling that these so-called experts feel that they could win the hearts of the consumers of Bangladesh with a communication reminiscent of the ones created in the Madison Avenues of the world, the franchise of which have now extended to the third world? Give me a break. After all, people are made of flesh and blood and are not card board cut outs. For heaven's sake let us be sensitive enough to treat them as human beings.

At the end of the day, at the end of the Fest, I returned home a sad man. Sad for the Banlues and Sobhans of the world. Verily, age is catching up with me.

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