Reality in advertising

Reality in advertising has been a tough pill to swallow. Although star laden ads have been the tried, tested and perfected formula for years, the industry has not shunned depiction of true life in advertising. Perhaps advertising has not had an adequate sense of realism, at least not enough real life to make the Neo-realists cheer, since ads that claim to mirror real life have been restricted to man in the street testimonials in documentary style scenes.

The detergent-testimonial commercial style isn’t a realistic expression and ends up being a boring my shirt is brighter than yours spot. You just can not do the same testimonial pieces and call it realistic advertising. To be real, it has to be compelling.

Given professionals get the job done quicker, but sometimes ads need real situations and real people

For instance the average grocery store owner, a high school teacher, two seventh graders and a grandmother, are just a few among a whole lot of ‘real people’, who got their five seconds of fame as part of the ensemble cast put together for a series of Vodafone commercials. There are several factors that must be taken into account. A lot depends on the product and the idea because each one demands a certain style of making, clients’ willingness to experiment with new ways of thinking and filming and a director’s ability to capture decisive moments.

Using real people in advertising goes back to its early days when advertisers used sandwich men as human billboards, strapped between two planks of advertising content. Of course, days of laboring on the streets are long gone, albeit a few still manage to find their way on ground zero. Nowadays, it is a less grueling and more glamorous.

This is not the first time for Vodafone, as Hutch, it ran a commercial during the Delhi Half-Marathon that captured the capital’s off-the-radar sites and people, using single shots of regular faces, animals and places tied together with smooth narration.

In the west a lot of films are shot in this sort of documentary style. But then again it might not always work, because people do want glamour and clients are not particularly eager to spend on realistic films. It might be a long while before ad makers ditch celebrities for regular people and explore everyday life in its naked form where the unexpected and stark realism are more than welcome, rather than transcending reality.

Nonetheless a few avantgarde advertisers and agencies are experimenting and charting a new course with some out of ordinary advertisements about ordinary folk in everyday situations. A few daring and hard hitting pieces of work have sprung out from time to time. So could it be that advertising professionals are finally ready to show it like it is?

Whether it’s driven by celebrity fatigue or reality TV or by a bored consumer’s heightening desire to get under the skin of brands, some agencies and advertisers are getting real. Take for instance the recent campaign for contraceptive Cipla’s iPill, the agency Lowe Lintas rather than tiptoe around a tricky subject, created a gripping series of commercials with a be-safe not-sorry plot. One spot captures the fear a young girl deals with when faced with consequences like shattering her parent’s hopes and dreams and pregnancy termination.

In an attempt to get real one must not forget that too much realism is not always good for the brand. Capturing the right feel is crucial. Sometimes ads walk the thin line when they try to explore real people and their very real fears.

In a Max New York Life Insurance TV spot a wife is alarmed when her husband does not respond to repeated calls, then a nagging fear he might be dead creeps in. All along the background score is filled with natural sounds from honking cars to telephone rings. It ends with the wife finding the husband napping on the verandah.

Now, in a market where insurance firms rather talk about birth and focus on life this one does indeed stand out. These are fascinating approaches because they go beyond the realm of what is considered acceptable. Ads with realistic situations and everyday characters work sometimes.