Ad(verse) Images

Ads are ruling our world today, and they are doing it insidiously, through children. But this is not a new thing. I think the adman caught on to the goldmine waiting at the end of a child’s tantrum, much like the proverbial pot of gold and began mining it. Today we even have children selling insurance plans, for heaven’s sake!

How it affected me when children were mere targets and not yet the salespersons they are today, is what this post is all about.

In those long ago we used to drink water straight from the taps in parks and railway stations and didn’t install expensive purifiers in our homes to get ‘clean’ water. Either the water was clean or we had not become such delicate darlings with even more delicate systems that pack up at the slightest provocation.

So here I was trying to come to terms with a new product in the market – water. The younger one was all of three years when this happened. Had someone told me some years previously, that water would be available in several brands with their own USPs, I would have laughed at them. Because back then, Bisleri was a generic name, synonymous with mineral water and therefore didn’t need any advertisement to sell it.

Soon the market was flooded (pun intended) with every kind of ‘water’. Many liquor companies joined the band wagon to peddle their hard drinks by giving their ‘water’ their brand names while taking care to add the words ‘aqua pura’ or simply ‘aqua’ to it. It never failed to amuse me when I saw these ads which proclaimed that their brand of water was the purest. And that was the only USP they could use for good old water! Of course, I had spoken too soon as usual. Soon I saw ads that sold ‘pure Ganga jal, rain water, mountain spring water, water treated with ‘extra oxygen’, (whatever that meant) and what have you.

Soon the brats refused even soft drinks and demanded to have a taste of a particular brand of water! The reason(s)? They wanted to see how ‘pure’ water, or spring water or whatever water that was advertised, tasted like. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. Shouldn’t I have been happy that they were asking for nothing more than branded water? Imagine my plight if they had demanded to drink only soft drinks or only fruit juices! May be you are right. I should have been thankful for small mercies. I don’t know what I was cribbing about!

Actually, I despaired because the adman (I am convinced that no ad woman in her right mind would ever create such ads that may backfire on her species), had scored one more point over me, the poor housewife. The hold he has over young minds is truly phenomenal. And I hate the way he picks up on simple things and turns them into brands. Let me narrate this particular incident.

The younger one was watching his favourite ‘programme’ on the tube. You guessed right. He was watching the ads. There was this lady, immaculately dressed, with a table laden with dishes that would have put a Punjabi wedding feast to shame. Mind you, she was only serving the family its evening meal! Now, this dear lady was extolling the virtues of a brand of — no, not a brand of masala or cooking oil, but, hold your breath — salt!

My little one, who found me wanting in culinary skills in comparison to all his friends’ mothers and sundry ‘aunties’, turned and demanded to know which brand of salt I used.  When I told him, he uttered a single word. ‘Oh!’ Just that. And in that single syllable, he had comprehensively condemned, convicted and hanged my cooking. His mother’s cooking was bad because she did not use the particular brand that the lady was talking about. She would be able to turn out all those delicious dishes the lady was serving her family if she only used that brand of salt.

It was then that I gave up. I had got used to branded cooking oil, juices and jellies and a host of other items including water, but salt? I mean, how can plain salt add flavour if it is sold under a particular brand name? Had I been foolish enough to think that it just added taste to food?  And as far as taste went, how salty can salt get? It was confusing to say the least. The ad could have at least stressed on some other aspect of its product, like purity or its free-flowing quality. But who can tell the advertisers their folly? Even worse, how does one explain that to a four-year-old?

I remember the time when the older one demanded to be served Maggi noodles in ‘two minutes.’ He argued that if the aunty in the ad could serve the screaming hordes of her son’s friends the dish in two minutes, look fresh and smile ‘sweetly’, why his mother couldn’t serve ‘just me’ in  a similar fashion. I tried in vain to tell him that the noodles in the ad had been prepared by someone else and not the ‘aunty’ in the ad and who therefore looked fresh and ‘sweet’. And that whoever had cooked the noodles perhaps looked sweatier and more hassled than I did. He gave me a pitying look as if to forgive my excuse and tut-tutted at my inefficiency and lack of poise.

To tell you the truth, I don’t half blame the kids. I must confess that the adman is so persuasive that I find myself taken in by the idiot box images. Imagine someone smiling after travelling by the crowded public transport of our cities, whether they are the ubiquitous blue-line buses of Delhi or the jam-packed local trains of Mumbai! They give me a massive inferiority complex by their fresh-as-daisy looks and charm.

She was the ultimate superwoman, the likes of which I would never have become in my wildest dream. For I usually came home as if the cat had reluctantly dragged me in, before flopping like an imperfect jelly on the bed. If the family was lucky, they would get the previous week’s left-overs, else they would eat bread and butter. By bedtime I would be sufficiently rejuvenated to scream and yell at the children to change into their bedclothes and brush their teeth, or else…

Psst… let me confess the shameful truth here that I had tried on several occasions to live up to the ad image of a superwoman, but needless to say, had failed miserably. So why did an intelligent woman like me stoop to this? The adman of course, whose devious methods of planting these images in the minds of not only the kids but also in the minds of grownups, including me and the L&M.

I remember this series of ads by Ariel which showed a woman washing clothes in the said detergent so that he would call her ‘Mrs.Tip-Top,’ whatever that meant! I am sure that it was only after seeing this ad series that the L&M expected yours truly to stand at the door with a cup of hot tea and pallu ready to wipe his brow solicitously. Naturally I didn’t comply with his fantasy and we didn’t speak to each other for several weeks. That we ultimately had to make peace because speaking via the children was a pain, but that is another story.

So guys, blaming the in-laws and the society for the state women are in, is passé. You know who the real culprit is, don’t you now thanks to this enlightening post? Let us collar these ‘creative minds’ that are working so deviously to plant images in the minds of impressionable viewers — and shake them till all their teeth come loose.

Have you guys experienced this kind of ‘victimisation’ due to unreal ad images? If you  have, I  would love to hear  them.

69 comments

  1. Hey Cybernag, Your blogger friends will have to forgive me as this is on a personal note. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the “Leibster Blog Awards” – awarded by fellow bloggers to a blog they find interesting. After a lot of research, after a lot of careful thought I’ve decided I’d like to award it to you (and four others as the rules stipulate)
    Please check it out at http://nevermindyaar.blogspot.com/2012/02/leibster-blog-awards.html

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  2. Children’s TV channel in the US do not show any ads. None at all. Not even kid’s products. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I do have happy memories of Maggi Noodles and Cadbury ads 🙂

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    1. Kids of earlier generations did not have suh strong likes and dislikes despite my writing about the brats. I hardly gave into demands that I felt were not worth the money or health. It is a good idea to cut out the ads in children’s programs, at least we can be sure that we are not being conned by the advertisers who are targeting a soft audience.

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  3. I’m only reading this now… I think children’s tv channels should ban ads. But ad agencies have no scruples so they probably won’t.
    I did a lot of posts dissing ads in my old blog so my latest post is sort of a spring off from those 🙂

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  4. I haven’t been victimised as you here describes. Not directly, but I still don’t understand why my kids are so hot on McDonalds, when everything they serve taste like paper? Of course I know. Ad is once again the culprit. As to bottled water – I believe that to be one of the biggest advertisements scams. A survey done some time ago in a paper, showed that more than 50 per cent of bottle water is just plane tap water. Why would anyone buy tap water? Not speaking about all the environmental disaster it creates; transporting water all around the water, and piling up plastic bottles after use. I believe human beings just want to be stupid, want to be conned.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head when you say that we want to be conned because we are stupid. In developing countries it is not even tap water in bottles but ground water! and the worst part is, we think or rather hope that it is clean since it has been bottled 😛

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  5. I grew up in a TV free household, and therefore did not have any ads influencing me as such. So I can’t really contribute my experiences here.

    But I would like to share a story of what my neighbour did to keep her kids happy and satisfied. The kids in question demanded only Amul butter. Now, this neighbour aunty made butter at home and had no intention of buying Amul butter. She hit upon a novel way to keep her kids happy and satisfied and yet not buy Amul butter. After every batch of butter was churned, she would mix in some turmeric powder and salt and wrap it in butter paper and freeze it. This would be done when the kids were in school and by the time they returned the butter was transferred into a butter dish and ready to be served. The result: kids happy that they got “Amul butter” and mother happy that they did not get “Amul butter”. 😀

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    1. It is my concerned observation that children today are harder to fool 😀 my children were so innocent that they would only say the subzi was not nice when it had no salt! They couldn’t even pinpoint what was missing and today his little daughter can distinguish between a soft idli and a hard one even when it is mashed and thrust into her mouth 😀

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  6. search for ‘pure’ water! yeah what an irony! and hilarious too at one level
    true, ads do influence us and in such subtle, inconspicuous ways that we don’t realize. esp the ones with family/child/mother protagonist – emotionally charged ones
    yes, very enlightening post indeed

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    1. Humour often stems from indignation and frustration. So your observation about it being hilarious at one level is pertinent 🙂 The worst thing is none of us is above being affected by the visual persuasion, why blame the kids alone, right?

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  7. I am so glad I was not born in the current modern living. I can remember the bisleri water bottle. And the guy in our village would fill then up from our handpump. We had the first hand pump for water installed and sell them ro people.. its funny no one ever asked if it was pure or not…

    The two minutes noodle I still take long to get those cup noodles ready in 2 minutes and all it needs is hot water..

    I think we were stronger in those days our bodies were ready to take on any virus etc…

    I tried to make rasmalai from a famous brand and I swear I did exactly as the box said it was so hard and tuck.. also the new ready made curry we get here chicken this and that it never comes out as good.. yet people go mad when they are reduced from 1:50 to just a pound.

    Media sure has brainwashed us a lot.. the product that gets its ad right wil always so better then others which may be better for health and cheaper too.

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    1. Filling up water from taps in sundry stations is what I remember most. without vestibules in trains it used to be more important to get into the train before it pulled out than wonder if the water was safe to drink 🙂 I have been taken in by the packed make-it-yourself stuff that are sold too. How many times I have served something else instead of what was shown on the packets! I became wise soon and began hiding the packets, just presenting the kids with some edible stuff suitably named by me, depending upon how it looked 😀 Yes, ads rule us in one form or the other. If they don’t influence a direct purchase, they will fill our psyches with images.

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      1. Water filling in stations reminded me of those mud koojas in trains, being used by ladies , on long journeys.And those huge tiffin carriers., It used to be comforting sight to have those homely stuff around.

        Nowadays, Ads do not make much difference to tech savvy people. There are scores of reviews before a product is released in India,to guide the internet surfers. After it is released there are scores which shoot it down too. Their tribe is increasing.

        The regional media ads are more loud, and more unbelievable. The Hindi ones are ,atleast tolerable.:-)

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  8. ROFL! This post had me in splits!! Confession, even I demanded the maggi to be made in 2 minutes, and would crib as to why the gulab jamuns were not as round and large as the ones in the sunflower or dhara oil to my Mom 😛 ofcourse my mom would revert to the ‘maun vrat’ weapon..which always worked in her favor!

    As for now, the fair and lovely ads irritate me to NO END!!! The ad’MEN’ who make those ‘ads’ are surely lacking a very important organ..’the brain’!

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    1. I am gratified to know that maun vrat worked with you 🙂 I had to give detailed explanations and defend myself against such imperfections 😀 Ha ha!The admen would burst an artery if they heard you, in their….knees??? since they don’t have a brain? 😀 😀

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  9. Fed up with the ads and their effects on my household economy, I resorted to tricks which my kids could not match up to.Both would pick and choose the most expensive items off the shelves in a supermarket (obviously influenced by ads), approach the billing counter grinning ear to ear and made it a point to avoid all eye contact with me .I would carry limited predecided amount from home and declare at the counter-‘ Dada ,jab two thousand ho jayega tab batana, I am carrying only that much’ Two pairs of horrified eyes followed by ‘ How cheap mom!!’ 😀

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    1. That had me ROFL Sharmila! What a wonderful way to tackle the problem! btw. how old are the kids?

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      1. Daughter 20 and son 13 ,while one exits her teens,the other enters..sigh!!

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        1. No worries, you are the wiser. Mine were six years apart. 🙂

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  10. I love the tone of humour in your post, but the matter is quite true. And serious. A lot of stereotyping happens during advertisements, and the worst ones are that pinpoint at gender stereotypes. Why are only women associated with nirma, ariel etc.? Don’t men wash their clothes at all? Not even bachelors living alone??? 🙄

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    1. I focused on the ads to bring out the gender inequality and stereotyping being perpetuated because if one went by what one reads in blogosphere, it would appear that the in-laws and parents of daughters are solely responsible for these while ignoring the most potent and repeated visual reinforcement in the form of attractive ads invading our living rooms and working insidiously. As for your last question, i know of many men who surreptitiously help their wives and when seen, make sheepish excuses 😀

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      1. Why is it so “unmanly” to be seen helping one’s wife? 🙄 sigh…

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        1. What if his friends made fun of him for washing his wife’s clothes? 😀

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  11. I remember once asking my mom why she didn’t welcome us smilingly, in a beautiful, perfectly draped sari, when we came back from school, like those aunties in ads did. I don’t remember what she said exactly, just that it was a pretty long lecture 😉
    What goes around sure as hell comes around– my elder daughter confronted me with a somewhat similar question not too long ago. Grrr

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    1. What goes round certainly comes round and I am surprised your mother did not tell you that! Mine used to din it in my head and look what I got! 😀

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  12. hee hee hee i myself am guilty of asking my mother to prepare maggi when she had no clue what was it and how to make it. and now the flipkart ads have taken it a kil too far

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    1. Not just you, but a whole generation of kids wanted their moms to be like the ad mom, smilingly giving them Maggi. 😀 Today thanks to that generation, Maggi has assumed the place of a meal/snack in every home. And how ‘healthy’ can processed food be?

      Flipkart is a great boon to shoppers and they didn’t have to stoop to using babies to promote their services.

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  13. I don’t remember experiencing the effects of advertisements from the past, and these days we watch too little TV. The Maggi noodle ad that you have posted, portraying the stereotypical image of a woman cleaning the kitchen, is disgusting!

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    1. You must remember that that ad had been made in the 80s when the effects of feminist ideas had begun ‘polluting’ the minds of the women and so they had to be shown their place. 😀

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  14. But but but…you are the epitome of the perfect mother arent you….thats what I thought today…hahaha 🙂 Muah to you and R is still asking for you 🙂

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    1. Aww, the sweetheart! And I forgot to give her the cream wafers her mama had bought and kept for her. 😦

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  15. Adverts are lovely images ,beautiful words and great music clothing mostly crappy products.Infact the lousier the stuff the more Emotional and fervent the ad about curing you of all the shortcomings that you never knew you had 🙂

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  16. Now imagine men who grew up watching ads which show the lady of the house cooking up a six course meal with a beatific smile plastered on her face. Is overjoyed when her kid comes back home in soiled clothes. And think cleaning utensils is her lifelong passion. She scours and scrubs from morn to noon and she still manages to look like a million bucks. And the occasional back pain is taken care of by MOOV massaged lovingly by the husband.

    Grrr….these admen deserve such wives!

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    1. I grew up in the rebellious 70s and so reacted even more strongly to these images and determinedly remained true to myself, which is why the brats have grown up to be what they are. If I had been in the control group for these ads, I would have rejected them all outright. Sigh. They pick their control groups from the most gullible types too. I would rather say that these women deserve to be the wives of the admen 🙂

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  17. AlkaGurha · · Reply

    Mrs Tip Top…ha, ha.
    True admen are using children to sell, for they know that the way to a woman’s heart is through her kids. There is an article on the same topic in todays TOI sunday magazine. This one however was more interesting.

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    1. This ad used to come when you must have been too young and it made me hopping mad. But since I had started using Ariel much before this ad and I hated the other model of Surf even more, I stuck with Ariel. 😀 The ads have a reverse effect on me. They put me off the product if they go against my sensibilities. I have not read the TOI ad. (I had written this one in the late 80s and just touched it up for the blog) Thanks for liking it.

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  18. How about the fairness creams ads? I have seen so many people using these creams in vain for many years.
    Loved this post..just the right kind of humor 🙂

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    1. Humour certainly helps mask outrage many a time, doesn’t it? And yes, I have to spend hours searching for a simple moisturizer that doesn’t promise to whiten my skin and make it wrinkle free. What is wrong with a dark complexion and wrinkles, for heaven’s sake?

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  19. Oh I have several such tales, Zee… I remember “demanding” for a specific malt drink to be bought (and not the usual Viva) as *hold your breath* there was nice looking pitcher that came free with that *and you can laugh now*. When chithappa bought the malt mix sans the pitcher (for whatever reason it was advertised but never available, IIRR) I threw a tantrum. And to top it, it tasted awful and I was stuck with it for a while as several packs were bought in search of that elusive pitcher 🙂 I remember changing allegiance from Viva (my trusted pal) to Boost as no less than Sachin advertised for it and my mom was zapped as I refused to drink Complan as it was chocolate flavor and I hated to drink in the morn. My mom, obviously, never understood my logic and I don’t think she even attempted 😀

    As with several of your posts, this one touched a chord. You are an awesome writer – you bring out pertinent issues without making the post very serious and also in a very way we can relate well.

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    1. That left me seriously LOL, no ROFL. 😀 Imagine poor you drinking something you didn’t like because so many packs were bought for a free pitcher! Moms never want to understand any logic if it means 1.expense 2.if it is turning their kids into brats. 🙂

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  20. Rashmi Shetty · · Reply

    Ads are a big part of my house!..infact a break in a cricket match or my fav tv show means an ad break for aadi!..so cud relate to this post fast:-)..though he hasn’t hooked on to demanding all or most of what he sees..certain ads catch his fancy..like the ramesh and suresh ad of 5 star..and once it does..then chocolate = 5 star..but fortunately its not caught onto any “bother-able” proportions!

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    1. Amen to that! 🙂 Children grow out of these phases. Did you read what the younger one has said in the comments? 😀

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      1. Rashmi Shetty · · Reply

        :-).. I just did!..hehehehe..i love the ma and beta banter:-)

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        1. You must read the ‘Bundle of noes’ that the brats said I was 😀

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  21. am sure our wily polticians too have something to do with it!! 😉

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    1. Where don’t our politicians not interfere with things especially if money is involved?

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  22. Yes, of course, the ads will be targeted towards the kids. Nowadays, even 5-year-old kids are saying, “look at that caaar. When are we buying that?” I actually find the flipkart ads that show kids to be pretty cute :). I am a Marketing person, and I have handled advertising campaigns extensively. Though, it seems wrong that kids that young are being targeted. The actual crux of the problem is that we are letting our kids make decisions they are not supposed to make in the first place. My kids are exposed to a lot of ads on these Cartoon Channels, but I am quick to point out to them that noodles, chocolates etc. etc. are junk food. And, yes mummy decides what will be bought and what is good for them. When I buy biscuits or chocolates for them, I do take their choice in consideration but not for other things, certainly not which brand of oil or salt or washing powder. If no other logic works, I tell them that the kids and mummy are being so cute because they are being paid for it just like in the movies.

    Advertising by the nature of its job has to focus on the most effective target audience, the one that makes the purchase go through. Sadly, in these times, we are letting the kids get too big for their boots. My son and I have a big laugh when we see those fairness creams ads. My son says the way this aunty is becoming fairer, she is going to become transparent and look like a ghost :). It is important that we explain to our children that ads are just means of promoting things. Trust me, they understand. Even my 5-year-old does!

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    1. Wow! Explaining to the kids that the models are being paid is great! And Sid’s comment on the aunty becoming transparent 😀

      Sadly other parents are not doing the same thing which is why kids are being increasingly used to sell things.

      PS. Did you read the exchange between Vinni and me on the comments section? 😀 😀

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      1. hehe Yes did read that exchange in the comments section :). There is an article in today’s TOI’s supplement about kids being used for advertising and why. Of course, they will kill themselves before saying that they use the ploy to emotionally blackmail parents :).

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        1. No Rachna, they own up to their ‘crime’ in workshops and manuals on advertising, but will not do it to the target audience for obvious reasons 😀

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  23. I can think of a billion examples where the shady cooperate houses push their useless products into our houses through the child’s mind. Its so hard to resist when they blow up their faces into those cute red balls.

    Brilliant post Zephyr

    Hey Zephyr: Long time, no see! huh!

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    1. Yeah long time, no see. But do you actually buy something other than eatables because a cute kid is selling it? Kids of course are fully convinced of the product’s worth when they see someone like them enjoying something. Promise to visit your blog soon 🙂

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      1. Its a hard question considering that I am still pretty much a kid at heart 😀 , I do not deny that I have bought things just because the ads were cute, but may thats a bit low these days.

        I do believe most of what we buy today is determined by the ads, We buy because the ads are good not because the product is. come on how many of us actually know that local companies exist but still we do know, Unilever and proctor ad gamble.( and I am one among them)

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        1. Really? you are the reason that the admen are cranking out ads with kids? Now, that calls for serious action 😀 What was the last thing you bought or made your parents buy after seeing an ad?

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          1. Its hard to recall I must say but the truth is most things that are being bought by the general public stems directly from the popularity of their ads and the customer report it produces

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  24. Hey..ur post reminded me of this sunflower oil advertisement..it was one of my favorites :)..do u remember this?

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    1. nice ad kerthana, very sweet and cute

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    2. Oh yes. It was a sweet ad. No wonder kids like you and the brats then used to be hooked to the ads back then. But did you ask your mom to get Sundrop? 🙂

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    3. Wow! How did you remember this one!? What an ad this was, really. Just like oldie songs used to be melodius, the earlier ads used to be nicer than what they are nowadays.

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  25. Wonderful post Aunty. I’m able to relate to it to certain extent now since A Jr has started demanding stuff like the ‘bacchu’ in some ad or wants me to do something like the ‘aunty’ in some other ad. Right now it all seems quite cute but I’m sure with time the adman’s going to pollute my baby’s mind too!
    And impressionable minds are ours too, right? A agrees with this for sure since he has to deal with me asking for some kurti/saree like that lovely model 😀
    Will come to you for advice on this in future! 🙂

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    1. In my case I was at the receiving end from both the L&M and the brats! Keep your fingers crossed that the kid doesn’t start demanding things that are not good for him 🙂

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  26. Zephyr, this is done on purpose by admen as the marketing team of most FMCG companies and others, understand that in today’s world the children hold the key to important buying decision and hence this is now being done more brazenly..

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    1. Compared to what kids are being used to sell today, the ads of yesteryear were innocuous, right?

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  27. I have these disturbing visions of Admen focussing on the foetuses in not too distant a future. How far the advertisements can get from reality? Here is a Youtube link featuring Ashton Kutcher featuring Nikon D5100:

    Compared to Kutcher, I’d be the beggar incarnate in most respects; and my photography an enterprise to be traced back to the timeline when primates were in the process of discovering two-legged walk.

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    1. Exaggerated claims and inflated promises is what admen thrive on. And we like suckers fall for them, why blame the kids alone? And yes, like Abhimanyu who learnt the art of entering the Chakravyuha in his mother’s womb, kids might begin asking for a particular brand of cereal or nappies 🙂

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  28. And I still remember not getting them for you 🙂

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    1. Yes, and we usually had two choices when it came to food: Take it or leave it!

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  29. I still remember nagging you to use quite a lot of things!

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