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AdWatch: "Made in India, Ek Pyaara Soniya..."

Have I succeeded in getting that catchy tune by Alisha Chinai stuck in your heads as well?

In my childhood, I distinctly remember traveling in India and gazing outside at billboards, posters glued on just about anything, and hoardings as our car sped along busy streets. I marveled at the God-like status accorded to filmi celebrities after pestering my Mom to tell me "who's that?" as I pointed to the idealized, hand painted mugs of various stars that seemed to crop up everywhere. I also wondered at the conspicuous (yes, even at that age) absence of desi faces in the advertisements. Even as a kid, I did understand that India was becoming increasingly cosmopolitan and to some degree westernized. One couldn't deny the obvious signs of early globalization even then. However, it was disconcerting to travel through India while virtually all the adverts around displayed western models hawking distinctly desi products. How strange would it be if the tables were reversed, and every advert is say the UK, featured a desi model? I'd grown up in a country where the adverts tended to follow the population; and as the population became increasingly diverse, the adverts slowly incorporated diverse faces as well.

In any case, I think brands like Tilda Basmati started the "revolution" years ago by using desi actors/models in their ad campaigns which were geared more for India than at India. I think Indian advertisers have finally realized that while it is certainly worth it to incorporate global qualities in adverts by bringing in the beautiful/wealthy/sophisticated "other", it is equally important to recognize that all of those qualities are equally available in the Desh. In the changing Indian consumer mindset, imports don't always trump domestic products. On that note, check out this fascinating article from the WSJ regarding changing advertising mores in the Motha'land.

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