Allan Fraser-Rush
Dec 2, 2013

Celebration or commercialisation?

This month in India I was struck by the commerciality surrounding Diwali. Will we be selling or celebrating Christmas this year?

Allan Fraser-Rush
Allan Fraser-Rush

Sometimes it takes a change of scene to get a fresh perspective on our industry and why we do what we do for our clients’ brands. Especially for those times of year when we try to piggyback onto another big occasion likes Christmas, Chinese New Year, Tet or Diwali.

It was on a recent trip to India where it struck me that we as an industry, and our clients, step over that fine line on a regular basis in regard to celebrating those important occasions with our consumers—versus cashing in on them for the cash.

Fair game, many may say, it is just another opportunity to sell, sell, sell. But the tide may be turning as many of the larger conglomerates are talking about being socially relevant in their consumers’ lives, which may mean a shift from exploiting the opportunity to trying to find more relevant ways to join in on the celebration.

But back to India: After spending four days doing home visits in both Mumbai and Delhi, I started to understand the relevance of what Diwali meant to Indians. It wasn’t just the pretty light show that many of us may have thought, but a visual representation of how good prevailed over evil many centuries ago. It is a family time, one for sharing, celebrating and starting afresh.

Traditionally, it was homemade sweets and savories that you shared and exchanged with family or friends, but now, like Christmas in the West, it has turned into one great big opportunistic commercial moment, with in part much of the original intent lost. Not through any fault of its own, but rather what we all have turned it into. Something so pure of intent has turned into a massive shopping frenzy, where expectations are rarely met and the pressure of impressing seems to have overridden its original reason for being.

Already being wound up by what I was seeing, I started looking closer at how other brands and products were using the occasion. And boy did steam start to blow from my ears. Not only were many brands exploiting the situation, but they were very clearly putting pressure on consumers—especially mums and dads—to spend loads of money on gifts to appease the little ones at home.

Here are three examples:

We all know that an iPad is highly desirable, but really is this the way that an Authorised Apple Distributor should be acting (above left)? Showing your love equals giving an iPad as a gift?  All to avoid that disappointed little face when they open their gift and realise that you have given them the traditional sweets and savories—not a brand new, spanking “amazingly thin, light and powerful” iPad mini. I rue the day that we lost what the importance of gift giving is all about: not the price, rather the personal effort that has gone into making or finding that something special.

But also amongst the many ads were some that made sense. I loved the reflection of the celebration itself with Kurkure special packaging for Diwali (above center); the print work was a visual feast, plus the product fits in much more closely with the original intent of giving.

But the one that really made me blow a gasket was the unashamed push to spend, spend, spend by State Bank (above right). Not only did it lack any creative idea, but also it was so blatant in its message of SHOP BIG, GAIN BIG, with rewards being given to card-holders who out-shopped everybody else. Yes you may win a 32-inch TV or a microwave every hour, but really, this turns the whole festival into a competitive moment of trying to outspend each other and nothing more.

For me personally, I am going to start supporting brands that focus on the original intent of the celebration. Those that are not putting pressure on us to just spend up big.

Let’s face it, if brands want to become more relevant in our lives they need to find ways to add to our lives and support those times that we find special—rather than gratuitously exploiting these occasions to bump up their bottom line. I for one will try to encourage my clients to do just that. Will you try to do the same?

Allan Fraser-Rush is global planning director based at Lowe Singapore. He is also visiting professor in marketing and communications at Northampton University in the UK.

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