“Advertising is a weak force,” said Samit Sinha famously, one of the finest account planners in advertising I have had the privilege of working with.
That used to be his opening salvo when we were engaged in creating the inviolate processes for a brand named Clarion. Yes, you are right, India’s first homegrown agency brand Clarion is dead; it exists in tattered non-corrected references on Indiapages and suchlike.
His remark began with the Latin root of the word advertising, advertere, which means ‘turning towards’.
That’s all advertising can do: turn the target’s mind towards something.
That’s why, when advertising not only turns minds towards brands and products and services, but also changes behaviour, it gets classified as great advertising.
One single release of the ‘1984’ ad for Apple at the SuperBowl led to the sale of 100,000 computers: even though the ad never showed the product.
But to truly understand the power of communicators who instinctively have excelled at communicating and therefore, have changed behaviour of human beings around the world, we must step out of advertising and PR and all other forms of paid-for communication.
Meet Mr Satya Narayan Goenka.
He has been teaching the art of Vipassana and communicating about it since 1969. He has personally guided over 41,000 students and every year, over 100,000 human beings undertake the ten-day course in over 180 centres around the world.
What are the communication basics we can learn from him?
a. “Laugh...but at yourself first.”
Mr Goenka uses self-deprecatory humour: “Hey, I don’t have long hair and beard nor a shaven head, I’m no freak, are you sure I can even be your teacher/guru?”
How many advertising speakers, or clients, and even worse, brands, have so much confidence to laugh at themselves?
Brand Diesel used to laugh at itself, now it is trying to become an ‘universal edgy brand’, which is a contradiction in terms.
Clients laughing at themselves publicly? Hmmm.
Advertising gurus laughing at themselves? Hmmmmm.
b. “Fall in step with your target’s beliefs...and only then, present a new viewpoint.”
Naked truth is almost always excommunicated; but when dressed in stories and parables it is welcomed home.
Mr Goenka draws upon India’s inexhaustible storehouse of culture to make us laugh at our own unquestioned beliefs, and then, when our guard is down, explains that personal experience is the key to change, not intellectual ideas.
I must admit our Indian creative gurus are very good at this precept: most Indian advertising now truly draws upon India’s culture.
c. “Lead by example”
In a business world where everybody preaches values, but most practise creation of value for themselves (creative directors accepting commissions from TVC producers; brand managers accepting favours from event managers; clients stealing from their own organisation is apparently the ‘way of the pragmatism’), a leader who practises what he preaches even when confined to a wheelchair is great inspiration indeed.
Even today, he uses breath as a means to focus the mind, and having done so, uses it as a scalpel to perform surgery on the unconscious.
What did the last piece of communication we sent out achieve?
Did it change minds, or hearts, or behaviour?
Do we even know?
(PS: in case you haven’t experienced this rigorously scientific technique, I recommend it strongly (www.dhamma.org) Ten days is nothing to learn an explosive new way of communicating with the person most critical to your life. Yourself.)