Rupa Underwear may not know it, but they did for advertising what balloon dresses did for fashion – polarised the world into two ‘camps’. To the first camp, the sight of a naked man wearing nothing but fitted briefs that left no part of his substantial assets to their imagination, protecting a nubile virgin’s morality from the bad boys leering sexuality, made advertising a dubious career choice, one that would not be encouraged in their family or any family that their family married into. For generations to come.
To me, and I freely admit I might be in a minority, it did quite the opposite. It enchanted me. The idea that someone could make money by creating such utterly entertaining hogwash. Chartered accountancy didn’t stand a chance when pitted against Rupa Underwear.
It’s another story that my life in advertising turned out to be closer to chartered accountancy infused as it was with sensible financial brands. But, even today, when I see a Red Bull Gives You Wiiinngs or an Amul Macho (Ok I do notice men’s underwear ads more than is socially acceptable), I exult in their wonderful idiocy. Central to their idiocy are their giddying tall claims that can induce vertigo. One promises to give you wings, the other to enhance your manhood. Some promise to make you smarter (Mentos) and some to make you braver (Mountain Dew) and the Holy Grail of course – one that unerringly gets you laid (Axe, who else?). This unique collective — let’s call them Vertigo United - can blithely promise to change your life without giving a hoot for pompous RTB or even the slightest shred of evidence to back it up because of one beautifully simple reason: you’re not buying them for their bullshit. This is one of the few relationships you’ll come across in life that is not based on delivery. You don’t really expect a cold drink to make you braver, candy to make you smarter or deodorant to make you sexier but it’s fun to live in their madness for a while because it makes the world a more interesting place.
But what happens when a relationship is based on delivery? Or, in John Abraham’s wooden words, ‘performance I can measure? The terribly pragmatic and evidence-based world of detergents that wash whiter and faster. Or of air-conditioners that cool greener and cheaper. What happens when they try to elbow their way into Vertigo United?
The result is similar to watching a 45-year-old gyrating to inappropriate lyrics secure in the misplaced belief that 45 is the new 25. Disastrous. For instance, the Vodafone 3G ad that features a super Zoozoo (who is adorably plus one cape and minus one underwear) as a metaphor for a lightning-fast 3G experience. In spite of yourself, you like the ad. In spite of the vertiginous claim, you want the super service. In a flash of inspiration, you actually take action on the never used Call To Action and quickly SMS ACT to 111 and, voila!, you’re soon latched to connectivity that competes (unsuccessfully) with the bullock cart for speed. Now you want to throttle the super Zoozoo with his own silly cape for one frustratingly simple reason: you bought the service for the bullshit.
Make no mistake, Vertigo United is an exclusive club. It’s not easy to turn nonsense into an art form with claims that don’t deliver and still manage to laugh all the way to the bank. It takes courage, a healthy respect for the absurd and no qualms about falling flat on your face. For those with none of the above, join me in sticking to the sensible.
Sharan Saikumar leads the Breakthrough Initiative at Metal