Friday, 17 July 2009

The power, the influence and the ethics of advertising!

Going through the full page advertisement of Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre Ltd. in the latest issue of City Limits today, I was taken back in time to Circa 1999. I was at The Oberoi and had just got initiated (courtesy my company) into the benefits of an Executive Health Check-up offered by biggies such as Apollo and Max. Once my regimen was completed, I was tempted enough to get one done for my Mother. That is when we found out that while my Mother had a heart as strong as that of a young man, she had several almost fatal blockages in her aorta and other main arteries. We began taking her around to Delhi's best Heart Institutes. For the Angioplasty and stenting routine (which was going to save her life), we spent sleepless nights tossing over the options of Apollo VS Escorts. We sought opinion of family and friends and received equally divided votes between the two medical health providers. For us personally, the swankiness, the cleanliness, the international appeal and the strong buzz for Apollo veered us towards them and that's the way we went for my Mother's treatment. Again, personally for us (and I am sure not for everyone), this turned out to be a hazardous step. The consulting cardiologist had a private practise on the side and that's where he liked to consult my mother often. We spent money like water but I eventually lost her within eight months of her Angioplasty. Lot of friends, sharing our unimaginable grief, lamented that we should have gone to Escorts which minus the Apollo lustre at that point of time, boasted of some of the finest cardiac experts. We had been sadly taken in by the hype that the other Hospital had created and the superficial sheen it presented. The permanent damage had been done.

This is not the first case for me or for you, as we turn out to be suckers for fancy advertising, giving in to their agressive, above-the-line and constant persuasion. We are constantly urged to drink fizzy drinks, eat trans-fat rich, preserved and packaged foods, buy over their prime as well as, sometimes, their expiry date international products that have been dumped into the third world super / hyper markets, exercising the optimal pull and push factor on the crazy mall novices from these places. We get done in by the promotional offers, on-site advertising and discounts that play on our minds heavily while shopping in these glitzy places. Pushpa Girimaji, a consumer behaviour expert, warns us against such shopping pattern with dire consequences both on our health and pocket.

Every waking moment, we are attracted to a product by our favourite celebrity endorsing the product unabashedly with two hoots given to its overall brand value. Aerated drinks eat the biggest share of the pie. So, while Shahrukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and their ilk, put the might of their immensely appealing persona to persuade us to buy stuff that they would think twice about using so rampantly themselves or allowing their kids to do so, there is little thought, if any, given to the hazardous effect of some of these products on the people of a country which is fast becoming the Diabetes capital of the world, for one.

While earlier we would pay heed to what our mothers told us OR our Nani-ke-Nuskhe (grandmother's tried and tested tips) OR some of the relevant old wives tales and passed the rich knowledge down to our progeny, today it is blatant and pretty often unethical advertising without a conscience that rules our mind.

The moral order crumbles down ever so often in the face of the commercial greed. Sadly, in a country where millions are spent on advertising and celebrity endorsements on stuff that has very less realtime value for its masses, there is pittance reserved for health care and educational initiatives.

Do a quick stat analysis or reality check and see how many Indians are denied the basic right to proper health care, hospitalisation, education............. even three square meals a day. Then look at the reach of advertising even in the back-of-beyond hinterland where real and spurious drinks or foods do brisk business. And then somewhere in your heart and mind, the little voice will grow into raging anger against the immorality and unethicalness of it all.

(Picture courtesy -

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