I am one among the 10 million people watched the Surfexel ad. I don’t belong the majority or the minority half of the spectators collective but having a considerable foreground and knowledge on the subject of advertising, I have my reasons to differ with the ad which the nation seems to be obsessed with. For the selected few who have not watched the ad by now I am plugging it here, Surfexel ad commercial.
When I watched this ad for the first time, I enjoyed it and that’s it about it. I remember watching the ad as a promo which I did not press “skip ad” for. As much forgettable it was I had a smile watching it. I thought, oh, how sweet is this ad, it talks about the communal harmony of the two communities. As cliche and recycled is this idea in the commercial sphere yet it stuck a chord for how sweet and creative it was. The bitter part in came later, when I read upon the tabloids for the wildfire controversy it was caused. Now, on one side while it continues to be a “sweet ad” it does not end there.
I admit I had to see the ad again to find what possibly could be the problem people are stressing about, what actually caused the #BoycottSurfexel? To explain the intensity of the affect of the ad, I saw a whole wide exaggerated spactackle on social media and on my other tabloids. People were burning the packets of the detergent packet, they miscontrused it to be promoting ‘love for Jihad’, they took this as a planned outbreak in the ‘left’ and ‘right’ of the political playground. If all of this was not enough #BoycottSurfexel was trending on facebook and twitter for the longest time over the major and much significant events happening in the country. And to top it further, some people tried pulling down the MsExel, hoping it to be affiliated with the SurfExel which is a detergent product from the company, Hindustan Uniliver.
I can’t speak for the chunk of people who are on the either side of the matter and how could it possibly create something as basic as a commercial ad intending to sell soap could cause such a ruffle, But I can speak for myself. My biggest reason as to why I differ with the ad is the slugishness in the conceptualization and the lazy writing of the ad.
Taking into the top consideration which I take as the absolute of my stand against this ad, Surfexel is an FMCG product, from the labourer to the industrialist everyone uses it. Likewise they also must have come to know this ad from somewhere or the other and co incidentally they have an opinion on it and while some pat on the back the other felt the tip of the knife. Coming back to the point, with a FMCG product ad how could the company possibly have such a primitive and regressive outlook? Hindustan Uniliver in their last press release confessed how globally they want all their ads to put a non-sexist front, taking a leap in the future. While on the other side they chose to encash on the ill-written communal harmony topic.
Here are a few things which compelled me to use the word, ‘ill written’. Firstly, the little boy who was in his whites and skull cap, why does the representation of the muslims should only be in one form and why does a small boy child has to be an embodiment of it, visually it is bound to hurt and sensitise a few communities( India has been a hot bed of communal fights and the situation is more sensitive today than it was five years ago). Secondly, when the young boy refuses to come out in the fear of getting his clothes dirty speaks for the fact that children would not understand and throw colour on him nevertheless. This cheeky vibe on intolerance which is negligible had the probity to not go well with the masses. Thirdly, the ad put a a vast visual polarisation of putting one ‘muslim’ boy over everyone else in the frame. The commercial space itself have not given a lot of space to the muslims, it still happens to be a rare sight, its rare for us to see woman with hijab and men with the cap but that’s another story for another day.
As an ad enthusiast and a rational consumer of information I would like to say they could have made the ad by putting a little more thought in its writing. Advertising is the narrative of its times. To sum up and compliment my stand, one panel which talked of the respective ad controversy had Aditya Saxena, who runs the Pride project in India, He said “Perspective is reality and context is everything in the world of ads”. The point where this ad would have otherwise fared well but felt apart was because of the context and the perception. As the people from ad industry we have the power to tweak these to sell soap but we can’t run from the consequences, can we?