The Hindu has finally woken up and taken up the cudgels against the dumbing down of newspapers in a new advertisement campaign. The Times of India recently entered the Chennai market by airing TV commercials that showed The Hindu as a sleepy old newspaper covering boring news. This seems to have prompted the staid old lady to launch an advertising campaign to counter it. The print images and the TV commercials from this campaign can be seen here.
The print advertisements are clean and purposeful. The tagline "Stay ahead of the times" takes a sporty jab at ToI and the Hindustan Times. The TV commercials on the other hand are quite something else. The 3 commercials feature young adults at a college, hanging out at a mall and at a workplace respectively. They are asked basic questions (Where is Tahrir Square? for example) and they appear clueless and unable to answer them. Later, they are asked a trivia question about Bollywood gossip and they promptly answer this correctly. Finally, they are asked what newspaper they read and unsurprisingly their (bleeped out) answers are all ToI.
I felt that the last bit of naming (and shaming) the competitor directly in the TV commercials was too low a blow and certainly does not suit The Hindu. Other than that, the commercials are spot on! Ogilvy says these commercials were made based on responses they actually got from people they accosted. I have no reason to disbelieve this claim since I have experienced first hand how clueless most folks now are about what is happening in the world and in their own country.
One of the questions asked in the TV commercials is "In the Ramayan, who is Ram's father?" The fact that this remains unanswered is truly ironical. Students on a 1967 quiz show aired on Doordarshan could not answer a similar question about Ram's mother, but they knew details of Greek mythology. This conundrum was what led Anant Pai to create the legendary Amar Chitra Katha comics to entertain and inform the next generation of Indians. 40 years later nothing much has changed, history and mythology have to now compete with cricket and Bollywood.
Today, most of the newspapers are tabloids in broadsheet clothing and the innumerable TV news channels use sensational and useless junk news to fill their airtime. Much like the people who choose to eat at McDonald's despite availability of healthier choices, I believe this situation has been a creation of the consumer himself. The mainstream media is successful because it gives exactly what the consumer wants. The media cannot thrive if they offer something that he does not want. So it is the responsibility of the consumer to pick not just the chintzy offerings he is craving for, but also take in a steady diet of news that matters to him and the world around him. And that is why a wakeup call, like the one from The Hindu, is needed occasionally to remind the consumer to re-examine his diet.
Finally, though newspaper penetration continues to increase in India, most Indians spend far more time watching TV than reading. (A respondent in the TV commercial does attribute her ignorance to not having watched Ramayan, seemingly unaware that it can be read too.) One only needs to flip through the channels on cable TV to see how much full of crap all of them are. One does wish that there was someone to take the fight to the TV channels too.