The study of advertisements has become a popular way of understanding social and material histories of our modern lives around the world.

A new book “30 Second Thrillers” (Bloomsbury, 2017) tries to capture the magic and madness of Indian advertisements over the past four decades as author and adman KV Shridhar demystifies some of the most memorable Indian commercials.

It is not genius, he writes. Coincidences, silly taglines, and crude-innovation (that uniquely Indian thing called jugaad) have created most of them. The book maps the journey of Indian television advertisements, which also parallels with the rise of the middle class and the economic transition of India.

The decade-defining tune of ‘Mile Sur’ became the anthem of a resurgent India. After trying out several eminent writers, it was finally penned by adman Piyush Pandey. ‘Mile Sur‘ worked after 18 attempts.

The famous line, “I love you Rasna”, which was considered unintelligent by the writers at first, became an instant catchphrase with the consumers of the product, who were mostly children. The creator of the Rasna ad, AG Krishnamoorthy, found his inspiration in the simple act of children talking with their toys.

The profession, however, demands patience to deal with eccentricities of stars, the book says. Cricketer Vivian Richards was one such personality who had to be chased from the hotel lobby to swimming pool to interviews to be shot for the commercial.

This up close and personal account of the advertisement industry is also a helpful glimpse into the public psyche, and the art of effective communication. For instance, the public safety campaign for helmets boldly told the audience, “It is your choice…after all, it is your head.”

Authorities objected to the advertisement because it did not clearly say ‘wear helmets’. But it was effective precisely because we do things we are not told to do.

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