Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a gust of wind?
No, it’s a paan masala.
When television news headlines announced, ‘India’s Rafale’ (India Today), ‘India Gets Rafale’ (Times Now), ‘The Rafale Edge’ (Republic TV), you thought they were celebrating India’s acquisition of the only fighter jet in living history – or in memory – to nestle a coconut.
The channels might just as well have been feasting their eyes on a mixture of the areca nut with slaked lime, catechu, and other spices in the latest taste of India: the Rafale paan masala.
Move over Ajay Devgn (the poster boy of paan masala ads), you’ve got competition as advertisements for Rafale Paan Masala appeared on TV the day before Rajnath Singh wrote ‘Om’ on the aircraft bonnet.
Fun of TV ads gone
If only the Defence Minister could bestow his benedictions on the economy, too. As we look at the world through the advertising lens, the tell-tale signs of market distress have become apparent.
First, some of the fun has gone out of TV commercials: we see all too many repeats of old ads like Kent RO with Hema Malani, Hamdard’s Safi Natural Blood Purifier syrup (remember?) along with promos for products you may never have even heard of: FnS cutlery, FirstCry, (for kids), Supercoat (for dogs) and X10 home security system featuring actor Ayushmann Khurrana with the tagline, ‘Bilkul safe hai’ that will speak volumes to all those who placed their trust — and monies — with PMC bank but learnt otherwise.
For them, advertisers offer succour from LIC, Acko Insurance, and ICICI besides reassurance from the RBI.
Also, there’s not much jewellery to keep in that X10 box: Tanishq, Forevermark, Amante and Mia offer season’s bangles but precious else.
However, in spite of the Hard Times (thank you Charles Dickens) facing India’s banking sector, a few banks are still putting themselves out there: IDFC for one.
Car, what cars?
When a Kwid or a Land Rover drive into view, you know the road ahead for the automobile industry is full of potholes; where have all those lovely Maruti Wagon R, Dzire advertisements gone? Down, along with the sales of its cars.
A few motorcycles (Hero, Bajaj) and scooters (Jupiter) whizz past, but you know the industry has hit a roadblock when Tiger Shroff has been reduced to showing off his muscularity on an Avon Cycle.
Those beautiful four-wheel machines often drove past beautiful high-rise apartment buildings and parked outside palatial homes. Far less now: with real estate biting the dust, UltraTech Cement, JK Super Cement still advertise but, you suspect, more in hope than expectation.
We may not be able to buy or build new houses, but we can surely give our old homes a fresh coat of paint. No wonder paint companies – Asian Paints, Nerolac, Berger, Dulux — are still prominent advertisers but none can compare with Ranbir Kapoor making up to Deepika Padukone in the new Asian Paints Royale Health Shield commercial. Sigh.
Inside the home
That takes inside the home. Here, there are some signs of conspicuous consumption: in the kitchen there’s the Bajaj mixer grinding masalas, the trusty old Prestige pressure cooker on the whistle, the kebabs simmering in the latest favourite appliance — Philips Air Fryer — and a new Haier refrigerator for all the leftovers.
But the shelves are not well-stocked — masalas (Catch, MDH), Maggi, cooking oils (Fortune, Saffola), Dawat Brown Rice, Amul cheese and milk are hardly the ingredients of a five-course meal.
In such times, you make do with snacky, affordable foods like Maggi or Bikaji Bhujia (sold to you by the redoubtable Amitabh Bachchan) or a bowl of Ching’s soup, and round it off with Cadbury Dark chocolate that melts in Aishwarya Rai’s mouth while a young man watches her: “You need to grow up, first”, she tells him as you wonder whether it’s only the chocolate she talking out.
There’s music somewhere, perhaps Anil Kapoor and Ishaan Khattar are playing Spotify for you on Bose speakers or, there’s Saregama Carvaan — the latest advertisement has a gentleman gently cleaning his ear — and Amazon’s Alexa to do your every bidding.
A TV set is lit up with the latest online streaming services – in times of economic woe, home entertainment is important.
Zee 5, Voot, Airtel Streaming, Netflix, Amazon are frequent TV advertisers.
As for that human appendage, the mobile phone, it continues to see iPhone, Samsung, Vivo, Oppo advertisements — interestingly, they’re all selling their camera technology as the key takeaway.
In the bedroom, there are a few festival special buys: mattresses (Peps) and fresh sheets — Signature Blankets — Kareena Kapoor Khan smoothing out the wrinkles (who wouldn’t buy them?), but the cupboards are pretty bare: shirts from Peter England, Imperial, Van Heusen for men, fabric from Grado, a pair of Bata sandals for women, Trends and Total Coolclothes for men and women, Ceriz bags…
Where are the big brand names?
If there is one garment you can never have enough of, it’s underwear: Dollar Missy for her; Dollar, Big Boss, Boxers, Vinod, Lux Cozi and Macho for him, modeled by the likes of actors Akshay Kumar and Varun Dhawan.
In the cosmetics closet, there’s an assortment of products: Dove, Garnier shampoo, White Tone, Fair and Lovely cream, L’Oreal Shine Masque and something called Glam-Up.
Also, toothpastes (Dabur), toothbrush (Colgate) and, Manforce Cocktail Condoms—cocktail, really?
And don’t forget the Vicks VapoRub for the chills or Volini for the aches.
All of this doesn’t add up to a great deal and suggests troubled times — so you may like to shop cheaply on e-commerce services like Snapdeal that advertise mega discounts.
AAP’ success story
If there is a good luck story out there, it comes from Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is advertising more than any company nowadays, mostly on news channels. Kejriwal has even enlisted the help of former cricketer Virender Sehwag to publicise the weekly AAP govt’s Sunday war on dengue.
Indian television news channels will be grateful since that advertising mainstay, Patanjali, which used to sponsor most prime time news shows once upon a time, is almost completely absent now — another sign of the times.
Some Rafale, paan masala, Baba Ramdev?