Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Of lungis, TVs and this funny thing called an "idea"

There is this new ad on YouTube that is attacking Hillary Clinton (and pro-Obama). Looks like the Clinton and Obama camps were both unaware of who did it. Let me give you the description of the ad --

"The "Vote Different" clip is a remake of an Apple computer ad from 1984, which in turn was a take on George Orwell's "1984."
In the latest version, Clinton is cast as Big Brother, and excerpts of her speeches mesmerize a uniform, catatonic audience. As the audience files into a theater, a young woman carrying a sledgehammer runs up the aisle and throws it at the video screen, shattering it.
The ad ends with a message reading, "On January 14th, the Democratic primary will begin. And you'll see why 2008 won't be like '1984.' "
The screen then dissolves to a colorful "O" that resembles an Apple logo, with the Internet address "" beneath." [CNN]

The thing is, unlike top down political advertising, with platforms such as YouTube, people can become part of the campaigning process in an unprecedented way. The grassroots have a life of their own now. The creator, Phil De Vellis, is a Democrat. He supports Obama (duh) but isn't crazily anti-Hillary. He just wants Obama to win the primaries.

But the interesting part of this entire exercise is that De Ville wanted to make a point: The political process has changed. One person can make a difference. People sit up and take note. At the moment Youtube is being sued for copyright infringement. One of the lawyers defending Viacom, Douglas Litchman, has written a piece for the LA Times where he has said that he is not opposed to YouTube per se -- its a great medium for people to participate and opens up newer channels for creativity and communication -- its just that copyright infringement is unfair to the artist. Its exactly that point, that YouTube's democracy does a service to everyone, is what even allowed De Ville to put up this advert in the first place.

Now, this brings up two important points for me in terms of India, the Internet and campaigns.

1. This probably doesn't even need to be mentioned but despite being an IT country, Bangalore and all that, Internet penetration has been so pathetic that you cannot quite imagine one ad having quite the same impact. Yet, at the same time, when you think about the Gandhi in a lungi clip that caused such a stir -- you have to consider the power of the Internet has been understood. I was there for one of Barkha Dutt's shows (We the People) -- at the time my blogging article had come out -- and the impression I got was that while active, the blogging and YouTube community is very isolated. So while you might have ruffled a few feathers, that's what it is at the end of the day -- a FEW feathers. In contrasts, the US is way more Internet savvy. But its a start. And its on national TV. So I'd say, a good start.

But wait,

2. The ad itself. And even the Gandhi clip itself. Why did they in particular hit nerves? Now, this is the point about putting a campaign or a movie (or a short clip) out there. It needs to resonate. I'm actually doing some homework for a piece and what I have fast come to realise is that election campaigning in India suffers due to the lack of vision. Now see, this was a rework of an Apple ad and harks back to images of Orwell's 1984. It works because the imagery is spot on. Now you look at why the (originally) harmless Gandhi clip caused so much anger. Gandhi on a pole? Surrounded by women? It hit an emotional nerve. Now you look at posters, ads, which we use for election campaigns in India. Uninspired, faces of some fat lala's with the party symbol. More often than not are posted on crucial direction boards and so you have no idea which turn to take cause some jackass from some party, who wants you to vote for him but could not care less about decency, put up this poster without thinking.

See, the Samajwadi Party ad is very interesting to me. I don't want to go into too much detail right now because I want to save the analysis for my article but the very fact that he has the idea to out up this advert with Bachchan telling you what a bed of roses UP is seems completely crazy. But it definitely makes you react. Did they really think people would believe it? Or is it the case that there is no such thing as bad publicity? SP, being a fairly regional party, is now being talked about nationally. So was this the aim? Or am I giving them too much credit?

I've written about James Carville before because I'm madly impressed with how he conducted the Clinton campaign in 1992 and if you don't want to read his book then watch the documentary 'The War Room'. There is no similar machine in Indian politics. People have tried, but because of the general lack of vision and understanding, none have really prevailed.

De Ville said he expects others to follow suit with similar ads. You can imagine how this changes the political landscape of the US. You mean far more creative people who are not into party workers will make political ads (positive and negative) for FREE and then the distribution will be done by people at the grassroots level and on platforms like YouTube again, for FREE? That's very incredible.

So the question one must ask is, when will India move to a sophisticated and thoughtful election campaign. I really, truly believe its an art. To take stock of different people and places and to offer a message that resonates is no easy task. And not not make effective use of the media that is available is a tragedy. Are we doomed to see uninspired posters for ever and ever?

BJP's 'India Shining' was the one recent example. The experiment failed, but not completely. Are we not going to learn something from it or just flatly ignore modern campaigning altogether?

We are all not in lungis you know.

1 comment:

The Dude said...

hmm... well i guess maybe part of it is that theres a lot of folk that want change and having a black president is a much bigger step for a country like the US then having a woman (though both come close..)
personally, I just want to see obama get a fair shot and if bill is runnin with her, id vote for hill (if i was american that is..)
on the net savvy thing, well be fair - all things considered, i think that indian internet communities have come a long way.

on a seperate note, i dont much care for the politics of the BJP or the BSP, but that aside, the only reason that that lame "UP shining" ad came about with 'big b' on it was because of amar singh (one of, if not the, main reasons i dislike the party) who is a sad excuse for a human being...

to halt my tirade, as you said, we're all not in lungis and though it may take a bit, we'll learn and the individual voice will find its way through the booming political loudspeaker gibberish.