Nancy wrote about a TV advertisement for State Bank of India’s (SBI) Debit Card, which we found in extreme bad taste. Several others who read her post shared that view and joined us in condemnation. As an exercise I wondered, if I was given the same script and had to use the same story, what would I have done. The theme being that pickpockets and petty thieves are out of business, as people do not have to carry cash around, thanks to the availability of Debit Cards (in this case SBI), and are also rightly condemned to suffer the rigours for their ill-gotten gains.
Already offended by what is bandied, in the first place I would not like to do the story. If forced, however, my story would tell about rehabilitation, restitution and honour in work, however lowly, like shining shoes, selling paan, magazines, being a porter, being in plain labour, whatever.
I started with the basic assumption that all government advertising – and SBI is largely government-owned – must contain a social message; hence the idea in the original ad that the pickpocket must be punished. I imagine that the ad agency’s defence of their product would be that it was necessary to show the ex-pickpocket as suffering.
I would show the pickpocket as reformed, rather than punished. My version loses the so-called ‘humour’ of the original. The obsession for making every advertisement humorous which prevails now must inevitably drive people to make mistakes. The best ads of this humorous type are a pleasure to watch, but when they fail they fall, with a thud.
Here’s my version of the story:
A customer comes up to a paanwala, or a shoe shiner, and asks, “Have I not seen you somewhere before?” The paanwala says, “Yes sir, I was a pickpocket, but now nobody carries cash, so I had to turn to some honest, decent business. And hey, I actually like it. The family loves it.” There is a great glow on his face, and cut to the punchline reading something like this: “SBI cards protect you even as they reform.” Or whatever.