Tuesday, March 14, 2006

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.


Anonymous said...

I like your ad but I think the emphasis is more on reform than the SBI credit or debit card!! I think you are reading too much into the original ad.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm curious. Either you haven't seen the commercial, which is fine; or else, if you have, I would like to have an alternate view of the impression the visual & the text made on a thinking viewer.

Axon said...

I think your vision of how the message shouldve been put across is shared by everyone who's been angered by the original ad, including me. The ad should not have potrayed the man as someone bitter and angry about his supposed ill-fortune as it was made out to be but as a reformed pick pocket who was now embracing an honest life.

swami said...

That is very cool! :-)

I think this version will have a much better impact (both sales wise and morals wise) than the original..

Really like it...

Even though, as I've said in Nancy's blog, I wasn't really offended by the earlier one. But I do think this version is much better anyway you look at it. Particularly since the last line makes a lot of advertising sense which "Welcome to the Cashless world" does not.

Anonymous said...

I think your version of the ad is more appropriate. I haven't see the original ad. Will keep an eye out for it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ramesh

I believe there is nothing wrong in ad. No doubt your version of story sounds better and will win some hearts .But real life main aisa nahin hota hai.

I am not into advertising but as a ad maker I think nothing wrong into it.I am only concerned about mind space in customers and this particluar ad is giving me a space in customers's mind by letting hinm think.

Biren Nahata

Anonymous said...

Hi Ramesh.
I have seen the ad, and I did not find it offensive. The message conveyed (as I got it from the ad) is that the pickpocket is out of business due to Cashless transactions, and hence he has to earn his labour like many others (which he is not happy doing, as he is used to the spoils of pick pocketing).
I guess its the difference in how different people interpret the same image. So rather than condescending or judgemental on someone else, we should try to put across our views as best we think we can, wherever we can.

Nirav said...


I am a big follower of ads. I hate bad ads as much as I love good ads. And here, I am writing about an ad that I liked... no, make that Loved.

A pickpocket can't continue his profession, thanks to a cashless world. So he goes for the hardwork jobs. Given that this kind of work won't pay as much as his previous job, he isn't happy.

So what's wrong with this ad? Nothing. The ad is supposed to show a world where everybody is able to have the convenience of a debit card. At the same time, it shows how difficult it is to earn money, and how disrepectful it is to pick pockets. What more should be expected out of an ad by a GOI undertaking?

Anonymous said...

''I started with the basic assumption that all government advertising – and SBI is largely government-owned – must contain a social message''

Your basic assumption is wrong. SBI is a campany and not the extension of GOI.

I have not seen the ad so cant comment on it.