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A world without advertising

If advertising didn’t exist, how would products be sold? Some believe it would be through word of mouth or something like influencer marketing. Others believe that life without ads would be boring, and the entertainment industry would collapse. BestMediaInfo.com finds out

A recent report released by GroupM says advertising expenditure in India is expected to touch Rs 80,678 crore in the current fiscal. But have you wondered what would happen to all that money if advertising didn’t exist? What would life be like, without ads? If not for advertising, how would products be sold?

BestMediaInfo.com tried to find out. While there are some with a serious outlook on this, others have a lighter way of looking at it too.

Debabrata Mukherjee

Debabrata Mukherjee (also known as Debu), Chief Marketing Officer, United Breweries, said, “The aspiration is created by the brand message, and continuous frequency of usage happens when you interact with the product for a long time. When you take out advertising, the moment of truth becomes very important. At the point of purchase, which could be through digital or through a retail store, packaging would have to communicate far harder.”

Today, most of the packaging doesn’t sign off about the brand. If you look at the packaging today, especially for FMCG, there is a set of mandatory that nobody reads  — the large brand logo or the brand identity or the visual identity system that relies on the consumer having seen it on an advertising platform, and therefore can relate. “So the packaging will have to work much harder. When you look at from the media optimisation tool that most companies use, television or digital come first and then you have point of purchase. And when you knock off the first two, the point of purchase becomes very important, and the packaging has to talk a lot more,” stated Mukherjee.

Second is the product delivery. Sometimes FMCG products don’t deliver on their product promise. But because the brand promise is so high, a diluted brand promise still forces the consumer to interact with the brand because you’re scaling up the brand promise. “Without advertising, every time you reach out for a certain soap, or a certain beverage, or a certain car, the product delivery has to be 120%. Today you can get by with a 60%-70% product delivery because you continue to build a larger-than-life image,” reiterates Mukherjee.

In case of no advertising, channel and pricing would become very important. Which retail sales channels you use becomes important. Also what pricing. “When you take out a lot of time, the aspirational brand value adds the delta to your regular product branding. The product can command Rs 10, because you have built an aspiration. The product commands Rs 15, because that delta Rs 5 is given by advertising. But the moment you take out the delta of Rs 5, then you lose that pricing advantage. How would you make sure you still provide a higher value for the consumer’s money?” pointed out Mukherjee.

He went on to say that on a lighter note, life without advertising would be terrible for the overall entertainment eco-system. Because advertising funds programming. “How will you have an IPL in the country if there are no advertisers? You will lose a lot of premium properties that are funded by advertising. And the entertainment category will shrink to an all-time low. You’ll have no product placement in cinema,” he said.

“It would create boredom. A life without advertising would mean a very boring evening because in the morning, most of us would still be in office, but in the evening there will be very little entertainment to bank upon. The entertainment industry would collapse because most of the entertainment industry is funded by advertising,” he added.

KV Sridhar

KV Sridhar (aka Pops), Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Hyper Collective, is quick to say that a world without ads would be like food without spice. “Advertising would be in the form of selfless storytelling — not hard selling, but selfless storytelling. So the selfish hard selling would be over, it would be more selfless. It wouldn’t be any product messages, but the moral of the story would be the values of the product. It would be value-based stories, rather than product-centric stories,” he said.

Advertising nowadays is not just the 30 seconds or the 15 seconds commercial, it is about the experience in the form of experiential marketing, storytelling content, influencer’s content. “All these are linked to values that a brand stands for. So product differentiation has gone, and values differentiation has come in. Experiential differentiation has come in. So earlier it was product differentiation. You needed to say I’m better than others. Now it is values,” he pointed out.

He gave the instance of Nike — it is like Nike makes you fitter. And there are no shoes in that. Nike used to say that the more you run, the fitter you are. Now running has also gone away from it, and it is all about fitness. So it conveys that fitness is health and fitness is everything. “So the higher order purpose will be the driver. For instance, Toyota has converted from an automobile company to a transportation company. It will talk about transporting people from A to B. Hotels are now not just enabled companies, but travel-enabled companies talking about experiences in travel,” he said.

He explained that a lot of companies are taking a higher order positioning, and then serving a purpose. So when you buy an air ticket, you buy an experience; it’s not just an air ticket.

Sumanto Chattopadhyay

Sumanto Chattopadhyay, also known as Sumo, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer, 82.5 Communications thinks that ads have taught people to consume stories in 30 seconds and 15 seconds. “If ads weren’t there, you’ll probably have movies; old movies which were three-and-a-half hours long. We would have things like traditional festivals which go on for days, depiction of Ramayana and Mahabharata. So instead of stories being told in 30 seconds, they would be told in 30 hours,” he told.

Before advertising, belief was that if you build a better mousetrap, people will beat a path to your door. People would find out through word of mouth about the best-selling product. “Word of mouth would be the only form of communication or what we say influencer marketing. Back in the day it was called word of mouth, and now it is called influencer marketing. Somebody who is an influencer, who would like a product and whose opinion would help sell it, maybe in an informal way,” added Chattopadhyay.

Agnello Dias

Agnello Dias (also known as Aggi), Chairman and Co-Founder TapRoot India and Creative Chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network India, understands that advertising is the fund raiser for human progress. “Without it, there would be no art, no culture, no sport, no entertainment, no journalism and no articles like this. Mankind's desire to want more than what it currently has is the cornerstone of civilisation as we know it,” he emphasised.

Dias states an example of how he once wrote a headline for the Conde Nast Group that read, ‘If man didn’t need luxury, he would have never invented fire’. The slug line of the same was, ‘The necessity of luxury’. “Luxury in relative terms is nothing more than the hunger to live better, sleep better, eat better, feel better and function better than one already does. Without that hunger-gene, we would be no different from animals. Evolving only in order to survive death,” he mentioned.

Pratik Mukherjee

Without advertising, Pratik Mukherjee, AVP, Marketing, Beauty and Wellness, UrbanClap, said that the product needs to be so powerful that word of mouth needs to do the job. “If there are no ads, the only way I will discover a brand is through a friend’s opinion or word of mouth so that will become super important,” he emphasised.

He pointed out, “And I’m assuming that in the old days when there was no internet or digital, a lot of brands got famous that way. For example, my mom started using Surf Excel not because of any ad, but maybe because a retailer or a friend told her that clothes get clean well by Surf Excel.”

So if advertising doesn’t exist, it would be through word of mouth, Mukherjee believes.

He also went to say that if there are no ads, TV viewing won’t be the same again! There would be no commercial breaks for consumers and production houses will have to make longer episodes.


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