When you watch this ad for Lifebuoy soaps, where the “doctor” replies to an exclamation by the boy’s mother, “Lifebuoy?”, “Naya Lifebuoy!”, what do you think?
Do you believe that he is a real doctor and that his word carries weight… enough for you to take this ‘doctor’ seriously?
Or, do you see the ad with detached cynicism of an experienced Indian consumer, fully aware that they are showing a fake doctor who is actually a model only to add some ‘weight’ to what they are selling?
But, here is the conundrum: only in the first instance (where you truly believe that he is a doctor), does his word carry any weight. In the latter, only the brand thinks the words of that model have weight, not you, the consumer.
Toothpaste brands have been showing doctors (dentists) for ages, and I have written about the funny workaround they adopt since doctors in India are barred from endorsing any brand in advertising – using dentists from the UK.
When a brand doesn’t call out the UK-based dentist, they leave it open to the imagination of the viewer. Like this Pepsodent ad.
Now, many brands show a doctor-like figure, with many cues to hammer that he/she is indeed one (stethoscope around the neck, white cost, background clinic-like setting etc.) and without calling them out as doctors explicitly because they believe it helps bolster the claim better. At least in gullible viewers’ minds. Doctors are one of the very professionals who carry this aura of credibility that even an unnamed, fake doctor-like figure is believed (by brands and advertising agencies) to carry weight in their endorsement.
With an unnamed model, at least, that facade of, “Look, this is a doctor recommending this soap, ok? You better take it seriously!” could be sold. But why would brands use someone who is so obviously not a doctor?
For example, take this very old and very well-loved Dabur Chyawanprash ad that featured Dr. Shriram Lagoo. He was not named in the ad. and was not seen in the doctor’s garb, but we know him as “Dr.” Shriram Lagoo. Because of that, the Medical Council of India famously canceled Dr.Lagoo’s registration!
But how would anyone explain Neena Gupta, so obviously not a doctor, but playing a doctor in this ad film for GSK, endorsing their 3-in-1 vaccine?
Or, actor Akshay Kumar made to look like a doctor (with a stethoscope in hand!) in this ad for PolicyBazaar?
You could argue – “but didn’t Akshay play Yamraj in an earlier PolicyBazaar ad? If you can understand the context of that ad, that he is not real Yamraj, but just playing a role, why wouldn’t that logic apply here? That he is playing the role of a doctor (which he may, in films too) and we are not to take it literally?”
Or, you could extend that logic for an ad where the actor plays some other professional – say, a cop, or a farmer. If we can clearly identify Akshay the actor playing the role of a cop or a farmer, why should playing the role of a doctor be any different?
The answer lies in the reason why doctors are barred to endorse products or services in an advertisement. The medical profession is held at the highest levels of credibility because their words are equated to life or death situations. For a profession that needs to be taken with such absolute trust, to endorse brands and services for a fee amounts to lowering the bar of credibility. That’s precisely why brands even go to great lengths faking a doctor in their advertising, in the hope that the gullible among us would trust the fake doctor’s word and buy their product.
Hence, to use a person who is so very obviously not a doctor, to play the role of a doctor is plain absurd. The very idea here is that the person playing a doctor should convince gullible viewers that he or she is possibly a doctor. When the person is Neena Gupta or Akshay Kumar, there is no facade being created for the gullible among us.
So, what is the logic behind using actors to play doctors in marketing communication? In movies, they play a role as per a fictional script. In advertising, they are supposed to convince viewers to buy a product or service. How does using an obviously non-doctor person as a doctor help in any meaningful way?
And isn’t such depiction a laughably silly double fake, unmasking the fakery? As in,
Level 1 fake: “We will show a model as a doctor to fool people”
Level 2 fake: “Let’s use a famous non-doctor actor as a doctor to fool people”