Airtel Nigeria: The invisible logic

A recent ad for Airtel Nigeria, by the agency Noah’s Ark (Nigeria), made me ponder quite a bit.

When I saw the ad for the first time, I loved the idea and thought that it was a fantastic way to showcase how important access to high-speed data is, more than just access to a voice call. The ad’s creative device frames the lack of access as ‘invisibility’, and this, I thought was a smart narrative decision because of the dramatization potential this offers.

Expectedly, the lead woman in the ad becomes ‘invisible’ (a ghost) to everyone around her – her spouse, colleagues at work, and even the security guard at her apartment complex! The resultant drama makes for an excellent watch (even as I thought the production values and acting were a bit raw, but I’d probably put that aside as pandemic-infused coordination and administrative issue).

Also worth noticing: the perspective. The audience can see her and her predicament. It’s only the people around her who cannot see her.

But, when I saw the ad again (and more times after the first view), I felt that the internal logic was missing. Actually, it wasn’t missing, but it seemed to be intentionally glossed over for the sake of mining the dramatization the narrative offers.

That internal logic is this: the people who do not see the woman are those that are in her physical proximity! Her spouse, the building watchman, the office security guard, and her coworkers when she is IN the office. Why would she become invisible due to the lack of data when she is physically near the people that she needs to live/interact/work with?

Of course, once you realize the lack of this internal logic, you could build on it to mine more mirth: she is inside a car and her building guard cannot see the car (leave alone the lady who is driving it)? Why is her physical access card invisible at the office? Invisibility is for fellow humans, but even machines considering other physical devices (like a car or an access card) to be invisible is probably pushing the narrative a bit too far.

But, as I said earlier, I fully understand why the agency chose to ignore the internal logic: it makes sense to do so to be able to mine the dramatization potential. If you don’t think much, it works very well and keeps you entertained while conveying something about the product/service on offer. It reminded me of the standard explanation given by directors of over-the-top Hindi movies: “Leave your brains at home”.

Hypothetical question: what if you take that internal logic seriously? How would the narrative differ, then? While she would be perfectly visible to her spouse and the building watchman, assuming she is a remote worker (as shown in the end!), she would either be out-of-sight-out-of-mind for her coworkers, or her data network could be erratic and that leads to her co-workers ignoring her point of view (even as she stutters on screen without being able to finish sentences).

So, there would be no intriguing narrative or story to tell if the logic is considered and adhered to!

But, in real life, there are people who are made invisible by lack of data!

Consider this young boy who is now no more. He had the interest and zeal to study, but his access to data was limited to a location away from his home – something that we all take for granted. And he died in his pursuit of education because his invisibility without the data was a line between education or missing a class!

Amidst all the talk of e-commerce growth, edtech unicorns, internet-powered this and that, we have a whole lot of people who are made invisible because what we take for granted every day is actually a privilege available to few people.

And that framing is a lot more popular in advertising, incidentally – the frame someone without access to something/or being different as invisible to others with access or those who couldn’t care less.

Take a look.

Invisible because of old age and loneliness:

  1. Agency: Bun Omelette, Kochi.
  1. Agency: LLYC, Madrid.

Invisible because of disability:

  1. Agency: BBH, London.

Invisible because of gender bias in sports:

  1. Agency: Other, New York (this one is really interesting because we, the audience, also do not see the person in context, unlike the other ads, including the Airtel ad where the audience can see the invisible person)
  1. Agency: Africa, Brazil

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