“Look how dumb and idiotic they are!”

From the point of view of the people depicted in advertisements, I’d perhaps split them into two broad buckets:
1. Be like them
2. Don’t be like them

‘Be like them’ ads showcase the ideal version of the consumers if they used the brand.

So, if you use their deo, you’d attract people.
If you use their insurance, you’d save money.
If you use their phone, you’d get things done faster.
If you use their bank, you’d get a loan at better rates.
And so on.

The examples for this category are just all over the place. This is usually the default mode.

Here are some examples anyway:

Be like Kunal:

Be like Kiran:

Be like Deepika:

‘Don’t be like them’ ads showcase the non-ideal version of consumers because they haven’t used the brand.

So, if you don’t use their soap, you’d repel people.
If you don’t use their insurance, you’d lose money.
If you don’t use their phone, you’d delay all your tasks.
If you don’t use their bank, you’d waste time.
And so on.

Here are some examples:

Don’t be like Murthi (man):

Don’t be like Larry:

Don’t be like Pixelated Paula:

There are some ads where both segments intersect. A classic example is Lifebuoy’s famous ‘Bunty’ ad where Bunty is ‘Don’t be like him’, and the other girl is ‘Be like her’.

Even the ACKO ad above is a good example of the mixed user segments – Murthi man is ‘Don’t be like him’, and the neighbor is ‘Be like him’.

Many of the ‘Don’t be like them’ narratives shift smoothly into pointing out that the issues being faced by the people can be solved by the advertising brand. This is usually very common too. But still, an example:


And then there is a variant of the ‘Don’t be like them’ category of ads that revel in mercilessly mocking the ‘Don’t be like them’ person… only because it produces mirth.

A good Indian example is a new campaign by investment platform Dezerv, made by the agency Light@27.

Consider this ad featuring a ‘Mr. Sharma’, who gleefully shares his misfortune of losing money while also using ‘JNU’ pejoratively (ranked No. 2 by the Ministry of Education’s National Institutional Ranking Framework; incidentally, research delays happen in all/most universities, for assorted reasons).

Dezerv’s other two ads are also on similar lines, though they do not focus on the ‘Don’t be like them’, but on who or what led to their misfortune.

At least with these two ads, the audience is expected to wonder if they too are listening to pointless advice or to spurious influencers, but the first ad inexplicably goes into creating a fictional user who not only loses money but also gets to flaunt it.

Another recent example, internationally, is the series from Mercury Insurance (it’s incidental that both the brands are in the financial services space).

Made by the agency Haymaker, Mercury’s ads are even more bizarre than Dezerv’s!

It starts with a mention that 9 out of 10 Mercury customers love their policies so much (who loves insurance policies?!) that they renew every year. But… the ads are NOT about those 9. The ad goes into showcasing the 10th customer who does not renew. And they are depicted to be monumentally and obviously stupid.

Mercury’s ads are particularly more bizarre than Dezerv’s ad because, at least with Dezerv, the so-called ‘idiocy’ was restricted to the same space as the advertising brands (financial decisions). In Mercury’s ads, the ‘dumb’ people are shown to be idiotic in areas completely unrelated to insurance or any kind of financial products/decisions!

But with both the Dezerv ad and the Mercury Insurance ads, the dumb person is shown as an example of ‘Don’t be like them’, but by eliminating them from the potential of becoming customers eventually.

For context, take the ACKO ad. Murthi is shown as repenting for not picking up ACKO insurance. He is not dumb or stupid; he just didn’t know about ACKO. He could be an ACKO customer next year. Mr. Sharma may never be a Dezerv customer, and the people shown in Mercury are ex-customers!

The Signature Global ad too depicts the ‘Don’t be like them’, but with empathy. The idea seems to be directed toward making people feel ‘that sounds like my situation’ and exploring the advertising brand’s solution as a way out of that situation.

But Dezerv and Mercury’s ads do not seem to be intended in that direction. They simply seem happy to ridicule a user who has not chosen their service (or any equivalent service), does not want to choose such services, and is perfectly content with the state he/she is in!

So, why make fun of such a character even as the product/service has nothing to do with their state? Because… why not? Because it seems funny? Or, to put it more bluntly, does it seem funny to laugh at someone so visibly dumb… voyeuristic pleasure? I’m not entirely sure.

Even the FTX Super Bowl ad featuring Larry David was, technically, on similar lines because Larry remains blind to the progress all through history, but that plays into the actor’s on-screen personality intricately and has an intelligent narrative that sets the context for his latest denial.

In a way, this trend syncs with the template made famous by CRED ads too. They don’t even bother with ‘Be like them’ or ‘Don’t be like them’ and go into (mock) ridiculing the celebrities who have been auditioned to act in their ads! Why? Because it’s fun to watch people make a fool of themselves (for a hefty fee, of course)?

Is there a downside to this? If I were to extrapolate, consider the general hate/ridicule that CRED gets. It’s not just because of the ads and is perhaps for a host of other reasons, but one unintended trigger could be something based on simple human psychology: if they can ridicule others, they should be fair game too. Negativity breeds negativity, after all.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case with Mercury Insurance or Dezerv. At least not yet.

So I’m assuming more brands will use this tactic simply because this narrative helps generate more attention on the internet.

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