Tr. for Teacher – to what effect?

The new Teachers’ Day campaign by Navneet Education, called ‘Tr. for Teacher’, by the agency FCB Interface, did not work for me at all. For more than one reason.

This, despite someone as influential as Anand Mahindra going ga-ga over it.

The first dimension that doesn’t work for me is the narrative device – a ‘social experiment’.

I already have a huge issue with so-called ‘social experiments’ because of how obviously fake they seem. They rank right next to another closely-related narrative device used often in advertising: ‘candid videos’.

Here’s more on that, with specific examples, and what is wrong with them, from another post: Why should (candid) activation videos be so sweepingly fake?

Navneet Education’s ‘Tr For Teacher’ campaign is a ‘social experiment’ where people behave almost as if they are in a badly made horror film – sans logic or common sense.

For instance, why doesn’t even one person ask who the lady without a title in her name is?

Wouldn’t that be absolutely imperative when the moderator is asking them to name the ‘most important’ and the ‘least important’ among the four?

Based purely on common sense, wouldn’t you want to know basic details about the four—and particularly the one who does not have a title but is the oldest among them—before coming to a rudimentary conclusion on the ‘most important’ and the ‘least important’?

Or, why doesn’t even one person refuse the grading exercise arguing that (a) they don’t know what one of the four does, and (b) that it’s unfair to pick between two important professions?

It’s possible that someone did say that, but because it does not flow in a direction that the audiences (us) should think in (to specifically and clinically make a case for ‘Tr for Teacher’), it was probably edited out.

Or, the other possibility is that the entire social experiment is fully scripted, and the participants are all actors simply acting their parts.

Both these—if at all they happened—are not crimes, but they make this exercise disingenuous.

Why? Because, if the common-sensical quips are edited out, what we see is a pre-ordained narrative. And if all these people are simply actors and the whole video is scripted, the audience that is supposed to buy into an otherwise well-intended and noble concept deserves to know the truth.

If, for example, they had mentioned the profession of each person explicitly, and not just by title, how do you think the participants would have reacted?

The second dimension that has me going against the ad film is the fact that it forces a relative comparison between the professions.

For instance, within the social experiment, why doesn’t even one person say, “Sorry. I cannot choose ‘most important’ or ‘least important’. That’s like comparing apples and oranges. Each person—including the lady who doesn’t have a title, but considering she is placed among the four, I’m sure she does have an important profession—has an important role to play with their respective professions in our society”?

The forced effort to grade professions is being done towards the purpose of elevating the role of teachers – I get that. And teaching, as a profession, is quite foundational too – no arguments there whatsoever.

But this logic is a slippery slope. Imagine a comparison between a doctor and a teacher, for instance. We could gleefully enter the chicken-or-egg zone if we ask, “Is a teacher more important because she taught the doctor, or a doctor more important because she gave birth to a teacher in the first place?”.

That brings me to the third dimension of my objection: the intent of the exercise.

To be sure, I love the intent of the exercise. I completely and totally agree that the teaching profession is THE most important in our society. I have said so many times too.

And to be fair to Navneet and FCB Interface, there’s only so much that they can do for teachers.

But the ad film focuses on a performative exercise like adding a title than arguing for changing the actual condition of teachers and the profession. That’s why they have a Change petition as the call to action.

Imagine an online campaign where you are asked to change your display picture to all-black in support of a/any cause.

What would change in a teacher’s life if ‘Tr’ is added to their names? Respect from society? Possibly, that too e-v-e-n-t-u-a-l-l-y… once enough people understand and realize what it means.

The other 3 professions—the Captain, the Judge, and the Doctor—are already fairly rewarding, not just based on the respect they get from society, but also in terms of standard of living.

The mere titles—and the respect they get—of the other 3 professions do not improve the standard of living of the people who chose them. People don’t pick those professions for respect (alone). There is a lot more to that decision, and choice.

I assume Navneet simply wanted to start somewhere.

That start could be about getting people to look at teachers with more respect.

How would they get more respect? When people come to know that someone is a teacher?

Is that enough to look at someone with respect?

That’s where the film’s framing makes us think in specific directions: when you hear that the Captain, the Judge, and the Doctor were taught by the 4th person, the teacher, you automatically feel respect for that teacher.

If the 4th person was a primary school teacher, younger than the other 3, what would the reaction of the participants be?

What would your own reaction be? Think about it.

Also, the answer to relative importance, or the lack of it, is also dependent on recency bias. For instance, if this question were posed during the peak of the pandemic, every participant would have said that the doctor’s role is the most important. Or, if the question was posed during the time when an important Court judgement is making a lot of news, or closer to Independence Day, the roles of the Judge and the Major, respectively, would be deemed as more important.

I do think Navneet and FCB Interface has a very interesting idea on their hand. It’s a catchy idea that is very easy to approve of because it offers the illusion of an instant outcome. But what we end up having is not an outcome, it is merely an output that is far removed from the very people that the campaign wants to raise the profiles of. And in doing so, it uses a creative device that does total injustice to the idea. It makes us feel good because we place ourselves in the role of each participant, assuming that their line of thought is ours too – and because of that, we feel ashamed when Smita Ji is revealed to be a teacher (if we go with the fake flow, that is). But it just requires limited extra thinking to see through the charade.

Are there better ways to advocate for ‘Tr. for Teacher’ that do not use ‘social experiment as a creative device? Oh yes – most definitely. It’s limited only by our imagination. I can already think of a couple of highly engaging ideas, but why share them in public when I can suggest them to an appropriate client at the right time? 🙂

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