Reactions of people in ads and social status

Have you closely observed how people (actors) react in advertisements?

Take a basic example: McDonald’s.

Most McDonald’s ads have someone r-e-a-l-l-y enjoying their burger, slurping… tongue out to lick some sauce, and so on. Considering I love McDonald’s paneer burger, I quite relate to that reaction.

Food has that effect on people anyway.

But consider the reactions we see in the non-food categories and when a service is being delivered.

Here’s an example: Piramal Finance, by the agency The Womb.

A man had applied for a loan at Piramal Finance. The customer service person arrives at his home to announce the company’s decision to offer the loan (or not; I’m assuming he wouldn’t have come all the way if they weren’t going to give him the loan – basic common sense). But the man has seen way too much disappointment with seeking loans in the past. So, even before the Piramal guy can convey what he came there for, our protagonist goes on a monologue about his life’s woes.

Finally, the Piramal guy drops the good news – loan sanctioned.

Our protagonist is pleasantly surprised and shocked – understandably, given the previous experiences.

But observe his expression at 0:50. He’s almost in tears, with gratitude.

Yes, he has had bad experiences in the past.
Yes, he wasn’t expecting this loan at all.
Yes, he should feel really pleased that he has finally got the loan.
And so… that expression of extreme gratitude.

But that’s where I also have a different perspective that has started to come in the way of my going with the flow and immersing myself in the intended feeling (and I’m acutely aware that I’m not the target audience for this ad, unlike the McDonald’s ad I cited earlier).

Consider these:
Is this a real scenario? No. This is an enacted script (based on the actual experiences of Piramal’s field agents, most possibly).
Is the beneficiary an actor? Yes.
Who has the upper hand in this scenario in terms of social strata? Piramal, of course.

So, the giver (at the top in terms of social strata) is framing the reaction of the receiver (visibly below the giver’s social strata).

Could the beneficiary react differently? For instance, the steel forger and his wife (or is it daughter?) may perhaps treat the Piramal representative as an equal (forget social strata differences. It should depend on how the steel forger and his wife view themselves, right?), smile at him with visible relief and offer him tea.

Let’s take another example – Cadbury’s Shops for Shopless from last year.

Observe the reaction of Damodar, the street-side vendor, at 0:49.

Hands folded. Tears in his eyes. Extreme gratitude.

Unlike the Piramal ad where an organization is providing a service, here, Doctor saab is offering unsolicited help to Damodar, to help him sell more during Diwali. It’s a kind gesture from the Doctor (enabled by Cadbury’s, of course). But this is not about Doctor Saab’s good heart – the ad is about Cadbury’s new digital offering. From that point of view, Cadbury’s is on top of the social strata, offering help to Damodar, at the other end of the social spectrum.

The gesture (by Doctor saab, as a stand-in for Cadbury’s, and us people who could emulate it) is noble and genuinely thoughtful. But when seen from the perspective of the giver and the receiver, the reaction feels different to me because the giver is framing how the receiver should feel.

Another example?

Consider the HP Diwali ad from 2021.

In terms of social strata, I could argue that both are shopkeepers in the same area (let me ignore the kind of shops they run for argument’s sake) and could be assumed as equals.

And yet, the restaurant owner is a stand-in for HP. He is the giver and the other shopowner is the beneficiary. Like the Piramal ad, there are tears, a lot of emotion, and hugging too.

Actually, almost all of HP’s Diwali ads use the same template – someone less well-off gets help from someone well-off via HP printouts and the former always ends up in complete tears.

HP Diwali, 2022: Street-side artist and grandson get teary-eyed

HP Diwali, 2020: Tailor aunty gets teary-eyed (I’d justify this based on the fact that the help is by a little, innocent child)

HP Diwali, 2018: Street-side diya vendor gets teary-eyed

Take Facebook’s famous ‘Pooja Didi’ Diwali ad from 2020. The person who shares the update about Pooja Didi’s store, Surinder Singh, is a stand-in for Facebook, the brand. Facebook’s delivered the help and this makes Pooja teary-eyed with gratitude.

I could argue against this premise myself, though – shouldn’t the reaction—excessive or adequate—depend on the kind of help offered or delivered?

Oh yes, it should. In all the 3 ads above (a template used often)—Piramal, Cadbury’s, and HP—the help is least expected and is a complete surprise to the beneficiaries. That should justify the crying, folded hands, and emotional burst, right?

Let me question that with this Ralco Tyres ad (2019 Independence Day ad made by BBDO), as a counter.

The bike rider is a stand-in for Ralco Tyres (with a very visible shot) – he is the giver.

Observe the transgender person’s expression at 1:18.
Gratitude? Yes.
Dignity intact? Oh yes.
That’s the least they are asking anyway – treat as equals, with dignity.

That makes me teary-eyed more often. If that reaction was teary-eyed and a folded-hands gesture, I may have been less immersed. The way it is now, it seems adequate and appropriate to evoke the necessary reaction from me.

Another example: Samsung’s 2016 ad showcasing its post-sales service, made by Cheil India.

Observe how the benefactors react, fully expecting the service to happen like a normal expectation. In fact, it’s the Samsung service guy who gets emotional with surprise, understandably.

Another solid example is Fullerton India’s 2019 ad campaign by the agency IdeateLabs. The title of the ad itself is ‘Rishta Samman Ka’, implying that the respect they accord to their customers is the key. This reflects on the reactions of the people who get loans!

This niggling question in my mind about reactions doesn’t pop up when such seemingly excessive reactions occur between supposed (and obvious) social equals. Take the Amazon Raksha Bandhan ad from 2021.

The sister is visibly in tears, touched by the brother’s gesture. They hug out of their love for each other. In terms of social strata, they are equals. Amazon, the brand is nowhere in the picture. The sister or the brother are not stand-ins for the brand – they are just themselves; some brother-sister duo.

Or consider where a service provider shows someone higher up the social strata – how do they react?

Here’s an example, by Policybazaar where Akshay Kumar plays ‘Mr. Policybazaar’.

The lady who is in distress seems relieved when she thanks Akshay after the 30-minute claim process is announced. Her reaction doesn’t seem as teary-eyed as the steel forger in the Piramal ad – her distress is a pre-existing condition because someone she loves is in the hospital. In fact, Akshay thanks her back for choosing to insure.

Another example – Rupeek’s gold loan ad featuring Manoj Bajpayee and Priyamani (the couple from Amazon Prime’s The Family Man series.

Despite feeling small in their earlier instances (like the Piramal steel forger’s earlier experiences), when they get the loan in the comfort of their homes, they do not get teary-eyed with gratitude. They are just delighted. Was this reaction in line with their social status?

This is a mere snapshot of some of the ads that I could remember from my memory. But I feel there is a potential trend here worth noticing in the future (and from the past).

I’d be keenly watching the reactions of people in ads when they are beneficiaries while also considering their social strata (as depicted in the ads).