Internal logic, or the lack of it, in advertising

Advertising is an awkward combination of fiction and non-fiction.

To be interesting, it needs to use fictional elements that lead to suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewers. So, when Axe shows that women get magnetically attracted to the scrawny guy because he’s wearing a brand of deo, we suspend disbelief knowing fully well that this is a typical advertising exaggeration.

But advertising also makes factual claims about the product or service it is selling. That part is non-fiction, and we are supposed to take it seriously. So, if a Shilpa Shetty claims that she swears by a brand of dish wash bar, we suspend disbelief that a star is washing her own utensils enough to have a preferred dish wash bar. But when the same ad claims at the end that the dish wash bar has XYX ingredient that protects your skin, that is a factual claim we are supposed to take seriously, even though the preceding scenes were totally implausible.

But, despite this fictional addition, advertising still needs internal logic to not devolve into questionable pointlessness.

Internal logic can be defined as continuity between scenes in a story. This is the logic by which the flow of scenes is based on the larger narrative.

Here are 2 recent Indian ads to demonstrate the lack of internal logic 🙂

The first is the new Macho Hint ad starring Tiger Shroff, Tara Sutaria, and Rajit Kapoor.

Macho actually released filmy-style print ads in newspapers in preparation for the video’s release!

Here’s that ad:

Could you find the lack of internal logic? That is: if you go past the fact that the ad makes Tiger use a military parade for something as silly as proposing marriage to his girlfriend. This is not a lack of internal logic; this is simply poor writing.

Here’s the point on the lack of internal logic, though.

Observe what (Priya) Tara says in the beginning: “Dad, this is Vikram Rathore. He’s a pilot”.

Tiger (Vikram) then tells Tara’s dad: “I’m Priya’s boyfriend”.

Then, after Rajit Kapoor makes a snarky remark, a worried Tara asks Tiger, “How would dad agree?”.

Till this point, the narrative has been set for a task that Tiger has to do to impress Priya’s dad.

But what does Tiger end up doing? He actually gets his mates to flip a banner about being daring in the military air force to one asking Priya to marry him. Would that impress her father, a senior dignitary/politician, or annoy him further significantly about the blatant and flippant misuse of a serious parade?

Think about it: Priya is already adequately convinced. She’s already all over Vikram. She doesn’t need any more nudges at all. Her dad does.

Did Vikram assume that a public proclamation of love, that too by misusing the military parade, would convince her already annoyed dad? Would that patently fake-English lady’s ‘I hope Priya says yes’ quip to her dad convince her or make him even more enraged?

You understand why Vikram did what he did in the end when Priya asks him, ‘Such a big stunt? Can’t you give me a hint?’. In the minds of the makers of the ad (I couldn’t figure out which enlightened agency made this ad – seems like an adequately hidden detail, particularly after many, many angry voices denouncing the ‘insult to the military/army’), Vikram’s stunt is supposed to be an oversized, bold hint alluding the product’s name.

In the process, they seem to have completely forgotten who that so-called stunt is being performed for. Vikram could have simply whispered in Priya’s ear, “Will you marry me?” and she would have gladly confirmed instantly, going by her expression all through the ad. Her dad is a different case altogether and Vikram’s stunt is a monumental misfire from that perspective, and the army’s, of course.

All that Vikram had to do was perform his parade stunts really well and perhaps truly respect the profession he has chosen, for Priya’s dad to be truly impressed. Also, winning the old man’s respect is not like ordering food on Zomato – an instant result. It takes time and effort. But, of course, this is advertising exaggeration and par for the course – let’s not confuse that with the point on lack of internal logic.

I’d be surprised if Vikram is not court-martialed for misusing a military parade, and that certainly won’t go down well with Priya’s dad either.

The second ad is the new ITV Vivel VedVidya soap ad starring Sharmila Tagore.

Full marks to ITC Vivel for roping in Sharmila Tagore as the brand’s face in the first campaign for VedVidya. When every other soap brand is going after ‘younger’ stars, roping in a veteran is a nice we-will-zig-while-others-zag move.

But I don’t think the internal logic of the narrative has been thought through adequately by the agency, Ogilvy India.

First, consider why Sharmila Tagore. It is because the VedVidya range of soaps is ‘inspired by ingredients used in ancient beauty rituals’, as per the brand. The 3 soaps in this range are ‘Nargis & Kumkumadi oil’, ‘Nagarmotha & Bahumanjari oil’, and ‘Chandan & Badamam oil’. Assuming people used these ingredients to keep their skin young and glowing ‘back in those days’, Sharmila Tagore’s choice seems perfect to reflect on ‘those days’.

However, observe what the narrative is. A younger girl asks Sharmila what the secret of her beauty is while looking at a photo album consisting of Sharmila’s photos from 1968 (as mentioned under one of the photos in the album). Sharmila says, ‘Let’s ask her’, pointing to the photo! The photo then comes alive through some VFX and the younger Sharmila says, “Shall I tell you? The new Vivel VedVidya soap that is made with the goodness of Nargis & Kumkumadi oil”.

This is a classic problem with any newly launched personal care product. If it’s new, how long did the brand ambassador need to use it to claim that it changed their hair, skin, teeth, or life? 🙂

With Sharmila, it becomes even messier as a narrative: did the young Sharmila use a soap launched in 2023? How long has the current Sharmila been using this new soap to give it credit for her beauty of so many decades?

Instead, if the narrative was built around the younger Sharmila swearing only by the goodness of ingredients like Nargis & Kumkumadi oil (that she used in some other form in the 1960s) and the current (older) Sharmila saying that the present generation has it easy – these age-old ingredients are readily available in a new soap like VedVidya, the narrative flows perfectly with internal logic and sense.

The focus should have been on the ingredients without insisting that the younger Sharmila directly vouches for the soap itself that was launched literally just now in 2023.

Even the present-day Sharmila vouching for VedVidya as her beauty secret doesn’t land well because it’s a brand new soap, barely launched in the market. And Sharmila is 78 years old – an age that makes no sense to credit a just-launched soap for her beauty.

The internal logic goes for a toss because it seems like the agency and the brand were obsessed with crediting the soap brand instead of simply talking up the ingredients the soaps represent. Those are ‘ancient’ ingredients that were supposedly used by people in older generations when ready-made soaps were not the norm or were not adequate. Focus on the ingredients alone, the narrative flows perfectly, leading to explaining that these ingredients have been captured in the new VedVidya range.