01 July 2013

The Sampath Bank Poya-Ad

Everyone has something to sell.  Everyone advertises.  Some let their work and their being do all the advertising.  Some don’t know that being is the best advertisement or don’t trust people’s ability to read, evaluate and purchase. So they have to say ‘Here I am, look at me, I am great and in fact better than the competition’.  This is why corporates advertise.  This is why advertising agencies, art directors, copy writers and accounts executives have work.

Advertising is about brand positioning and product promotion.  The ultimate objective is profit, or rather enhancing profits.  While many who advertise care little about being ethical about the exercise, indulging in false claims and exaggeration, it is very rare for them not to assess advantage in anything they do, corporate social responsibility included.  Even when espousing ‘worthy cause’, there is an element of ‘image-enhancement’ that comes into the cost-benefit calculation. 

We saw, way back in 2004 December and the early months of 2005, corporate entities sending lorry-loads of relief to the tsunami-affected.  It was about ‘goodness’, sure, but when even bottled water was ‘branded’ to the victims of the single most tragic natural disaster in hundreds of years, we can get a sense of how much heart there is in corporates and how much mind. 
Anything that makes for piggybacking is considered fair game.  This is why people scramble to tag themselves to things that are considered important by a sizable segment of the target market. This is why Independence Day is ‘platform’ for banks, washing powders, light bulbs, furniture shops and bakeries (among other entities).   Such days are made for make-up and catch-up, for catching consumer eye.  It is a brushing that helps un-dust brands and products and even made for getting rid of slow-moving goods in the form of ‘sales’.  Christmas and Avurudu are excellent ‘brushes’ therefore. 

Then there are mandatory ads where corporates don’t want to get ‘unsighted’ because the competition advertises and they don’t.  This is why there are ‘Vesak ads’, ‘Poson ads’ and, of late, Valentine’s Day ads and so on. 
There’s nothing illegal about it.  If some nondescript boutique can sponsor a dansala or a vesak kooduwa and have his name or the name of his little bulathvita kade included in the manner of ‘event branding’, there’s nothing wrong in a soft drink company ‘branding’ a perahera.  If it swells bank accounts, that’s what matters and that’s why it is done!

On the other hand, there are times when an ad enhances brand image or gives a product greater productivity, and does not sully the ad-moment.  Rare, yes, but there are ads that ‘work’.  Like the Sampath Bank ‘Poya Day’ advertisements (print and radio both).  Launched with Vesak, this exercise stood out on many counts.
First, it was fresh.  Most poya day advertisements are ‘familiar’.  They are mostly rehashed versions of something you’ve seen before.  If it’s Vesak there is the ‘inevitable’ reference to the birth of Prince Siddhartha, the Enlightenment and the Parinirvana.  If it is Poson, there is something from the Mahindagamanaya story.    Such ads, if they are seen, are soon forgotten.  Smart advertisers will make sure than the consumer, even if he/she forgets the ad, will remember brand or product. 

‘The Sampath Bank Ad’ brands the company because of its fidelity to the significance associated with the ‘day’, the ad-moment if you will. 
May the greatness
of the good you’ve done
shine bright and brighter.

The old ancient sins
may they be washed
and washed away.

May sorrow and tragedy
stay and stay away
from lifetime to lifetime.

Sadhu! Sadhu!
may these merits
yield by and by
the supreme nirvanic bliss.

The words are enough.  Until you hear them ‘voiced’. 
Edward Jayakody is not a Buddhist. Carlo Fonseka, years ago, in a tribute to the man said something about ‘Christian charity’ being the ‘mover’ in making Edward sing budu guna gee (songs extolling the virtues of the Enlightened One). I didn’t ask Edward and it does not matter. It is not (just) about faith and actions thereto, but also respect and commitment to professional excellence.  And that, as much as the ‘copy’, is what makes the ad speak not just to a ‘Buddhist Market’ but a universal audience cutting across faith.
It is hard to recollect a ‘poya ad’ where a simple four-verse advertising copy and its lyrical rendering is as in tune with the sathara brahma viharana, namely metta (compassion), karuna (loving kindness), muditha (rejoicing at/with another’s joy) and upekkha (treating the vicissitudes of life with equanimity as this one is.

There is nothing ‘sacrosanct’ in Buddhism.  There is only ‘hurting of sensibility’ and this too because the sensibilities concerned haven’t shed the samsara-extending tripper called ‘Upadana’ or attachment.  But there is piggybacking and piggybacking, taste and lack of taste, crudeness and crafting, loudness and subtlety.  There are good ads and bad ones.  Some ads add something and not all of it is about rupees or cents.  This has ‘rupee’ scripted, naturally, but it simultaneously negates ‘rupee’ and speaks of a different kind of profitability. 

‘It made me want to observe sil,’ a devout Catholic said.  

Need one say anything more about advertising excellence?