This Diwali, let's talk about how e-commerce websites have upped their advertising game

We need to talk about something important this Diwali.

Every year, you're reminded of Diwali at least a month or two in advance, and it all starts with sales being shoved down our throats like moms shove brussel sprouts. Malls have it (in bold red, caps-lock font), Paytm & Mobikwik type services are on an overdrive, and e-commerce websites probably douse some sort of hypnotic potion on us through our laptop screens to make sure we spend 90 % of our salary on gifts and clothes. Only so that every time we are forced to speak to a long-lost (and annoying) relative to wish them a Happy Diwali, we can feel satisfied knowing good food and new clothes will follow.

Diwali is also considered a time to cleanse, and is generally a good time for new beginnings (as it coincides with many regional new years). This year, I've been noticing how e-commerce websites have packaged this concept of cleanse and change, through their ads.

This could be because I'm an observant person, but also you don't need me to tell you that ads for e-commerce websites like Amazon, Snapdeal, Jabong, E-Bay are everywhere. They buffer before our Youtube videos, they're on our TVs (at prime time, no less), our workstations and/or our Facebook timelines (we all know someone who works in the marketing team of xyz company).

 This Diwali, lets talk about how e-commerce websites have upped their advertising game

Diwali e-commerce ads are really upping their game with gender-sensitive, liberating, non-conformist ads. (All images are Youtube screen grabs)

This year, the focus of these ads have been largely on changing the narrative from "it's about sanskaar and family" to being your own person, breaking away from unnecessary generalisations and caring for the people around you, that is not necessarily your immediate family. Which is a big surprise to me, because let's face it, when was the last time we saw an ad on a prime time TV slot, that tells us to buy new clothes for our dhobi wala? When I was younger, all I got to see during Diwali was Amitabh Bachchan forcing me to eat dry fruits coated with dairy milk.

This Amazon ad really hits home the message that Diwali is not just for you and me — urbane, metro-city-dwellers — but even for those who are our backbone (my dhobi bhaiyya really understands the importance of a well-pressed kurta worn on Monday morning, because it's probably the only thing that is well-pressed about the day. And I'm hugely thankful).

We are so used to donating our old clothes to our help, assuming that it checks off the good-deed-for-the-year. But with Diwali should come new clothes, for everyone. Because why should anyone be deprived of the joy of wearing crisp new clothes that still smell of cardboard and plastic wrap? This ad's winning moment is Mita Vashist saying, "humaare yahaan, diwali mein purane kapde nahi pehente (we don't wear old clothes on Diwali). The use of "humaare yahaan" is crucial.

Now that Amazon has taken man-made, social borders away with their ad, Jabong takes it one step further. Their Diwali ad celebrates all things individual. With the hashtag #Youarethefestival — they cater to people who don't necessary feel like conforming. Away from home? Want to wear black on the festival of lights? Hate the noise but love the colours? Want to spray paint your rangoli instead? Want to rock some skin show on an ethnic day? This Jabong ad is for YOU. It also helps that there's a heavy use of swag in their ad.

Not only are these ads sending out the right messages, they're also upping their jingle game.

The other day I was humming "unbox zindagi.." after having heard the whole song on loop. I'd first heard Shankar Mahadevan's voice on my TV, but the ad really caught my attention when I saw it fully. Using the concept of new beginnings, the Snapdeal ad encourages ambition (no matter how far-fetched) and taking a moment to embrace the opportunity that is knocking on your door.

In this Diwali ad, old grandparents are gifted an Ipad (my bet is it's going to end up with aunty playing Farmville or Candy Crush, but I digress), and a female cop being given a pair of earrings, because who said femininity had to be mainstream? Sabse saccha koi, saja nahi abhi tak, goes the jingle. Preach, Shankar. (Also the jingle is bloody catchy).

Netflix's done their own version of a Diwali ad, with Anurag Kashyap making of typical Diwali ads that seem to be a leaf out of the Utopian Indian Dream. We get the point, Netflix. Humour goes a long way.

At this point, you're probably wondering what the purpose of a piece like this is (which seems more like a case study on advertising and less like an article). Well, this Neilson study reveals that people actually do watch commercials on TV, and the percentage of people who change the channel between their shows has drastically reduced.

So, as an active e-commerce website that caters to millions of Indians, if you're is goal is to reach so many people with your promoted content, you may as well do it with some social responsibility, right? (How I wish Chetan Bhagat understood this). What really stands out for me is the definition of social responsibility that these websites are adopting.

Yes, "real" issues like poverty, literacy, employment still stands tall, but this "change in mindset" that one overhears often in conversations, begins here. There is a difference between donating old clothes to your help, and actually buying new ones for them, for example, and I'm happy to see that big players like Snapdeal and Amazon have realised and embraced this.

And so, in the spirit of Diwali, we have a winner.

Among all the e-commerce ads, E-Bay hits bulls-eye. This ad was released a couple of weeks before Diwali, but its timing could not be more perfect. With the tag line, 'Things Don't Judge' here's an ad that rejects any hetero-normative narrative completely; and not just in favour of homosexuality (which in itself is great) but it also rejects man-made concepts of gender.

In the ad we see a man going down on one knee, proposing to his boyfriend with a ring bought from Ebay. We also see a woman who is not restricted by her surname/religion or her choice of clothes, an old woman who openly skips in a park full of old people doing yoga, or (my personal favourite) a boy who orders a pair of ghungroos for himself because who said Indian dance should be restricted to women?

This Diwali, your gift is that you thankfully will not have to change the channel when an ad starts to play. Infact, if you watch carefully enough, it may actually school you. Light and love, folks!

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Updated Date: Oct 30, 2016 08:42:00 IST


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