In order to understand the world of ads, and how ads affect us, let’s use the framework of the five key questions. (See homepage)


Ads are made by the companies that want to sell their products and services. They are made to increase their own sales.

They can also be made by non-profit organisations to further their own cause. Ads are also used by those contesting elections, as a part of their political campaigns.

Roughly, this is how it works:

There is a product/ service/ candidate that needs to be advertised.

In case of a product, it could be a new one about to be launched or simply something old that needs to be repackaged. The company goes to an advertising firm and explains what it wants.

A non-profit may be interested in creating awareness about a social situation. It may want to ask for support. Or it may just want people to know about its work.

A political candidate could be completely new to the election arena or s/he may be an incumbent. While the former might want to focus just on a future agenda, the latter could also highlight achievements.

Once at the ad company, a project lead is assigned to any such client. A basic theme and idea is created by the project lead, which includes a person from the writing team and a person from the design team.

The copy writer then writes a copy for the ad, complete with the punch line. The design team then works on the visual elements.

This draft campaign is then presented to the client who may or may not approve. Once approved, it is the executive’s job to see to it that the campaign comes to life: right from arranging for shoots to ensuring the campaigns rolls out.


Advertisers use some very specific methods of persuasion in their communication. These are the ways in which they choose and shape the content of their message. Some of the most common ones are listed below:

  1. Association

Ads that use this technique associate their product with certain things that are already considered desirable such as success, beauty, popularity, youth. The association may be implied.

This technique can create a strong emotional response and  succeed in associate that feeling with a brand (family = Coke, victory = Nike). This is the process of emotional transfer. Several other persuasion techniques such as Beautiful people, Symbols and Nostalgia, are specific types of association.

In this ad for RIN, for example, we see an association being made between white clothes and a role of leadership. The person with the whitest clothes is the one at the helm and only RIN can give you the whitest white. An association is then made between being a leader and RIN.

  1. Bandwagon

In many ads, we see a lot of people using the advertised product. This is meant to suggest that everybody is doing it. No one likes to be left out or left behind. These ads exploit that and urge us to “jump on the bandwagon.”


  • Godrej Hair Colour


  1. Beautiful people

Ads using this technique make use of conventionally good-looking models (who may also be celebrities) to attract our attention. These ads may imply that we’ll look like the models if we use the product. They play on the desirability that we as a society associate with good looks.

4. Testimonial

This technique relies on our tendency to believe a neutral third-party vouching for the quality of a product or service. This neutral third-party could be a famous personality, or an expert, or plain folks. With such endorsements, we are likely to take the product more seriously because it seems like the person “testifying” is doing so because they genuinely like the product. Some testimonials may be less effective when we recognise that the person is getting paid to endorse the product.

The person who testifies is selected on the basis of the appeal the product should have. While celebrities may appeal to the fanboy/ fangirl in us who is taken in by their larger-than-life personae, experts address the questioning sceptic in us. The plain folks can convince us simply because they seem just like us. Sometimes, they double up as experts, like a mother recommending a baby product because she has used it and is satisfied.


  • Tide Plus

  • Tide Plus, Amma

  •  Oral B toothpaste

This ad for Oral B sees a film star and an expert i.e. a dentist testify.

  1. Flattery

Politicians and advertisers sometimes speak directly to us, and flatter us: “You know a good deal when you see one.” “You expect quality.” “You work hard for a living.” “You deserve it.”

Sometimes ads flatter us by showing people doing stupid things, so that we’ll feel smarter or superior. Flattery works because we like to be praised and we tend to believe people we like. (We’re sure that someone as brilliant as you will easily understand this technique!)


  • AR Rahman’s Song – Hum Mein Hai Hero – New Hero MotoCorp
  1. Card stacking

Card stacking deliberately provides a false context to give a misleading impression. It “stacks the deck,” selecting only favorable evidence to lead the audience to the desired conclusion.

Whatever areas of concern there might be, they are just glazed over. This bournvita ad for example, does not tell you about the high sugar content in the ‘health drink’.

  1. Fear

The opposite of the association technique, fear uses something disliked or feared by the intended audience (like failure, unpopularity, financial insecurity, poor health) to promote a “solution.”

Ads use fear to sell us products that claim to prevent or fix the problem.

  • Bangalore traffic police’s campaign to discourage people from speaking on the phone while driving

Persuasion techniques_fear 2

Persuasion techniques_fear 1

  1. Warm & fuzzy

This technique uses emotional appeal. Through sentimental images (especially of families, kids and animals), they try to stimulate feelings of pleasure, comfort, nostalgia and delight. A type of association, it may work very well with some sections of the audience, but not all.


  • Bombay Dyeing’s Change is Beautiful

  1. Simple solution

With this technique, advertisers try to present us with a simple solution to life’s most apparently pressing problems. These ads persuade us to forget that life is complicated, and try to offer relief by proposing a simple solution. Politicians claim one policy change (a new law, a government program, a new scheme) will solve big social problems such as corruption, inflation and so on and so forth. Advertisers take this strategy even further, and suggest that a beauty cream, a car, or new clothes will make you beautiful, popular and successful.


  • Parachute Advansed Body Lotion – Bring Back The Touch

  1. Intensity

The language of ads is full of intensifiers, including superlatives (greatest, best, most, fastest, lowest prices), comparatives (more, better than, improved, increased, fewer calories), hyperbole (amazing, incredible, forever), exaggeration, and many other ways to hype the product.

Persuasion techniques_intensity

(This list of techniques has been adapted from The Language of Persuasion by the Media Literacy Project. See the complete list of 40 techniques.)


Different ads target different people, depending on who the product/ service advertised is intended for. And every ad tries to speak a language that best appeals to its target audience.

So every ad will seem just slightly different if you consider it from other perspectives—perspectives other than your own, and even the natural perspective of the ad.

So what would someone whose economic background is different from yours think about the ad you just saw? What would a person of a different gender think? How would that ad seem to people from different communities? How would it affect someone whose physical appearance is not like yours?

One more thing to understand about advertising is that it is focused. It targets certain kinds of individuals depending on what it is selling and where it is selling it. The language , images and underlying message change depending on these factors.

For example, Cosmopolitan is a women’s magazine. These are the first two ads you will see when you open its April 2014 issue.

The first two ads that you will see in Man’s World, a men’s magazine, are these:

You will notice that women are being sold cosmetics. Men are being sold watches.

Both magazines also carry a Levi’s ad. In the men’s magazine, this ad was shown:

In the women’s magazine, it was this:

Apart from the obvious difference of male model for men’s magazine and female model for women’s magazine, notice the difference in the nature of the activity.

Similarly, there are ads that target children. Like this:

You will mostly find these played during cartoon shows or other kids shows.






2. Watch this video that tries to reverse traditional sex roles in ads. What do you think?


Advertisements also try to change or influence our cultural expectations: what is it that we expect from others and from ourselves? What is it that we expect from life? How do we see the world? And how do we recognize what the world expects from us?

What does it mean to happy today, for example? How do we celebrate?



Ads tell us how we should look and how we should be if we want to be successful and popular. Remember they are merely tapping on things that are already considered desirable such as success and happiness. In telling us how we ought to look, ads can give rise to several personal anxiety issues.

This can happen when ads tell us how our complexion should be:

And when they tell us how much hair we should have:

And then, when they tell us what our underarms should look like:

Of course, ads may be seen to only further expectations that society makes of us already. Ads can be seen as mere reflections of preferences or prejudices that we harbour anyway.

But sometimes, they do go a step further. They try to create traditions anew. They lay down expectations anew. They create a culture anew.

For example, how traditional is it to get someone diamonds for Diwali?


When advertising tries to do this, however, it doesn’t always look like advertising.

Sometimes, ads sneak up on you. Maybe while you are watching a film or a TV show.

One way in which it does this is product placement, where a particular product is placed in the frame or even actively used and the name of the brand is clearly visible. This is just one way of advertising.

Like in this clip from Taal, for example.

Notice how Coke is their choice of drink?

Sometimes, ads masquerade as news. These are called advertorials. At times, they are clearly labeled and at times they are not.

At times, ads present themselves to you as an event—one that you can participate in and have fun at, if not read about as news.

One more way in which ads can sneak up on you is through surrogate advertising. Here, the ad seems to be talking about something but it is actually about something else.

So, for instance, advertising alcohol in India is prohibited under the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994. So we see ads for things such as club soda, bravery awards, mineral water or music CDs with the alcohol brand name prominently displayed.



Ads are made with a very simple and straight motive. They are made to sell products. They are made to make money.

They could this straight up and directly. They can keep their efforts sharp and focused and only talk about the product at hand. Or they can contribute to a culture that makes selling their product easier.

For example: An ad could try selling a packet of chips. But by using a thin, skinny person to model—who seems to eat and love chips and still look fabulously thin—it could encourage a culture that not only has food that has no real nutritive value but also one that places colossal importance on being unrealistically thin. (CONSIDER)