The Indian Express ad wants us to believe it is the only intelligent newspaper, except that it’s not a newspaper
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The Indian Express ad wants us to believe it is the only intelligent newspaper, except that it’s not a newspaper

The Indian Express' new ad would have been more impressive if it didn’t talk down to readers.

By Rajyasree Sen

Published on :

The King is dead, Long live the King. Or in The Indian Express’ case – The Newspaper is Dead, Long Live the Newspaper (ergo, The Indian Express).

Indian Express yesterday released its new, very slickly made black and white ad. There’s no dialogue or voiceover in the ad. Just images, with words superimposed on them. It does make for interesting viewing. Starting with a newspaper floating in rainwater, the ad proclaims that first off, we should accept that the newspaper is dead, long before the 9/11 attacks or Twitter came around to announce revolutions taking place. The newspaper had – according to the ad – died when people started watching the news real-time on television. It had become “cold leftovers served with breakfast the next morning”.

But before we could start weeping into our breakfast cereal, the ad held out a ray of hope to us.

It said:

The IE was never a newspaper.

It was a vision, to be brave honest and responsible.

To bring out not just the heat, but also the light.

Because we talk to the Indian who wants to question the answers (shot for some reason on a group of Indians who look like they think they live in Soho, but are actually from Bandra. Seeming to only want to question whether to buy drainpipe trousers or get another tattoo.)

The Indian who might be blunt, but is never pointless.

Who wants truth more than trivia.

The Indian who doesn’t just close arguments, but opens minds.

Indian Express. For the Indian Intelligent

Therefore, the obverse being that if you didn’t read The Indian Express, you weren’t part of the Indian Intelligent. Which is when I looked down at my copies of Hindustan Times and The Times Of India, picked up my butter knife and tried to slash my wrist to no avail. Could it be, that I was not part of the Indian Intelligent? What an unexpected condemnation.

I understand that Indian Express is at least trying to stand apart from other newspapers, by not attacking the competition. But is insulting potential readers instead, the wisest move? The consumer as Ogilvy told us way back in the day, is not an idiot. So it’s wise not to call him one.

Of course, IE isn’t the only newspaper to call readers idiots if they aren’t choosing to read the paper being advertised. The Hindu had done it as well, when it had released its Stay Ahead Of The Times television commercials. The TV commercials instead of insulting TOI, ended up insulting readers of the TOI.

Intellectual snobbery is fine and dandy, but how does it help to show people that they are idiots? And honestly, going by the pick of the lobotomised litter shown in the ad, nothing short of an intensive course in general knowledge will help them. Also, if you think people are so stupid, do you even want them to read your “intellectual” newspaper?

Hindu’s print ads for the same campaign had been far better at the time, though. They had attacked the newspaper which was irking The Hindu then, instead of that newspaper’s readers. It was subtle and very on the ball, with each of its digs against TOI being based on fact. After all, why blame the reader for the sins of the newspaper which he/she is reading?

The Times Of India ad which had been released before the Hindu campaign should actually be commended for not trying to position TOI as the answer to all things cerebral. It simply said what a lot of people feel about The Hindu or The Statesman. That while they may be intellectual, they are also sure-shot ways of putting you to sleep.

TOI more recently made a hero of the reader for its Mumbai edition.

Being funny, or serious without being condescending, usually helps. The paper which got it spot-on, without taking a dig at competitors or readers, was Mumbai Mirror which is sadly from the stable of The Times Of India. But it did what an ad by a newspaper which knows it has its reporting down pat, should do. Highlight its strengths without pulling down others, or even acknowledging the competition.

TOI may know little about serious journalism – but they do know their audience. And seem to know that telling their potential audience that they’re dumbkopfs is hardly the way to win readers.

Also, while the look and feel of the Indian Express ad was eye-catching, much like MF Hussain’s Meenaxi, it would have helped if the content was gripping as well and based ever so slightly on fact. Especially, if you’re a newspaper for the Indian Intelligent. Ever since satellite television entered India, readers with access to television, don’t read newspapers for real-time reporting. They read the papers for in-depth analysis of events, opinion pieces, and more detailed commentary than is possible in a news bulletin. If Indian Express feels they’re the only ones providing these add-ons, more fool them.

Speaking of add-ons of commentary and opinion and gatekeeping and newsworthiness, the claim of being for the Indian Intelligent would be slightly more palatable if Indian Express showed some circumspection in their columnists and what they dish out to us every weekend. For example, it’s a slight insult to my intelligence to have to read a column such as An Alphabet For India by “Lord” Meghnad Desai. Our school newspaper would have refused to publish something so childish. Or this one, by Tavleen Singh about her “street people friends”, which reeks of elitism and the same old Congress-and slightly new Modi-bashing. And these are just two examples that have been occupying prime real estate for years. If there’s one thing that remains constant in Indian Express, it’s their columnists. Whether or not their readers like them.

A newspaper which is expressing that it’s more than a newspaper because it doesn’t just report events – needs to at least try and bring in some new thought in its editorial decisions. Otherwise its tall claim has little standing. Yet, IE’s columnists remain unchanged, writing anything that comes to their mind, because not only are they the Indian Intelligent, they’ve also been around for so long. Much like squatters in West Bengal who make the most of the West Bengal Tenancy Act, if you stick around on any real estate for long enough, no one can oust you from it. But maybe I’m expecting too much.

I give Indian Express full points for not taking a dig at other newspapers, but the ad would have been more impressive if it didn’t talk down to readers. Maybe the Express should get off its high horse, leaf through Ogilvy On Advertising and then hire TOI’s ad agency. Instead of inferring that we are the Indian Idiot if we aren’t reading the newspaper, which isn’t really a newspaper.

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