Does advertising corrupt?

The sentiment against corruption has reached a feverish pitch in India. The middle class has taken to the streets and is raising the banner of revolt against a government and a bureaucracy that it perceives to be highly corrupt. In a sense, it is scary to see such anger. Right now, the movement is peaceful, but one never knows what will happen if there is an unfortunate turn of events or if Anna Hazare’s health takes a turn for the worse.

From the point of view of business houses, Anna Hazare is not just a crusader; he’s a symbol of the power of mass mobilisation. He has very few needs. His clothes are simple; he can go without food for days as we have seen now and still function. Quite a difference from the self-styled yogi Baba Ramdev, who looked weary, haggard and completely out of control just one day into his fast. Ramdev grew an empire out of his yoga lessons, but he obviously did not practice the same in his own life. His powers of endurance and in fact, his credibility as an anti-corruption crusader now ring as hollow as his pronouncements.

But Anna Hazare is not just the government’s but every advertiser’s nightmare. He cannot be swayed by inducements of the biggest cars or fancy houses. He cannot be tempted with the choicest wines or a box at the IPL. He’s incorruptible in the sense that everything we spend our life acquiring has no meaning for him. For the rest of us, living a dream modelled on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, Anna Hazare stands for everything that contradicts it. What he says has found the resonance that multi-million dollar media or social campaigns could not have achieved. For the last 9 days, his campaign has been covered in microscopic detail across every channel and newspaper. In a world where prime time TV is sold at Rs 2 lakhs every 10 seconds, and the solus position in newspapers at Rs 10-15 lakhs, the coverage he gets could easily be computed into several hundred crores.

We see this lounging in our luxury apartments, on our LED flat screens or flitting across our iPads and flashing on our smartphones or observe through the window of our luxury cars. In many ways, he is the very antithesis of our consumption culture. Where we are defined by what we own and lust for, rather than what we believe and work towards. Soothed by the advertising images of happy families where worry is a pimple in the mirror, not whether there’s a roof over our heads, we are lulled into a sense of false comfort and a cocoon that we never want to escape from.

But here’s someone who just broke our reverie – a man who has brought the country to its feet and the government to its knees with the power of his simplicity.