Of Ads and Incomplete News

"The advertisements in a newspaper are more full knowledge in respect to what is going on in a state or community than the editorial columns are."

- Henry Ward Beecher

This is the front page of today's TOI. It is not the only paper that has sold its front page to an advertisement, but to permit its whole front page to be used in a quasi editorial format is a serious issue. The blank spaces in the real news items had the colour of the ad and the words repeated, "Anything incomplete can be a pain." The ad was for a mouthwash and conveys that toothpaste can only clean your mouth 25 per cent; for a full cleanup, you need Listerine.

If we accept such crass transposition of editorial and advertising space, then it is prudent to ask just how the message of the ad can resonate with editorial content. How complete can news be at any given time? Is, say, 'the process of dialogue continues' an incomplete idea and how must the news complete it? Does it have the right to do so? What about misleading headlines? The 25 per cent job done does not apply to news for there are versions of it.

This brings us to Beecher's quote. To an extent it is quite an accurate assessment. Editorial content can be biased; ads are not. They have only one agenda: to sell. Selling assumes buyers. In times of the right smile and the bright smile, teeth do make a statement. News often has bite, but no teeth.

The market economy - and tired as I am of the term one has to use it often these days - has made sure that we are dependent on products. Our purchasing habits and what we desire reveal the state of where society is headed. It isn't full knowledge, in that it does not quite adequately reveal culture, tradition and mindsets, but superficial mores.

Products like soaps tend to emphasise glamour, although now the trend is to use 'real' women endorsing some brands. I watch them and, to be honest, the real women don't appeal to me. Neither does the glamour factor. Am I the aberration? I experiment and try out several types. Where does that leave brand loyalty?

This is the crux. People are loyal to a product not because of advertising. We may try it once or twice, and as a junkie of the new I most certainly am the vulnerable segment. That apart, anything that can wash and clean and smells interesting is fine. Recently, I chanced upon an absolutely delightful soap that is not advertised. I picked it up because of its main content - lemongrass. I'd end up smelling like a Thai curry, but that fragrance works for me. It was only when I reached home and looked carefully at the packaging that I discovered it has an inbuilt loofah. Smart? Maybe. But I think a bath is incomplete without a loofah (when there is none around I use a dish-scrubber, and not the spongy side!) The soap one is nice and works just as well, but I also use my regular one. It's double the scrub and besides dead skin I might be killing some more. It is habit. This is beyond completion.

The reason for this personal digression is that 'knowledge' is not a word we can use loosely. By introducing a new product, advertising does work as 'news'. And news that is pushed is advertising. There are no demarcating lines, except those of ethics. It raises the question about how one defines ethics in the realm of hawking. Is it merely a matter of being a "pain" when it does not fill in the blanks? Or is the existence of the blanks a more honest take in that it empowers the reader to think and figure out the larger picture?

Such symbolism is beyond those busy selling their own mastheads, but as readers we know what we need to do. That 75 per cent that is not mentioned is better left unsaid. We'll manage on our own, thank you.