Airtel’s ‘’class’’ propaganda or how to re(interpret) an advertisement


I am sure you must have already seen the new Airtel ‘1 rupee internet’ advertisements (a bit older now). My surety comes from the culture of ‘force-feeding’ of advertisements we are witnessing in the digital age. Not yet? Please do and don’t watch it the way you always do- absent mindedly! There’s a lot in it for you to know and understand about the hegemonic ideas of our society and how ‘a class’ exploits the ‘other’ for its own ends. It could be illuminating and could help you understand the exploitative-class structure without reading ‘tons’ of literature on it. Though, I still suggest you read those tons of literature.

Here, I will try to help you understand why the Airtel advertisements resemble the class structure (which is inherently unjust) and how it propagates ideas which help this structure survive.

Propaganda Advertisement One:


Here, a young lift-man is asking another young fellow to be his friend on Facebook. Their appearances and roles make it easy to understand which particular class they belong to. The lift- man obviously belongs to the ‘other’ and the other young fellow, a product of the ignorant and apathetic middle class of India.

Let’s call the lift-man as ‘A’ and the other fellow as ‘B’. Soon after hearing the ‘friendship’ proposal from A, B takes a pause to think and finally agrees to it, and the advertisement ends with good background music and this particular line- ‘Facebook for one rupee, friendship free’.

Okay, now let’s ask some questions:

1. Why is it that A approaches B for friendship and not vice-versa?

2. Why is it that A’s name on Facebook is ‘Rocky’ and not his real name Rakeshnath?

3. Why is it that Airtel wants us to use Facebook, and why is it trying to re-define the notion of friendship as a Facebook phenomena?

Speculative answers:

1. A approaches B for friendship, because A aspires to be like B. The character of B is what is sold in the market. Everyone wants to dress up in jeans, t-shirt, sneakers and have a good phone, overall, ‘the good life’. And B’s appearance makes him look like someone who is well-to-do. Or, rather this is how a well-to-do person ought to be like? We need to ask this to ourselves! B doesn’t approaches A for a friendship because, B doesn’t need him, A’s someone who doesn’t fit into B’s mental space for he doesn’t resemble A’s idea of ‘well-to-do’, which, in fact, is manufactured by the marketing and advertising experts exploiting our sensual desires.

2. A’s name is Rocky, because it sounds ‘cool’. It sounds cool because western media says so, and also makes sure that it actually does, through movies and advertisements primarily. It’s Rocky and not ‘Raju’, ‘Usmaan’ or ‘Zizek’, because we’re so dominated by western media that all our thoughts are approved by them. Plus, we’re also made to be feel ashamed of our ‘indigenous’ culture.

3. Simple. So that you benefit both Facebook (sells your personal data and also stores your data permanently) and Airtel (surveillance, may be), who in return, would spend only 2% of their income as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – a pittance! Their CEO’s see tenfold rise in income, while the bottom workforce would be paid just enough to survive.

Propaganda Advertisement Two:


Questions and Answers:

The advertisement reflects our mindset towards women, of a specific kind, who uses e-mail, and this is how she should be (look) like- young, independent, office going, et cetera. And with a smart phone, of course! Or, is it not the case? If not, then what is it?

I felt such rage when the ‘B’ type woman suspiciously asks the ‘A’ type woman whether she would have ‘’e-mail’’ in her phone? Why can’t she? Only office going females, without a baby and dressed ‘nicely’ can have e-mail facility in their phone? Why is it that we take for granted that the ‘typical’ Indian woman won’t be like what this particular advertisement and other forms of media content tell us?

Both these advertisements so brilliantly reflect (and also exploit) our ideas on what is ‘well-to-do’ and the ‘ought-to-be’ that we seldom realsie it is not what it should be.

Post-scriptum: Why do we permit ourselves and others, without a moment’s thought, to judge one on its appearance rather than on one’s character?

“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas.”


“The means of communication, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers to the producers and, through the latter to the whole social system. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood…Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior.”

Herbert Marcuse

So, the next time you see an advertisement; THINK.

– Avinay


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