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What happened?

Recently, IITB Hostel residents woke up to a peculiar announcement stuck to the mirrors of their washrooms. The necessity of having to resort to ‘Stickers on the mirrors’ might seem apt for an emergency announcement that requires every hosteler to be aware of something pertinent and severe; something along the lines of, Empty your rooms by the end of the night as trees next to your wing are to be cut and pose danger! But this one was a message of rather tepid urgency as it merely read, Mirror, mirror, wisest of all!! Who will write on my Yearbook wall?! nothing more than a simple advertisement for an institute body’s (IB’s) event. When confronted with such inconsistency in terms of the triviality of the content versus the forcefulness of the means, it begs the question, ‘Is this, if at all, responsible advertising?’

Responsible Advertising: Who Dis?

Responsible Advertising: Who Dis?

How should advertising be responsible?

‘Advertising’ can be thought of as a-one-way communication, wherein the advertisers begin as well as end the conversation about their market products while the consumers are mute to respond back. Which is also why it is very often misused. At best, advertising is a sincere attempt to inform the viewer-base of its products and services and at worst, it is an aggressive and coercive way to compel the viewer-base into taking notice of those products. What the most recent wave of advertising, concerning the SARC’s Yearbook stickers, falls into is unfortunately the latter.

Why is this ‘Irresponsible Advertising’?

Unethical long-term ownership of private sites: Advertisements such as billboards, stickers or wall paintings, are by the very virtue of their nature attempts to own private sites for a stipulated lease. Usually, as it works in the real world outside the institute, advertisement sites, which are under private ownership, are given off to advertising firms in exchange for a remuneration. Using this same principle on the stickers, here they demonstrate an attempt to gain a symbolic ownership of these sites, ie. the mirrors, but without returning any compensation for the same to the hostelers who use them and consequently, with whom this ownership lies. Furthermore, so long as the stickers remain stuck, they diminish the utility of the mirrors and render them, in some sense, unusable for the very obvious reason that they block the image we intend to see when we stand in front of them. Stickers like such are also the kind which remain stuck until manually intervened and even then often leave an unsightly residue of the sticking glue behind. Longer the stickers remain, longer the ownership is seized sans repayment and longer the inconveniences levied on the residents.

Availability of other means through which inconveniencing could be avoided: There are places in the hostel premises which are deemed ‘common areas’ like a mess, where there are softboards and dining tables. The ownership of such sites is markedly distributed onto the sum total strength of the hostelers, diminishing it so much that the question of causing inconvenience to individuals does not really arise. Such places, in this case, were intentionally avoided perhaps on grounds of seeming too cliched an attempt to advertise an IB event as has been the tradition. Besides, there are other viable means such as Facebook pages, Whatsapp groups, Gmail threads and even, the good old, GPO mail service which allow the IB event to be publicised in front of virtually every student on campus. Despite the plethora of alternatives, the aggressive means to advertise on mirrors was valued disproportionately more than the rest.

Inconsiderateness about their removal: In the entire attempt to advertise this IB event, little thought was given to their removal, post event. The stickers, as can be attested to by any resident as well as PHO workers, are quite firmly affixed to the mirrors. More than the inconvenience levied on the residents, that on the PHO workers was largely ignored. The PHO workers work with a certain set of cleaning agents and tools that are suited for routine hostel requirements. Other traditional forms of advertisements, that can be easily removed, pose little problem to these conventional tool-sets. Expecting the maintenance workforce to now use their conventional agents to clean an unconventional element of such aggressive advertising, ie. the stickers on mirrors, is both ignorant and excessively demanding; specially when standard duties of a PHO worker keep them occupied through their entire shift leaving little time in their schedule to attend to such unruly stickers that from their viewpoint, comes out as another example of vandalism which is regrettably ubiquitous throughout the hostel premises.

Who is responsible for such ‘Irresponsible’ Advertising?

Virtually all IB’s, including past boards of this one – ‘Insight’, have at some point in their tenure resorted to such irresponsible advertising. But that does not make it justifiable to continue doing so. Whataboutery (as in, ‘but what about the other IBs?’) is never a satisfactory response and should never direct major motives especially when laxation to follow ethical standards on our part leads to inconveniencing many others. SARC’s Yearbook stickers are merely the most recent example of this imputation, but that in no way excludes the others. If you come to think of it, very often stickers are placed on the doors of rooms where, even if they don’t undermine the utility of the door itself, they signify a forced invasion of a resident’s privacy and an attempt at vandalism.

What change is this article advocating?

The necessity of this article draws from the fact that if we continue to normalise this means of aggressive and irresponsible advertising, we are bound to soon run into problems in the future; one of which would be the mistake to overlook ethical considerations in our actions. This article hopes that upon introspection we, as members of an IB, can start to look beyond the marginal profits gained through such forms of indelible advertisements and think about who will clean it, how long will it adhere to that site, will it be restricting utility of any facilities and in its clean up will the current workforce be competent and willing enough to remove it completely? If the answers are no, then we have entered unethical domains of advertising and should refrain from proceeding any further.

If not for stickers on mirrors then how else do we advertise our event?

It doesn’t take a maverick to think of this. Drawing from the legacy of this very institute which was one of the firsts to espouse a digital change in the country, we can resort to other means of advertising that are electronic. GPO is a mail service that links every student to every other. As already mentioned Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, and other social media platforms are readily available that have a wide enough reach to the students. Creative advertising does not necessarily have to imply aggressive advertising.

Wait, but they are all such cliched means?

Innovation can be displayed in the content rather than through the physical indelibility of the advertising. As an example, we can use ethically sustainable means like stickers which can come of easily and which can be disposed without ruining the aesthetics and more importantly the utility of hostel facilities. We can also use paper-based advertisements which are stuck using cellotape and can be removed effortlessly and even disposed off easily as paper qualifies as a common stationary waste which the maintenance workforce is capable of dealing with, as is routine. The key here is to be innovative without bordering on vandalism.

Why is this change better?

It is in our best interests as although our role as an advertiser of a specific IB event may be a short lived one, our more significant role is one of a conscientious student of a premier education institution in the country which prides itself in churning out leaders and creators of a just tomorrow. By heeding to the grievances of the consumers affected by such advertising we are displaying a sincere attitude of fair-play. This is surely going to prepare us well to replicate this ethical approach, should need be, in perhaps even more significant scenarios in the future.

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Chief Editor: Aparajeya Dash
Mail to: insight@iitb.ac.in