That other small people’s car, Volkswagen, is working very hard at making inroads into the Indian market. Their advertising agency, Mudra, has been going all out to get them some quick and fast visibility. First, there was the talking newspaper — Volkswagen partnered with Times of India and The Hindu to launch the Vento, their premium entry-level sedan. And now I stumbled on these — a series of ads with the caption: “The Volkswagen Phaeton. Handcrafted Luxury.”
The ads are done in the Kalamkari style, with a rath (chariot) standing in for Volkswagen’s most expensive offering. The use of Kalamkari is a very obvious way to convey to “handcrafting.” The other visual idea is to pun on”phaeton,” which is also the name of a kind of horse-drawn carriage. And there is a weak kind of humor, I suppose, in the visuals themselves, and in the juxtaposition of the Volkswagen with forest and battle scenes worthy of the Mahabharata.
But apart from that, these ads are exactly what I despise about half-hearted attempts at co-opting Indian art traditions. For one, there is no sense in choosing Kalamkari in particular, over other traditional crafts. Kalamkari is handcrafted, yes, but it is hardly considered a particularly luxurious craft form. And having chosen Kalamkari, the designers happily ignored the fact that the painstaking drawings are always done on cloth, with natural dyes. These ads have some burnt-paper-edges special effect that I simply do not comprehend.
A closer look reveals a greater horror. First those perfectly replicated border motifs, then the identical leaves and flowers, and worst of all, some cut-and-paste swirls in the clouds! This “Handcrafted” Kalamkari was created on a computer!
It is a pity, because Volkswagen has historically had some of the world’s best known, game-changing advertising campaigns. Mudra has failed to live up to their own Indian heritage on the one hand, and Volkswagen’s illustrious advertising legacy on the other hand. This is fusion gone terribly wrong. If they really want to portray their clients as having taken India to heart, they will have to try harder.