I am cynical by temperament. My first instinct is to be suspicious about things, events, people and, more importantly, promises. And thank god for that. Perhaps, this negative mindset has helped me hold on to my hard-earned savings. The gullible and the so-called ‘positive thinkers’ have had terrible experiences. Especially because they leaped into insurance plans before they looked, falling prey to misleading advertisements, not bothering to ask important questions.
Which brings me to the main issue: Shouldn’t it be mandatory for insurance ads on television to clearly spell out the exact deals they offer? Along with the exact rates of return, the risk factors, the hidden downsides, etc? Sure, they can make all sorts of promises of a dazzling future, but they must also state the not-so-good news.
Well, that doesn’t happen. Nor does the statutory risk warning bell go off. So all we are left with are lofty claims and delirious promises. Future Generali promises you will have enough dosh to buy quartz watches for 600 behenjis. Max New York Life promises a sensational future for your kids, even if they grow up to be ‘idiots’. HDFC Standard Life asks you to ‘Sar utha ke jiyo’. And the loser in their ad is a sad bald man and the smartie, a cool dude. (I protest! Baldies are known to be prosperous gents!). Canara HSBC Life Insurance wants to insure your emotions (I kid you not). ICICI Lombard promises blanket protection for your family. Quite literally. SBI Life Insurance promises you will drive a lambi gaadi at the age of 60, while singing classic Hindi songs for your geriatric wife. TATA AIG is determined to turn your kids into superstars. Kotak Life Insurance goes a step further. Your kids could become astronauts, doctors, cricketers or rock stars. LIC’s Jeevan Saral promises ice golas for your kids (so maybe they are being honest, hehe). And the list goes on.
Now here’s what ad agencies and their clients will tell you in their defence, and I quite empathise with their predicament. In a 30-second (and often less) TV commercial, it just isn’t possible to load mathematics. Not just that. The non-captive and entertainment-led medium does not allow for cold facts and figures. Yup, this is true, to an extent. People will smash their LCD sets if, between the overs during an IPL match, bar and pie-charts are shoved down their throats. Fair enough. So the marketers have no choice but to use the medium to attract viewers, expecting them to do their homework later, by reading prospectuses and grilling the insurance company staffers (the ICICI dudes will patiently chat with you till the wee hours of the morning). But, as we know, that’s usually not how it plays out. People get carried away with celestial promises, blindly invest their funds and get heavy shocks later (just as in the Havells fans commercial).
Maybe the time has come for the regulators to take a hard decision. Either the insurance companies find a way to spell out the good and gory details in their TV ads, or these ads need to be banned from television. And the marketers can opt for captive media such as the press and the Internet to sell their wares. With full details. Sounds harsh? It is. But it’s a lot better than zillions of citizens blowing up their savings and dreams.
The problem of misleading ads is as old as the hills. All sorts of brands have been pulled up in the past for misleading consumers. From health drinks to detergent powders to toothpastes to automobiles. To some degree, people can absorb those shocks. But a misleading insurance ad can cause serious damage. To one’s livelihood. And to those who the insurer leaves behind. To not rest in peace. — Anil Thakraney