An advertisement of a washing powder shows a father doing the laundry to help his working daughter; the underlying message being that laundry is a gender-neutral chore. An ad for a watch brand shows actor Katrina Kaif telling viewers to not get married under social pressure. A commercial for a fan shows a husband taking on his wife’s name at the marriage registrar’s office.
What’s happening? Is Indian advertising turning over a new leaf and promoting feminism? Or are they just exploiting the trend for all it is worth?
As someone who has worked as an account executive and in marketing, I can tell you that the very nature of advertising is exploitative. Their job is to sell you things. But how they do it makes all the difference — whether they reinforce stereotypes, or choose to shine a light and leave you with a message that needs to be highlighted.
It is a thin line. How do you demarcate? I feel the difference lies in whether the advertisement is well-made and comes from the heart; if so, it should be left alone. If in the process of selling things, advertisers give us food for thought, it is far better than repeating hackneyed plots.
A good example of an ad that got it right is of the watch brand which shows two women as lovers, emerging out of a closet. This ad gives lesbian women the message that there are people like them out there, and they shouldn’t be afraid to own their sexuality.
But, why is feminism such hot property? As an MBA student, one of the first things you are taught is that women are micro-level decision-makers — though men take major decisions about mortgage and bank accounts, women are responsible for product purchases. So it makes sense to target them. And feminism is exotic in India right now. Before something becomes normal, it is fetishised and that’s exactly what’s happening right now.
What I do have an issue with, is ‘old-man advertising’, or ads that reinforce stereotypes. I am talking about commercials which show three generations of women going shopping for wedding jewellery. How do they find the time in the middle of the day? Shouldn’t they be at work?
Or take the ad where the woman is the boss of her husband at work, but calls him at night to ask him what she should make for dinner. Can’t they afford a maid, or can’t the husband cook for himself? Can’t she be the boss at home and at work?
A lot of ads are disguised to look modern, but promote the same old hetero-normative message. Why can’t jewellery or watch ads do something different for a change: show guys buying jewellery, or a single woman ordering online because her career leaves her with little time?
Beyond lip service, if advertisers are keen to make a difference, then let’s have ads on the LGBT community, on caste, sexual harassment or even the treatment of domestic help at home.
Be there: Vaz’s new show, Why is Everyone Trying to Irritate Me?, will be performed on February 18, 8pm
Where: At The Cuckoo Club, next to Candies, Bandra (W)
Ticket: Rs 450 on bookmyshow.com