AdStand: Gender identity and Wedding in Ads

This is the season where brands create messages that are socially responsible. Star Plus after its “Son of Devki” campaign is back with “Gurdeep Singh and Daughters” featuring Aamir Khan and two daughters. Family business in India has always been about Sons, and the sons are always on the masthead, having a daughter on the masthead of business is a nice step. IndiaMart last year while celebrating father’s Day had a similar take, where there is “Bedi and Daughters” instead of “Bedi and Sons” Incidentally both commercials have Sikhs as fathers who give their daughters equal space. May be there is something about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Sikh’s that inspired both narratives.

This is fantastic to come from a brand that is primarily women centric and produces content that is women centric. While a lot of the content from the channel may not be true to the sentiment in the ad, it’s powerful enough to be noticed and debated.

Gender identity is rather new to advertising. Most brands traditionally have not gone beyond the stereotypical roles. Even when brands have broken the mold, they have balanced it with the traditional homemaker roles. Even the Star Plus ad, balances women’s ability to actively grow business under the patriarchal lordship their father. We can argue, that the story could have been told from the daughter’s perspective, but that wasn’t the case. There is a long way to go before brands take the traditional women centric brands and tell stories that are reflective of modern times and values.

There is an odd Fastrack or Tansihq, but most brands have not been brave enough.

While at gender identity and speaking with women consumers, fairness Cream as the category has borne the biggest brunt. The colour of skin has always been the tool to get ahead, be happy, successful or whatever else. Dark skin was always the curse. The new fairness cream commercials have tried to tone down the rhetoric, but they remain focused on ‘fair is better’.

The portrayal that needs to change in Indian advertising is wedding. From jewllery to automobiles, weddings in India have always been shown as grand and indulgent. Even on content when YRF did a web-series called Bang Baaja Bride, the weddings were large, lavish, grand and indulgent. Why is it that in popular culture, weddings have not been deglamorized?  The jewellery brands may not; weddings are the single biggest occasion for buying jewllery, but a host of other brands have not done so. Expensive cars sponsor wedding shows, one German Marquee brand even encourages parents to gift the car as part of dowry.

There are many brands which have wedding as central theme, and the portrayal of wedding has been stuck in time. Bollywood may have a reason to mount wedding films on grand scale, but commercially it may be time to look at austereness.

Gurdeep Singh and Daughters is a fine way to look at gender portrayal, not in the way it has been currently told, but exactly in the way it has not been told. About ambitions, about skills, about ability to further family name, and dare I say about weddings that are not grand, lavish and Bollywoodish.

Original published here:

AdStand: The Gender Balance In Advertising


On the New Year eve, the act that happened in Bangalore shocked the nation. There were men caught on camera groping women and misbehaving. The reaction from political class was on expected lines, blaming the western culture and the usual unseen monsters. The outrage this time was serious and intense, this forced the CM of Karnataka to acknowledge the problem and apologise.

This one incident forced me to think why we in advertising cannot change the narrative. There are some outlier brands that are talking of gender sensitivity, but most brands are about playing the dominant societal codes in their communication. Brands often do not reflect the progressive mindset, they reflect the dominant ones, and this helps them be seen positively by the mainstream consumers.

The question then to debate is this: what happens if the brands decide to relook at most of the dominant codes they push in advertising. What happens if the brands actually push the new gender sensibilities? Maybe the brands can become the drivers of new sensibilities. If the advertising campaigns can drive the new sensibilities, the consumers will connect in stronger, engaging ways.

The first thing that needs to change is the way mothers are portrayed. The mothers are always the nurturer, the provider of food, the ones who take care of hair, teach beauty tips to daughters, get evaluated for making fluffy chapattis and see love soar because they can make tea. Change this scenario. Let mothers only be seen with sons. The conversation between mother and sons is about being responsible, about being responsive, about knowing how house is run, discovering that there are no demons in kitchen. The conversation can go beyond mother and son to between mother-son-daughter. This is the conversation where the son actually listens to life’s truth as told by sister. There is a huge change in perspective that advertising can drive. From noodles to atta to tea to milk additives, mothers can drive a change that needs to be driven.

The second thing that needs to change is the entire alpha male portrayal. Why should men be in control in categories like automobiles and deodorants?

A deodorant is the category where man gets to choose girl or girls depending on his sex appeal that is enhanced exponentially. The narrative can change. If deodorants is about sexual attraction than the attraction can be crafted in reverse. The choice moves from men to women, who chose based on factors far more than pure machismo. If the category is built on sexual attraction, then the category can build narratives that are driven from women’s point of view. Male superiority works for the alpha male, but also becomes the wrong narrative for the wider society. This is true even more of automobile category. Here the male becomes attractive thanks to a set of two or more wheels. It’s easy to move the needle and make women attractive thanks to two or more wheels. There are many more things that can change in this category, all with the underlying theme of male superiority.

Financial category has always portrayed father in control, and often the context is of father and family with son playing a prominent role. This is a category where the predominant roles of males need to be tempered and balanced to create a far more balanced narrative. This has implications beyond gender balance, more so because the category has poor penetration among women.

The issue of subservience of women in society is deep rooted. These are realities that find their way into advertising and through ads into popular culture without trying too hard. The spiral continues, the perceptions get hardened and pop culture moves in certain direction, doesn’t evolve to a new look. With the deep-rooted biases against women now being played out in open in the biggest of cities in India, we need systemic intervention to change.

Advertising has the power to drive change, advertising can create new reality. Its time that we collectively stepped up and make this small change in narrative. The change cannot be driven by an odd outlier brand.

Original published here