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Women through the lens of commercial advertising

I can say I have a more than keen interest in advertising. Having worked in Ogilvy Mumbai HR department and being with a husband who had an advertising career, I have seen the industry up, close and personal.

One of the things I believe to be true is that the portrayal of women in advertising is a lot more progressive than their general depiction in a majority of TV soaps and even Bollywood.

While the ‘dekho mere pati ki kameez kitni safed hai’ advertising also exists and the occasional inner wear ads do regress; a spate of TV ads in the last few years have pushed the norm and busted many societal mores. Here’s my observation as a woman and a coach.

Soch Badlo – Woman as the influencer and the soft power centre at home. The Tata Tea Jaago Re TV ads have portrayed everyday women as conscience keepers in the home amazingly well. Whether it’s chiding the husband to avoid triple riding on bike even while going out to vote or gently saying to bring about real change, ‘humein soch badalni hogi’; the Tata Tea Jaago Re campaign to my mind is amongst the best. It uses normal situations and moments and yet successfully re-frames the male-female power equation.

Meri Beti Hai Mera Beta – Again I have seen a few TV ads that have managed to successfully punch holes in this Indian ‘beta syndrome’. Be it daughters stepping up to shoulder financial responsibilities or buying a car for the family in insurance ads; the traditional role reserved for boys has been questioned and gently appropriated. A much welcome change, I would say.

Woman as Father Figure – Another great ad is by the health drink – Bournvita. For years, the mother was shown as the silent caregiver and provider; but this ad where she eggs on her son to outrun her again successfully reframes the women’s role as the coach, motivator and the father figure. We are unclear whether she is a single parent or whether the husband works in another city. Regardless of the reason, it successfully pushes the envelope of the role a mother plays in her child’s life.

Second marriage – Hats off to Tanishq to really make this bold commercial. From the days when a traditional Indian household wouldn’t even want to disclose that it has a divorcee daughter or a widow daughter-in-law, to this ad where a leading jewelery brand makes second marriage as its central story, Indian advertising has definitely come a long way.

I am not a kitchen appliance – This Havel’s ‘Respect Woman’ series is one of my favourites. The series successfully demolishes the old advertising and media archetype of a husband- T h i r d S p e a k So here’s how women look like!! Through the lens of commercial advertising, it explored husband wife relationship. It’s a great series that makes viewers think – if the man and the woman play equal roles outside in the world, why should the home be any different? Simply, firmly and yet not in a preachy way. The quiet humour makes even more hard hitting. Respect!

Wife cum Boss – Lastly, this Airtel TV ad where the man and the woman work in the same office and the woman is the boss, generated one hell of a controversy. The woman is shown as doing more important work in office, she goes home early while the husband is left to complete the work. But then the ‘boss woman’ rustles up a great meal to compensate her man. The verdict was divided whether it pushed for a more career driven empowered woman or whether the wife is still shown subservient to the man in the house. I, for one, would say this ad pushed the boundary. 8 out of 10 Indian men might be quite uncomfortable with the idea of their wife being their boss, be it at home or in the office. So this ad did re-frame the spousal relationship and reflected the changing reality and social adjustments.

There are a lot of inner-wear, perfume and deodorant, and low priced cleaning powder ads on TV that still portray a more regressive woman – submissive to the male, with limited influence and often there just to prop the glamour quotient of a SUV or a bathroom fitting. But things have changed. Little by little, women in advertising today look and act very differently than those in the 80’s and 90’s. They have a voice and they get their way!

Many leading brands have done innovative bold scripts and taken the lead. So the change has both reflected the changed reality and also inspired more change.

Power to such efforts and stories. May their tribe increase!

This article was first published on BizDivas.in

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