By Shambhavi Saxena:
I can’t think of an evening of TV-watching, in the last ten or more years, where I haven’t pursed my lips together and massaged a throbbing vein in my temple because of the barrage of substandard advertisements regurgitating the same lopsided power relations that we see every day in real life. Sexist divisions of labour, the objectification of bodies, passive femininity and all kinds of shaming – because nothing sells like low self-esteem. These ads are normalizing blatantly unjust, socially prescribed and maintained dynamics. Which is why, when I come across an ad that doesn’t do this, I actually hunt it down on YouTube and put it in my collection, like a set of rare Pokémon cards.
Here are some of those select ads that really did the trick for me. So, sit back and enjoy:
When Fastrack came out with this one a few years ago, I wasn’t expecting much, because they’d been doing narratives about casual sex and hooking up and urban youth break ups for a while, and I was pleasantly surprised by their choice of queer representation. Yes I know, both women look an awful lot alike, they’re model thin and overtly feminine, but hey! An Indian ad about lesbians? Trumps an ad about some soccer mom washing her son’s dirty shorts doesn’t it?
This one is rather old, and not likely to be on Indian screens, but still, it’s extremely powerful, and not to mention humorous. Not only is it an ad promoting renewable energy, but the writing, direction and concept are simply lovely. Mad props for imagination, Epuron. Well done.
Alright, you’ve probably seen this one. And you’re probably not thrilled about the line: “Anything is possible when your man smells like Old Spice and not a lady.” I know. I wasn’t either. But then I got to thinking – they can’t be serious right? I mean, the hyper-masculinity of this ad is hilariously overstated, so much so that the viewer must go through a sequence of surprise, confusion, derisive laughter, and then real laughter. The ad is, in case you haven’t realized, taking a dig at all those other over-manly men’s cosmetic products, and in my opinion they really do manage it well. It is completely unrealistic, just like all those other ads, but whereas those take themselves very seriously and expect the viewer to as well, Old Spice is having a laugh at the entire tradition. Also, not using a white dude for the ad? Nice touch.
This ad features a trans woman. And she isn’t a caricature, or comic relief, or the manifestation of some straight, cisgendered man’s transmisogynistic imagination. Part of a series of spots by telecom company Idea, the ad introduces the primary character in a sympathetic way, a conflict that affects her, and also how she’s empowering herself through the service being advertised. Ultimately, it’s marketing, but let’s not pretend that seeing a trans woman on TV is not changing the way a lot of people see hijras in our country.
This ad is too close for comfort. That’s why I love it. Way to exploit a social phenomena in a non-dehumanizing, non-sexist, non-shaming sort of way, Docomo! The intense, verbally heavy voice-over, coupled with this girl’s trivial attempts at getting some approval online kind of really sums up what much of the eGeneration (or should I say iGeneration?) in India is like. The ad doesn’t say there’s anything wrong with it. In fact, Docomo is more than happy to enable this sort of behaviour. And why not? It may be a little narcissistic, but so what if somebody likes taking selfies? It’s not genocide or abuse or bullying or patriarchal oppression.
By the time you get midway, you’re about convinced that this is no ordinary anti-aging cream ad. Because it’s not. You can’t not love this ad. Like the Old Spice commercial, Asian Paints takes a dig at a tradition, and it sure is fun to watch. The overdone hair blowing and disconnected shots of scenery typical of cosmetic cream ads is immediately recognizable. Side note: equating beauty creams with house paints only emphasizes the fact that external appearances are probably best left for inanimate objects and should have no bearing on your worth as a human being. Now that’s smart advertising.