6 Indian Ads That Smashed Stereotypes, And 7 That Reinforced Them In 2015

Posted on December 29, 2015 in Culture-Vulture, Lists

By Lipi Mehta

Was 2015 the year when ads broke stereotypes or did they make us groan even more? Well, equal parts of both, I’d say. TV and print ads definitely became bolder and edgier this year, and didn’t hold when discussing a few issues that we usually talk about behind closed doors. However, there was also a slew of ads that made us raise our eyebrows and wonder about when things will really change.

Here’s a pick of 12 ads – 6 good and 6 bad and ugly – all of which made us sit up and take notice of some very pressing issues.

To start off with, the good.

1. Anouk Bold Is Beautiful – The Calling

Fashion brand Anouk took a strong stand against discrimination that pregnant women face at the workplace with this powerful ad. “Handicapped because I am pregnant,” says Radhika Apte, who plays the protagonist in the ad, as she looks her boss in the eye and makes a bold decision. This is probably one of my favourite ads of 2015 and a special mention to Anouk’s ‘Bold Is Beautiful’ campaign who attempted to showcase a lesbian relationship in a previous ad.

2. Ariel – Share The Load

Moving beyond ads that show women (wives and mothers usually) making sure that their child’s and husband’s clothes are sparkly white, there’s finally a campaign that highlights the need for equal distribution of household chores. What’s great is that Ariel turned this into a ‘movement’ with actors and other influential personalities talking about the issue as well.

3. Forest Essentials – Warrior Princess

If you were sick of ads that show women sensually eating a mango or slowly relishing a chocolate (ugh), you should watch this one. This ad changes the way most mainstream media look at women as ‘objects of beauty’. I am including this ad here also because Forest Essentials is essentially a beauty and wellness brand, and it’s a much-needed step that most beauty brands need to take to break stereotypes and change the way we usually perceive gender roles.

4. Fab Alley – What The F**k Should I Wear?

“Fuck the pressure, fuck expectations and fuck the fashion police!” Badass comedian Radhika Vaz shows her middle finger to how society expects someone (especially women) to dress and look in a certain way, to portray a ‘certain image’. In under 2 minutes, she smashes the idea of the ‘perfect’ or ‘accepted’ body type and says a big no to body shaming. A very welcome move by a clothing brand to ‘unfollow’ certain fashion standards and dress only for yourself and no one else.

5. Lloyd – Unisex Washing Machine

“Show it to her, it’s her department,” says a man to a salesperson showing him and his wife washing machines. In this refreshing ad, Lloyd questions if doing the laundry is only a woman’s responsibility. Watch this ad and look at the response the man’s wife gives him. High time we start having more discussions about shared responsibilities in the household!

6. JSW Steel – Will Of Steel

As a rooster crows at the crack of dawn, wrestler Geeta Phogat steps out of her house. The accompanying voiceover details the ‘dharm‘ or duties of an Indian woman: sweeping, cleaning, cooking, taking care of the household, as Geeta is shown running, doing pull-ups and push-ups and wrestling at a local akhada. In one clean sweep, this ad bashes patriarchy and sexism and stands against the rigid notions of ‘being a man’. And Geeta, the first Indian woman to win a gold at the Commonwealth Games, is extremely inspiring to watch, from start to finish.

And now, brace yourselves. Here’s the bad and the ugly.

1. Dabur Honey – #JealousHusbands

This ad makes me cringe for multiple reasons. Firstly, it’s not cute if your partner dictates how you should look or behave, it’s a sign of his or her controlling nature. Secondly, what’s with reinforcing the idea of the mangalsutra symbolising how the woman is ‘taken’ and ‘belongs’ to a man? In a country like India, where the ‘possession‘ of a wife by her husband is actually a reality, let’s not use our mainstream communication channels to spread such messages! Dabur, #JealousHusbands are not cute, not as a hashtag, and never in real life.

2. Quaker Oats Homestyle Masala

Another ad that follows a similar pattern of ‘Wife becoming fitter-Husband becoming jealous-Husband giving her attention’ is this one by Quaker Oats. “Sales figure ki jagah, aaj Rajiv ne Priya ka figure notice karne ki shuruat ki (Instead of paying attention to sales figures, Rajiv noticed Priya’s figure today)” – this is the how the ad begins. Need I say anything more?

3. Wild Stone Fragrance Deos

Haven’t we had enough of the ‘OMG you smell so good, I want you now’ messaging? I am really uncomfortable with how the image of a ‘sexy man’ is portrayed in many such ads that make women lose their sense of judgement suddenly, because an ethereal smell just wafted across the corridor. And in this ad, a soon-to-be bride “gets swayed” and “forgets her boundaries” (as per the lyrics of the background track) because that’s what a ‘manly man’ wearing a great deodorant can do. Also, why are we objectifying and sexualising women so much, no matter what the product we want to sell is?

4. Sanitation ads in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan

We can’t fight the sanitation crisis in India by reinforcing the patriarchal notion that women need to be kept at home, in their ‘ghoonghats’. These print ads by Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan talk about the need for building toilets in rural households, not because they can help improve health and hygiene, and prevent diseases, but to ensure that women stay at home, ‘where they belong’. While the messaging of this ad could also point towards increasing women’s safety, to equate it to women staying at home does nothing for sanitation and definitely nothing to fight patriarchy.

“Ensure that daughters and daughters-in-law don’t go too far. Construct a toilet at home.”
“Ensure that daughters and daughters-in-law don’t go too far. Construct a toilet at home.”
“Mother, when you wear the veil at home, why do you go outside to relieve yourself?”
“Mother, when you wear the veil at home, why do you go outside to relieve yourself?”

5. Book My Bai – Gift your wife a maid

In case you didn’t know, an Indian website, bookmybai.com, lets you hire maids so that, according to one housewife’s experience on their homepage, “I don’t need to enter the kitchen again”. They put out a disturbing ad a few months ago that read, “Diamonds are useless! Gift your wife a maid.” Alright then, let’s deconstruct this. Is a maid an object, a commodity, a gift, that a man can give to his wife? Have we, in our apathy towards how rigid and pervasive our class system is, forgotten that people who work as maids, are… people?

And please, the diamond stereotype? Again?

book my bai

6. Fair & Lovely Men – Face Wash

Ah, good old Fair & Lovely. While their messaging has thankfully changed over the years, we can’t deny the fact that these ads still exist and portray the notion of fairness as a prime measure of beauty, success, desirability, and more. In this ad, machoism meets fairness and I don’t know which is more groan-inducing. Also, a ‘dude’ with fair skin suddenly becomes a ‘chick magnet’. Take a moment to digest that.

7. UltraTech Cement – Build Beautiful

And that’s how you sexualise (and trivialise) the arduous task of constructing a building. UltraTech Cement’s ‘Build Beautiful’ ad portrays ‘ribbed’ men and ‘sculpted’ women running their hands across walls, carrying bags of cement and mixing it seductively. Because that’s who our construction workers are. Nope, they aren’t migrant labourers or daily-wage workers who struggle to end two ends meet; they don’t spend hours in the sun and nor do they stay away from their families for months on end. There are so many problems with UltraTech’s vision of ‘Build Beautiful’ and you’ll identify them as you watch this ad. (p.s. Every building is NOT a style statement, thanks very much.)