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

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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.)

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    Feminists never talk about the fact that women always marry men richer than them, earning more than them, men who are well-settled. Women certainly don't complain when men house their wives, let them drive their car, take them to restaurants, on vacations, holidays, buy them jewellery, take them shopping, spend on their clothes, cosmetics, sandals, purses, spa, beauty saloons, pedicures, manicures, etc.

  2. Jigsaw

    Dabur again! Countless women feel proud to wear the mangalsutra and it entails dignity and respect, while many wear it for its style or as a fashion statement. How about it is sexist that men have to spend their entire lives earning for women but women don't have to earn for men. That is sexist. Also, why is it that men go running around on Valentine's Day buying chocolates, flowers, rings, teddy bears etc. That is sexist. It is men who propose, not women. Sexist.

  3. G.L.

    I'll think about this blog post when a woman gets on her knees to propose, and after a divorce she pays alimony, child support, and parts with half of her property.

  4. S

    To all the men who just complained about how women don’t mind spending their boyfriend’s/husband’s money.
    First of all you’re utterly wrong. Some women do have a spine and enough self respect to never ASK for materialistic gifts.
    Obviously there are some women who simply take advantage of thd social “rules”. I am pretty sure those are the ones(might be your girlfriends) who marry for money and do not have an ambition in life.
    It’s the same as an overwhelming percentage of men are rapists, wife beaters, mysogynists and simply violent pigs!

    Secondly, aaah the mangalsutra! Women who respect their individuality do not want their dictatorial husbands fixing their mangalsutra just for the world to see that she is “TAKEN”.
    Well, guess what? Women aren’t OBJECTS that you can OWN!

    Thirdly, the Indian law leans towards women because for centuries MEN have forced them into believing that their place is in the kitchen. For centuries, women have been raped, beaten, tortured for raising their voices so now if the law is giving them a bit of an advantage, men should just keep their mouths shut.
    Infact, why don’t do some research on marital rape? The SC clearly thinks it’s okay to rape your wife because TRADITIONS and MARRIAGE are more important than the dignity of a woman in this country.

  5. kanika nayan

    Hey…i liked that dabur honey ad with aditi..i think it was cute. n what’s wrong in wearing a a mangalsutra? sure, women should not be forced but there’s nothing wrong in wearing it. it’s like a wedding ring. i would love to wear one when m married. and it was such a cute ad.
    Quaker oats was also good. u need to stay fit to keep the romance alive 🙂

  6. kanika nayan

    quaker oats and dabur ad was indeed cute.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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