Advertisers play well with our subconscious biases and primarily reflect upon the common ideologies of societies – thereby, leaving no stone unturned in strengthening them further. Although there is no empirical and theoretical evidence to validate the interconnection between society’s ideological flaws and the regressive content of ads, we can easily draw parallels between ads and everyday practices by closely observing our surroundings.
For example, almost all fairness cream ads have cleverly forced us to believe that a ‘fair skin’ is the primary parameter for beauty – and anything below that is ugly and unacceptable. Interestingly, it is often believed that the ‘skin colour’ in a box of crayons is the lightest shade of orange. In my opinion, this also enforces the idea that other shades of skin need to be beautified and improved through beauty lotions and creams. This shows how ad campaigns play a major role in exacerbating the existing ideological flaws in society.
In 2017, we witnessed heaps of such advertisements endorsing regressive ideas in the society.
1. Raymond – ‘The Complete Man’
Raymond is one of the oldest cloth-manufacturing companies in India. Its products have often been revered for there fine texture, variety and longevity.
Recently, the company has ventured into making clothes and apparel for women – but the ad’s tagline, “The complete man” seems to have neglected the idea that women also need to be suited up to head out for work. The new ads on Raymond’s autumn collection doesn’t feature women donned in suits – they can only be seen swooning over nicely-dressed men.
2. Colgate – ‘Maa Ka Bharosa’
Struggling to recreate its mark, Colgate launched a new advertising campaign to rope the ‘mothers’ into it. The ad shows mothers (who aren’t actors) talking about the benefits of the toothpaste, with the voice-over in the end saying that Colgate is what mothers endorse. But where are the fathers? Aren’t they also responsible for taking care of their child’s dental health? Unfortunately, we don’t see any father in the ad.
3. Rin Detergent Soap – ‘Exclusively For Women’
Like most other detergent soap ads, the new Rin bar advertisement shows how the new soap can help women save a lot of water. We don’t see men washing clothes in the ad, which, in a way, endorses the fact that only women are responsible for cleaning clothes. Therefore, they are the only ones who need to be careful while selecting the suitable cleaning liquid or soap.
Gendered And Social Scripts
All of these examples show how advertisements often proliferate gender-based biases by normalising general assumptions/stereotypes. The fact that a suit-manufacturing brand doesn’t feature women (despite the fact that the brand manufactures women’s apparel as well) or that women (mothers and wives) are shown to be solely responsible to take care of their kids’ and family’s health and sanitation substantiate and justify the idea that women and men need to adhere to the roles assigned to them – and that one cannot/should not question these baseless categorisations.
John Gagnon and William Simon’s work on sexual scripts and predictable sequences in the construction of gender identities (“Sexual Conduct: The Social Sources of Human Sexuality”) talks about how gender-based identities are enforced upon us by repeatedly bombarding information in the form of script or language. The above-mentioned regressive ads can be considered as ‘gendered scripts’ which only enforce gender-based biases and even normalise them, in a certain way.
There have also been a few progressive ad campaigns which did not abide by the rules of a ‘gendered script’. Rather, they attempted to question these rules. Piyush Pandey (Chairman, Ogilvy and Mather), while talking about the importance of unconventional ad campaigns, said, “It’s not that advertising is some sort of a moral guide, but it still has certain responsibilities towards society as it reaches millions of homes and influences people.”
Here are some progressive ad campaigns of 2017:
1. Ghadi Detergent- ‘Saare Mael Dho Daalo’
Ghadi Detergent launched an ad campaign a week before Holi to raise a voice against eve-teasing during the festival. This ad was shared on different social media platforms, and a lot of people came out in support of it.
The campaign was later pitched during Diwali to break the common perceptions associated with the police (who are generally believed to be corrupt).
2. Vicks- ‘Touch of Care’
Based on a true story, this ad features a transgender person who fights daily to educate her adopted daughter. To my knowledge, this is the first time we saw a transgender person being portrayed in an unconventional manner in an ad. The ad campaign was rightly applauded worldwide for its progressive portrayal of a transgender person.
3. FruitsUp TVC – ‘Nayi Soch Ke Liye Naya Swaad’
Featuring Bollywood actress Taapsee Pannu, this ad speaks against the age-old tradition of dowry in the Indian marriage system. The ad shows Taapsee (the would-be bride) confidently asking her would-be in-laws whether they can afford the hefty items demanded as dowry. This sarcastic statement subtly questions the flawed tradition of dowry in Indian society.
4. Titan Raga – ‘Mom By Choice’
This emotionally-stirring ad shows a woman talking about motherhood not as a sacrifice but as a choice. She talks about her own mother who did not give up on her dreams and aspirations, even after becoming a mother.
This ad campaign stands exactly opposite to all those ‘mother-centric’ ads which depict household responsibilities being forced upon a mother (like the above-mentioned Colgate’s ‘Maa Ka Bharosa’ ad). In fact, this ad celebrates motherhood – not by considering it as a societal pressure, but as a woman’s self-made choice. In short, it talks about the ‘changing times’.
5. Comfort After Wash- ‘A Small Step For Big Shine’
This ad of a fabric conditioner tends to uphold Aerial’s ‘Share The Load‘ ad campaign which questioned the idea of only a woman doing the laundry at home.
The Comfort After Wash ad has a mother teaching her son to use the fabric conditioner, and then asking him why only Shruti (his sister) should be asked to wash clothes. This detergent ad can be contrasted with the other detergent ads where we only see women doing the job of cleaning. This ad shows how small changes can make a big impact on social structures.
All of these progressive ad campaigns do not talk about shaking mountains or altering all social structures. Rather, they endorse bringing in small changes in our daily practices. Unlike the general perception, these progressive ad campaigns don’t lose their brand value when they question the common ideologies. In fact, it provides them an edge over other ad campaigns and brands – and eventually contributes to their reach and influence.
These progressive ads can be looked upon as a positive sign for big changes that the society may see in the recent future. This process can only be accelerated when all the existing brands come up with more of these progressive ideas.
What would you add to this list? Add it in the comments below or publish a post about it.