Portrayal of women in advertisements has been the subject of debate for long. And for a reason. While some ads are sexist, others can be downright objectionable. Things may have somewhat changed in the past few decades, but women continue to be the best bet in the battle to catch the consumer’s attention.
It's a beautiful relaxed evening in a well-lit hotel. A sharply dressed, smooth young man leans across the table and recounts a jungle adventure for his friends. Turns out, he was lost for miles and even worse, swarmed by a pack of half-naked, savage, jungle women. The women invade him in the most predatory fashion possible and he barely makes it by the skin of his teeth. His saviour is one from the pack who knows her way around a Mahindra vehicle. She tides him away to safety. The baseline goes: May your life be full of stories.
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? India's leading ad men have frequently sacrificed women at the altar of creativity. They have fed raunchy, titillating images of women to catch consumers' attention for the sake of selling their goods and services. Gender stereotypes are also common in ads. So it is nice to have a girl around the house. A super mom in the kitchen. A dominatrix in office. And a seductress in bed. The themes change but the sub-text doesn't.
KV Sridhar, chief creative officer, India subcontinent, Leo Burnett admits that advertising has a big part to play in how women are perceived in society. "Advertising is reduced to a bad joke. A lot of brand managers seem to think that using a sexual plank increases sampling. Skimpily clad Russian models, for instance, are in great demand in India. Though the intent is to appear aspirational, most brands don't appear sexy or desirable." he said.
Social activists feel that using women as ponies in advertising goes a long way in promoting stereotypes and hardening of stances on their role in the society. This is an industry comprising men mainly and speaking mainly to men, they allege. The ad industry is still stuck in the glorious Don Draper era. For the record, Draper is the mercurial, sexy, yet sexist lead protagonist of the American drama series Mad Men. The show encapsulates the story of a New York agency called Sterling Cooper, in the '60s and chronicles brilliantly the gender strife during that period. Interestingly, we are