Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Of Modern Advertising & Women

- Harsha Daga
IIM Shillong

“We’re waiting for the day when curvy girls in advertisements won’t make headlines anymore.”

While we ponder over the subject, the latest ads by brands like Biba and Anouk come to our
mind that instantly light us up. But well, let me ask you rewind a little. Or rather divert your attention a bit because hello, we still live in an era where stereotyping gender and races prevail. Quoting a combined analysis of 60+ studies, researchers tried to establish linkages between types of roles played by women as against their male counterparts over a series of advertisements and products. The results are amusing:
  • Women were 4 times more likely than men to not have a speaking role
  • Women were 3 times more likely than men to be presented as a product user rather than an authority
  • Women were 3.5 times more likely than men to be presented at home or in a domestic environment (vis-à-vis at work)
  • Women were 2 times more likely than men to be associated with domestic products like body care and home goods.
So if this is the status quo, what is the harm? The hindrance lies in the quest to look for an answer to the question of whether advertising (and media, so to say) mirrors the society or molds it.  The answer to this varies through the decades. In the past, till say 1980s, veterans believed that the media industry thrived due to the societal representation it held and it received its share of popularity owing to its relatability with the audience’s daily strides. However, now the landscape has changed completely. The kind of reach television has earned over the past three decades has completely overhauled the situation. And this exponential increase has resulted into a plethora of opportunities for marketers and advertisers. They now have the power to bring about a change in the society, to up their game as progressive brands, to differentiate themselves as open and new.

So now there are Type-A advertisements that simply objectify women and in a way shame the feminist. Then there Type-B are commercials that are very boldly supporting the new age independent women of today, and do it very well. And then comes the third kind, Type-C advertisements that really want to break through the norms of advertising and become one of the 

‘Type-B’ but fail in doing so, partly because of the misconstrued meaning of feminism and women empowerment.

Of course we come across a host of Type-A and Type-B adverts and very easily categorize them as one of the two. However, it is this Type-C category that needs our kind attention as they work well only until someone points out flaw in them, which in today’s day and age is as easy as a click of a button. 

So let us see some advertisements of the Type-C category that I would like to call the Disguised Category.

  • Amazon - When a Woman Shops

This advertisement by Amazon was to highlight the reasons why women shop. They call it a social experiment. The video ran by a few husbands trying to answer what they expect their wives to buy if given a gift voucher worth Rs.5000, and their responses ranged from clothes to make-up. The revelation came when the husbands were in for a shock after their spouses had bought clothes but for their husbands and kids, and other products that would revive their memories. Hence, trying to change the notion that women shop to indulge.

What went wrong?
It’s like “why repair what is not broken”. Amazon was hinting at changing a notion which was never wrong. Obviously not all women love to shop, but the advertisement is in a way trying to demean the ones that do. It is disrespectful for women who believe in shopping for themselves, and indulging into it. Come on Amazon, you can’t ask the shopaholics to be apologetic about it. That’s where you get your revenues from.

  • Saffola
So this is not the first time that Saffola depicts a homemaker (always a married woman)
purchasing their newest product available. The advertisement features these ladies dawning western clothes having a sense of independence as it depicts them taking daily decisions for their household which shape the health of the family as against the earlier researches that concluded that women are rarely shown possessing the ability to take purchase decisions.

What went wrong?
This particular advertisement is flawed in so many ways. To begin with, the series of advertisements always show a woman only in the role of a homemaker. Is it because a majority of society believes that household is a woman’s job or are men incapable of taking it up? Then, is it that problems of the heart, including high cholesterol and risk of heart attack, are faced by men alone? I ask this because the commercial never highlights the need of protecting the women from such cardiac diseases. According to them, women are only supposed to care for their husband/family and not think of their own health, which in today’s lifestyle does need a lot of attention. To end with, dear advertiser, you could have at least added a daughter to the family to be realistic.

  • Titan Raga
Well to begin with, of course this is one of the best femvertisements we have seen so far. Featuring Nimrat Kaur, the commercial shows how the women of today set their own priorities and make their own choices. The protagonist is a successful women who broke her relationship when the man tried to bind her by asking her to quit her job. And we love her for the decision she took

What went wrong?
The advertisement indicates that a person (be it a woman or a man) can have only one of the two: a successful career or a functional relationship. There is a middle-way which a majority of the people take. And being in a relationship while focusing on your career is not multitasking. As much as we love the empowered woman of Titan Raga, we would like you know that had you depicted the lead being single out of choice rather than because of work pressure, we would have celebrated it all the more.

  • The Superfone Ninja with Aisha

The video beautifully shows Aisha as a progressive modern woman who is past the
insecurities of her boyfriend leaving her. She is not only attractive but an extremely smart girl who very well knows how to respond to sexual innuendos gracefully.

What went wrong?
One would think where Micromax went wrong. Well, the hit came when the marketers tried to project Aisha, the voice app on Superfone Ninja, as the ideal girlfriend that any guy would wish for. The advert not only tries to stereotype women as being the ‘jealous’ one but also attempts at strengthening the notion that ‘men only think of sex’.

  • Fair & Lovely

Now how can a talk on feminism and modern advertising be complete without the mention
of Fair & Lovely. However, if you carefully analyze, this commercial has all the elements needed in a successful Indian advertisement. A father-daughter relationship with a healthy discussion between them. The protagonist desiring a nice job and an own house. A trusted friend who is ready with a solution to all the problems in this world.

What went wrong?
The answer is EVERYTHING. Well yeas it was a healthy discussion but surrounding the topic of marriage. The fathers of today think beyond the wedding bells and guide their daughters through the difficulties they face. The fail happened when the protagonist became ambitious after she became fair. The marketers would not have even realized how easily they projected that women who have darker skin colors are not worthy of self-enlightenment and can be enthusiastic about their careers only after applying their master product. Here I also pity the advertisers because come on, no amount of marketing can ever make a fairness cream an inclusive product.

And the list can go on. However, with 2014 being established as the year of feminist
advertising, or femvertising, we have seen some great work emerging in 2015 and 2016 so far. With campaigns like ‘Share The Load’ by Ariel, ‘You Can Be Anything’ by Barbie, and Microsoft’s International Women’s Day special ‘Make Whats Next’, the landscape has never been better. Throughout the past decade, marketers have raised quite a lot of questions such as what is the position of women in decision making, are men incapable of being emotional, is it only the women who are objectified by the media and so on. Whereas, now it’s time we start providing for solutions. It’s time that the advertisements become more proactive and encourage the audience to take things in their control.

So in the era of feminism and change, here is the mantra for successful branding and marketing:
  • Be consistent, clear and genuine
While you try to shift your brand from an anti-feminism or a neutral one to a pro-feminism one, of course the consistency is bound to break. But remember, once you have reached the desired spot, you not only need to be true to your words but also need to stay clear of any confusion that your target customer may have in perceiving you.

  • Promote self-worth and internal empowerment

More than anything, to strike the right chord with your target and eventually convert their attraction and appreciation towards your brand into purchases, the brand must focus of empowerment of the mind and soul and not of the body. And when I say empowerment, not only by way of advertisement of promotions. All the four/seven Ps of the marketing strategy need to be altered to be inclusive not only of the sexes but of races, religion and distinguished human behavior.
  • Build an emotional connect

Tell your consumers that you not only understand their struggle but stand with them while they face those hurdles. No this is not sympathizing, but empathizing with the target market to induce a pull effect towards brand connect and loyalty.

So all you marketers out there; buck-up, because the audience is waiting for revamped, renewed and real Modern Advertisement which breaks the barriers not only for creativity but for the community, society and world at large

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