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Indian ads still celebrate ‘perfect’, not ‘crazy’

  • Nike’s new global campaign is about how it is necessary for women to be assertive
  • Indian advertising’s challenge to societal norms has been more cautious

Ahead of International Women’s Day, global sports brand Nike rolled out its campaign Dream Crazier, with women athletes at its centre. It shows them as real people with aggression and emotion, asking them to “show what crazy can do". The ad, voiced by tennis player Serena Williams, is a stunning montage of women at their passionate, athletic best.

Closer home in India, brands are taking baby steps to push the women’s empowerment narrative further, with more nuanced takes on gender equality than before.

Whether it’s Ariel’s Share The Load campaign, Havells’ Hawa Badlegi campaign, Tata Tea Jaago Re 2.0, HUL’s fabric softener brand Comfort ad featuring a mother teaching her son to do laundry, or the Dalda spot which featured Bollywood actor Tisca Chopra encouraging her son to try his hand at cooking, Indian advertising has been subverting gender stereotypes. Ironically, these ads are often sandwiched between Hindi soaps that advance the worst stereotypes about a woman’s role in home and society.

Lounge asked four advertising experts about how far Indian advertising has come when it comes to creating gender-balanced ads.

It starts with the idea


Chief creative officer, Ogilvy India (West)

Many years ago, there was a television commercial for Femina which showed a daughter getting her mother ready for her second marriage. I fell in love with that piece. At that point, I don’t think I articulated it to myself as an empowering gender portrayal, but now that I think back, that is what it was. The bold, forward-looking mother-and-daughter story charmed me. Gender-equal advertising has to start with the idea itself. We have cultivated the awareness to discard any idea that takes us back to a stereotypical place. We need to constantly talk to our teams to make sure that they fully understand the importance of showing women as equal, powerful and real. I think Dove does a good job around the world of making women feel great about themselves.

‘Fat’ is real. ‘Ugly’ is real. ‘Stressed’ is real.


National creative director, Dentsu Impact

On and off, one would find an interesting piece of advertising which shows women in a different light, but the large base is still the stereotypical bahu (daughter-in-law) or saas (mother-in-law) or a glamour object. Technically, we aren’t selling to the woman CEO or the genius Nasa scientist, are we? We are still far away from changing perceptions in or outside of advertising. Most of the customers we sell to exist in the imagination of marketing gurus. They imagine a supermom/superwoman/superwife who is near perfect, looks good, has long hair, brings up her kids efficiently, and always cooks fresh food. But what is the definition of “real"? “Fat" is real. “Ugly" is real. “Stressed" is also real. “Messed up" is also real. This hypocrisy of what we consider real versus what actually is, leads to stereotypical and claustrophobic advertising. themselves.

Equality at home


Chairman and chief creative officer, BBDO India

In 2014, when we started working on sanitary brand Whisper, we tried to break societal stereotypes and taboos. In January 2015, we launched Ariel’s Share The Load campaign, which was one of the first powerful movements. We tried to focus on highlighting gender equality at home. It made people take a personal look at the issue. At BBDO, we work with young creative minds that are highly sensitive about gender and the discrimination that has happened in the past. When we write our scripts, today we are more inclusive and diverse in our approach. Often we look at a particular character in the ad from varied perspectives, fleshing it out wholly in a continuously changing social environment.

More women in financial advertising


Chief creative officer, Lowe Lintas

Since our craft starts with understanding the audience and then talking to them, there’s no question of not respecting sensibilities and preferences. That said, there have been particular categories targeted at men that have ended up trivializing women, particularly when the pitch has been of attraction. These categories need to mature. We cannot divorce ourselves from our role of impacting society. One immediate change I would like to see is inclusion of more women in financial advertising as the protagonist and not the dependent. Reality has moved way beyond the portrayal in this case. I still love the iconic ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Jeetey Raho ad, where the wife makes the husband sign the insurance form.

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