The second decade could still be a year away from ending on Dec 31, 2020, but how far are we from acknowledging the stereotype that has infested the TV commercial industry like madness? ‘Madness’ reminds me of First Cry’s1 “Mom’s gone mad,” jingle. I ask if it is the mom or the ad agency that has gone ‘mad.’ Not only the ad, in the garb of ‘cuteness’ is explicitly biased toward women, but it also rides on ‘ableism’ with disregard to mental health. I can expect such proclivity from men but not from any woman in charge of directing such commercials. It is so self-defeating, to mean the least.
Anyway, let’s move on and measure the width and breadth of bias that has permeated TV commercials, especially in India.
8 Sexist TV Commercial Categories
So far, I haven’t seen any TV commercial featuring men concerned about cockroaches as much as women, particularly mothers, are shown concerned: the Godrej HIT2, Mortien3, Baygon4, and others. In all these ads, mothers are the warriors saving the family from bugs. Let me know if you are aware of insecticide ads where fathers went to the kitchen to kill the roaches or joined any war against mosquitoes discouraging their kids from the playground. It seems, not only in India, women around the world love killing mosquitoes and roaches and therefore, these brands are recruiting only women to do their commercials. I wish I could use a spray to bring out a range of such biased commercials, in this product category, to your knowledge.
Thirty years of my life, I have never seen a Johnson5 ad featuring a father massaging a newborn with baby oil. I have never seen a father patting baby-powder or even bothering to change the diaper. I don’t know why I had hoped Chicco6 would break the stereotype, but no, Chicco ads are equally guilty. Look at this exhaustive list of baby-product brands in India. Of all, Dove7 tried to be nice, but not in India. So, could you tell me why no father is a child caregiver in India TV commercials? Not only fathers are excluded, even grandfathers too. Amusing right? Honestly, it is time we hatch out of ‘cuteness’ knowing the sweeping influence of Indian TV commercials on its masses. Dear fathers, don’t you feel unrepresented? You too can be ‘motherly’ and as affectionate to your kids as your wives. You also deserve a credit else it is very unfair.
Yes, Volini8 got Virat Kohli to do its ads, and it is apparent that Virat Kohli has suffered a chronic back trauma (I would hope he is well, now). Also, Virat is a dominant persona in Indian cricket, so it is quite effective for the ad agency to loop in Virat. Here, Volini has tried to step out of stereotyping women, but that was more toward expanding their sales bucket. Neither there are male cheerleaders for the Indian women cricketers nor does Volini find the niche to impress via Mitali Raj and company, any profitable. Overall, the pain relief market, including Moov9, ReliSpray10, Iodex11, etc., thrives on stereotyping women running errands in the house. And creative agencies, they are just exploiting the convention without any effort. Apart from male cricketers, if a brand has to get diplomatic, old couples are shown to experience relief from their whining. I emphasise this.
Nothing rattles me like the detergent commercials in India. While Surf Excel’s12 “Daag Acche Hai” that translates to “Stains are good,” was quite a mature concept helping paranoid mothers embrace their children get dirty, but still, it has never been a father who is “supposedly busy in the office.” From washing powder Nirma13 to Rin14, and Tide15, the detergent brands are top contestants in stereotyping women as “washers.” Yes, they tried to get smart with the millennials by implicitly stating how a woman can “clean the society of corruption.” However, if you wear the glasses of the right number, you can see how these brands are still expecting women to run the dirty laundry, even if it is taking stuff to the washing machine. And this is the only reason why Procter & Gamble’s Ariel Matic’s16 award-winning “Share the load” campaign couldn’t sustain long. Read this article in Business Standard.
Holy Indian Cow! Spices. From Cookme17, Everest18, MDH19 to Catch20, and Ashirwaad21. Except for the male founder in MDH, I don’t recall any Indian commercial featuring men to be concerned about the taste of food on the dining table from a cook’s POV. A 2014 article in the TIME informs that “higher levels of testosterone in males who like ‘spicy’ food.” Could this be the reason why our heterosexual society celebrates women in the kitchen? Well, you will disagree, and I support you because India has been predominantly showcasing women endorsing spices to the delight of their families. Wait, did I hear you mention Sanjeev Kapoor? Boy, I know it. Sanjeev’s a ‘male,’ ‘celebrity,’ ‘five-star’ chef from the hotel industry that has a very few women in kitchen-leadership. When I looked up a woman chef in Indian spice commercials, I came across your Old Spice commercial.
In India, although it is the groom’s family that demands all the gold jewellery, it is the bride’s family that’s the target market for any jewellery brand from India. You name it. From Tanishq22 to Kalyan Jewellery23, to Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri24, Amrapali Jewels25, Malabar Gold and Diamonds26, Senco Gold27, etc. The jewellery ads impress on the masses the notion that only women love jewellery and men do not! If you watch any TV soap on Indian mythology, you’ll see how male gods and kings wear gold as their second skin. Our famous Indian musician, Bappi Lahiri, and the rich Marwari men are no aberration. When will these brands ever rise from the comic convention?
I beg your pardon if this colours me a “true feminist.” I am not apologetic any way. I am a feminist. So tell me why are hair gel commercials only featuring men, at least in India? First of all, men in villages do not care about spiking their shock; it is a very urban thing. Of course, you can laugh at the thought of long spikes on women, but would you deny a significant percentage of women in short hair fancying spiking their hair? Trust me; Indian ad agencies got to overcome the Rapunzel dilemma, and Hair Gel brands like Set Wet28 and Bryl Creem29 need to make room for women flaunting sexy spikes. Hair gel commercials need not be a niche market.
Next to hair gel brands, are our cosmetic brands. Fair & Lovely is no more about gender-bias it is a colourist. It is below standard to even discuss the brand. So, let’s look at products by Maybelline30, Lakme31, Revlon32, L’Oreal33, Yves Saint Laurent34, Kat Von D35, Fenty36, MAC37, Burberry38, Dior39, etc. None of these brands ever featured a male model or took any initiative that visually expresses the non-binary. But can these brands deny having the non-binary as their consumers? Also, why only women need to get the right shade on their lips? These brands are just names for the same lipstick, eyeliner, mascara, and other makeup products intended for women to look good. Well, I don’t mind wearing the brightest lipstick on a dull evening, but a man too can easily desire so, right?
Finally, I welcome you to reset my impression, although political correctness is not my domain. I would end by earnestly requesting the directors of ad agencies in India to play it up like FCB West, San Francisco advertising agency that produced the Levi’s “Let’s live how we dance.” And those playing safe, to them, I say, “Advertisement that is safe is sterile.”