Part 1 – Gender equality and advertising

Remember the earlier ads, ones in which the female lead would say “main inki sehat ka khayal nahi rakhoongi, toh aur kaun rakhega”? As an example of what I’m referring to, take a look at this ad by Saffola or this one by Sugarfree, you will probably recall a whole bunch of others which spoke a similar language too.

Cut to present day, the Veeba brand – which has a range of sauces and spreads – recently launched TVCs in which the female protagonist says maine ise apna ghulam banaya”, “isne bola…, roj bolta hai..”

Notice the change from “inki” to “iski”. Sure, the wife is still painstakingly cooking for the husband – no role reversals here, but the reverence for the husband and the God-like status of the male better half, as reflected in the language, tone and body language have changed. In a heartening shift, several other brands are also moving away from clichéd portrayals of gender roles in their ads, towards fresh and balanced portrayals of men and women that are relevant to today’s consumers.

Saffola ads moved from focusing on husband’s health – with the responsibility of maintaining it on the wife, to giving similar importance to wife’s heart health and encouraging the male counterpart to take the initiative and responsibility. In a similar vein, their latest ad portrays heart health of both partners as equally important.

The current Saffola and Veeba ads are just a couple of examples of brands showcasing progressive women, contemporary relationships and modern attitudes.

The narrative in advertisements has not just been limited to showcasing this progression towards equality in interactions between a husband and wife, some brands have taken it further to explicitly encourage gender equality.  From the Lloyd Unisex Washing Machine ad which suggests that laundry is no longer just the wife’s “department”, to P&G’s award-winning #ShareTheLoad campaign for Ariel that shows the father helping the mother with the laundry, several ads have pushed the boundaries of conventional gender roles.  A slight twist on that scenario is the Comfort fabric softener ad that shows a mother teaching her son to do laundry, a heartening message that will (hopefully) shape a new and better generation.

This reflection of progressive men and women and convergence of roles is not just limited to brands targeting upper SEC consumers, but is also discernible in ads by a few mid-segment brands. Detergent ads have often focused on the pride that women take in achieving brightness or whiteness for the husband’s office shirts or children’s uniforms; however, the Rin ‘Keep Shining’ ads put the focus on women’s clothing and their pride in their own identity. Another mid-segment brand, naye zamaane ka naya Dalda’, moves in sync with the times by portraying the mother encouraging her son to try his hand at cooking. Through a different approach, with its depiction of a father’s disappointment when his son comes second to a girl in a race, the Tata Tea ad raises awareness about the many innocuous and unconscious acts that inculcate a gender bias in young minds.

Advertisements are often a reflection of societal norms, culture and its transformation, and these examples reflect the brands’ understanding of the changing roles and expectations in Indian households – across age groups and income classes. Brands are acknowledging and reflecting this change, and sometimes supporting it, to connect better with changing attitudes and behaviors of their consumers.

But while this is being showcased, what is the reality on the ground? How much has the status of women actually changed in Indian society? Coming up in the next post, some statistics to answer these questions.

  • Roshni Jhaveri