only 927 girls for every 1,000 boys in India. The percentage of girls missing from the 0-6 years age group is 7.3. These statistics, in one way or the other, have their effects on Indian advertising, too. "Girls are missing from advertising," observed Dr AL Sharada, programme director, Population First, at a discussion organised by the Ad Club and Population First on the topic, 'Gender Nuances in Advertising'.
Sharada pointed out that a majority of TV ads today make use of boys when children have to be shown. Showing boys as crusaders, decision makers and protectors makes boys more desirable than girls, thereby having an adverse effect on society. "Even when an ideal family has to be shown, it is always a one boy and one girl cast - never two girls as a part of the same family," she said.
She cited the Surf Excel 'Daag Acche Hain' ad as an example of an ideal pair of kids, where the boy is the hero who saves the day. "Perhaps a marriage situation is the only theme where girls are shown recurrently," she said.
Nair pointed out that a girl getting dirty is an issue in India and the brand dared to show that. "At least, we didn't show the stereotypical mother washing clothes happily with Surf Excel, which would have been the obvious thing to do," she said.
Santosh Desai, MD and CEO, Future Brands, agreed that the matter of gender nuances in advertising was more complex than it looked. While stereotypes such as the super-mom, the super-housewife and the super-terrified daughter-in-law still exist, there have been some changes over the years for women in ads. For one, the woman plays a more central role as a protagonist and is a participant rather than a performer.
There is also recognition of personal ambition. "She's moving from the detergent housewife to the washing machine mom," quipped Desai, indicating a more empowered, tech-savvy woman in today's ads. Traditional roles have been upgraded: The mother is now the protector and cheerleader. There is a sense of universality creeping in - for instance, the Pepsodent 'Aarti' ad has women of different backgrounds and lives facing the same problem.
The traditional wife, too, has evolved into a partner, a provider of negotiated wisdom. Diamonds and insurance as categories have spotted opportunities in these (DTC and the ICICI Prudential Life Insurance 'Jeetey Raho' ad).
"There's an emphasis on personal mobility such as in the TVS Scooty Pep Plus ads, and sexual initiation like in the MasterCard 'Natkhat Saiyyan' ad," continued Desai. The husband, meanwhile, is seen as a fantasy vehicle, such as the Sunfeast ad featuring a wife imagining Shah Rukh Khan to be her husband.
Desai shared another important insight: There is a growing self-hate market being leveraged by products meant for women - it's all about stealing a consumer's love for herself and replacing that with a need for a product. "Body odour, dandruff and acne are now more likely than ever to ruin your chances with some 'Rahul'," joked Desai, leaving the audience in splits. "That's where the product steps in."
A perfect example of this 'self-hate' would be the Lakme Sunscreen Lotion ad which features a woman 'meeting' her dusky self at a crowded marketplace and deciding to do something about it. The recent Recova ad shows a woman noticing the lost chemistry with her husband while having dinner and deciding to use the product to bring her glow (and consequently her man's attention) back.
"Some clichés haven't gone," reiterated Desai. Women are still providers -super-efficient, clairvoyant and proactive, and waiting for some sign that 'he' cares (like in the Krack cream 'Bhoolna Nahin' ad). Women are also seen as trophies sometimes - a successful man's finest possession. Here, Desai cited a Raymond ad that has women 'leaning' on their men quite literally, as arm candy.