Indian advertising and the pregnant woman

By , agencyfaqs! | In | April 09, 2002
From promoting communication to 'purity in life', the pregnant woman seems to have become an important device in getting the message across

Roughly a year ago, Indian television was flooded with commercials that centered at the suhaag raat situation. And avid followers of agencyfaqs! might recollect that we had even done an article ('Suhaag raat and the element of surprise') on how advertisers were increasingly using the scenario to spring surprises on unsuspecting television audiences.

Now it can't be anything but coincidence, but noticed how approximately one year since, Indian television is full of women at various stages of pregnancy?

Let's take the ads currently on air. There is the BPL Mobile ad. Then there is this ad for LG Plasma Gold air-conditioners. The latest commercial for Kinley is another. Rasna's new 'montage' campaign too has a shot of a pregnant woman in it.

And if we work our way backwards, there was this commercial for Ariel Power Compact which had a pregnant woman in a supermarket, telling hubby dear about 'the new pack'. Another ad, for Johnson & Johnson soap, had a pregnant woman and her mother-in-law talking about the product. One for Kodak KB 10 had a montage of a pregnant woman watching a kid playing cricket. Even Raymond once showed the 'complete man' with his pregnant wife. Then, of course, there was that 'epic' GE-inspired ad for Bharti Cellular where the woman actually goes into labour bang in the middle of a football match.

Though the spate of suhaag raat ads from last year is an interesting reference point, pregnant women in Indian ads aren't a novelty. For instance, sometime during the latter part of the 90s, there was this ad for Suzuki Max 100 that showed a woman in labour on a dark and stormy night. Her husband has to rush to fetch the doctor, and his Max 100 proves to be his 'bharosemand saathi'.

A tactical print ad for the Opel Astra - around the time the car was being launched - showed a pregnant woman. The line said something to the effect that the best things in life are worth waiting for. And one slice-of-life shot from Cadbury Dairy Milk's early 'Real taste of Life' campaign too had a pregnant woman asking for a chocolate for her to-be-born. A bit of archive digging will surely reveal more examples of pregnant women in Indian ads.

The point is, why does Indian advertising have so many instances of pregnant women in ads? Santosh Desai, executive vice-president, McCann-Erickson India, has a theory. "There are two ways of using a pregnant woman in advertising," he says. "One to show pregnancy as a 'crisis situation' - as in the Bharti ad (or the Max 100 ad) - where the product or service being advertised comes to the rescue. In contrast, the way we see them today is as the serene, gentle pregnant woman, which is basically to depict the loving, caring, tender face of the company."

There is another way of looking at it, especially when it comes to brands that intrinsically promise purity or health. Take the LG Plasma Gold ad. "When we did the LG ad, there was a great product fit with pregnancy," says Balki (R. Balakrishnan), executive creative director, Lowe. "Here was an air-conditioner that promised 100 per cent germ-free air. Now, for you and me, pollution-free air might be less critical, but for a pregnant woman and the child in her womb, it is very important. The product fit was bang-on. And LG is after all positioned on the health platform."

The same reasoning applies to Kinley with its 'free of all impurities' promise. And even to Johnson & Johnson soap - through the brand's babycare association. In the case of Rasna… well, the brand would perhaps like to be also seen as a healthy drink. And the pregnant woman in Raymond fits with the complete man's caring 'nurturer' role.

But what when the presence of a pregnant woman in an ad has no direct bearing on what is being said or implied, as in the case of the Ariel ad? "There are two types of situations in advertising why something is done in a particular manner," says Anand Halve of chlorophyll. "Sometimes, the situation being depicted in the ad is bonded to what is being claimed by the advertiser. For instance, the LG and Kinley ads can afford to take the highest ground because purity is critical to the well being of the foetus, and also because this situation is relevant to both products. On the other hand, sometimes, a situation is taken to make the setting and message interesting, even though it is not intrinsic to the claim. It's just an engaging way of telling a story."

The problem is, over a period of time, the situation can quickly degenerate into a cliché. "We have seen 30 commercials of farmers standing in their fields and smiling for no particular reason," admits Halve. "And pregnancy is the latest such cliché."

One reason why pregnant women also get featured in ads is the feel-good factor. A convenient, emotional peg to hook the consumer. "The pregnant woman metaphor is just like the little child thing," says Desai. "They say when you don't have an idea - or anything new to say - use an infant. In much the same way, the pregnant woman is being used today to evoke feelings of tenderness and vulnerability. And when used crassly, it is the most exploitative way of depicting reality."

Additional reporting: Alokananda Chakraborty © 2002 agencyfaqs!

Suhaag raat and the element of surprise

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