Seen apparel brand Red Lotus' transgender fashionistas yet?

By Suraj Ramnath , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Digital | May 25, 2016
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We spoke to Sharmila Nair, founder, Red Lotus, about this unconventional digital campaign.

Apparel brand Red Lotus which was launched just seven months ago has come up with a new digital campaign for its new range of sari collection called Mazhavil (Rainbow). What's interesting is that the campaign with the still ads features transgender models draped in saris. The ad shoot has been done in-house and not through an ad agency. There is a video, too, that has been shot during the time of the photo shoot.

Red Lotus

Sharmila Nair

When asked about the idea behind getting transgender models to shoot for Mazhavil, Sharmila Nair, founder, Red Lotus, says, "The idea came from a Facebook post by the Kerala government about releasing a policy for transgenders. That's when I wanted to know more about them. I did a bit of research and thought that if the state is doing so much for them, then why not us? Red Lotus is a very small brand. It's just an online business, but I thought that we could also support them."

So, who is the target audience for Mazhavil?

"Actually, everyone!" says Nair. She further adds, "When we thought about this campaign, it was not only for transgenders, but for everyone. We portrayed them as normal people, and that was the main idea behind this campaign."

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

What were the challenges faced while selecting the models, or while shooting?

"None, at all," says Nair. "We wanted fresh and inexperienced models. We wanted to give everyone an opportunity. The only criterion we considered were people who loved wearing saris. We didn't do any screening process," she says.

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

Nair further adds, "There is an organisation (an NGO) in Kerala which deals with transgenders, and we asked it to give us two names. We didn't have a problem shooting with models with no experience."

There is no doubt that the campaign will do well and be appreciated. But, will the brand do equally well, and will this campaign generate sales for the company?

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

Nair says, "Initially, when I planned this campaign, there were people who told me that the business is doing well, so why do you want to make this campaign? People may not buy your saris because there is a sense of taboo attached to transgenders. So, people asked me if I really wanted to do this? Think twice, or three times before doing this, but I was pretty confident that I should do this."

This is not the first time though that a brand has done a campaign with transgender models. Just a few months ago, Hindustan Unilever (HUL) did a digital campaign for 'Brook Bond Red Label 6 Pack', in which Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam lent his voice for the song 'Sab Rab De Bande'. In that particular video, the singer himself was a part of it and the song explains the story of two eunuchs who were initially ostracised, but later accepted by their neighbours. Prior to this video, HUL came up with the 'Hum Hain Happy' digital video campaign, which replicated Hollywood singer Pharrell Williams 'Happy'.

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

The new digital campaign for Mazhavil

Apart from HUL, Lenskart came up with a transgender campaign when the community vowed to donate their eyes when the Supreme Court of India recognised them as the third gender. Women's safety app VithU, too, came up with a campaign featuring eunuchs in which they are talking about the road safety at a signal.

Recently, Dove, personal care brand from the house of HUL, released a campaign that was aimed at shattering the conventional rules of beauty. Though it featured normal women, the premise was the same as that adopted by Red Lotus -- challenging the standard definition of beauty.

A video by Red Lotus from the photo shoot of Mazhavil's digital campaign

We spoke to Dheeraj Sinha, chief strategy officer, Leo Burnett, South Asia (author of 'Consumer India - Inside the Indian Mind and Wallet and 'India Reloaded - Inside the Resurgent Indian Consumer Market') about the campaign.

Dheeraj Sinha

"I think the marketing and advertising fraternity has realised that we need to have debates around gender diversity. As a topic for conversation, this hasn't yet turned into a cliche. So, it's good that campaigns are bubbling up this issue," says Sinha.

He further adds, "There is the hidden agenda, ofcourse, of putting the brand on the conversation map by riding the issue. Having said that, it does its bit towards bringing the issue to the fore - it makes the brand look inclusive. I do sincerely hope that brands trying to raise such issues also show some real commitment to them. Doing something real on the ground is critical, not just talk about it in public."

Are we ready to receive such imagery in print? Or, are brands better off sticking to digital?

Sinha says, "I think if we are ready to receive such messages in the digital medium then we are ready to receive them in print, too."

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