Aishwarya Ramesh

A sewing machine as a wedding gift in 2020?

In an anachronistic TVC, a mom-in-law gifts an Usha sewing machine to her son’s blushing bride. We ponder the relevance of this plot in an urban India.

In a curious new advert for Usha sewing machines, a reasonably modern looking new bride is welcomed into her mother in law’s house with a gift wrapped sewing machine. Actress Keerthy Suresh, best known for her Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam movies, plays the bride in this spot. By the end of the ad, she is dining with her new family while being lauded for sewing a decorative border on her mother in law’s saree. Otherwise unremarkable, it’s the out-dated plot of the ad is what made us stop and take note.

It is pertinent to note that the company is actively involved in helping women across the country become financially independent through its ‘silai schools’ initiative. In fact, we’ve also spotted TVCs (they end with women saying “Thank you Usha” in chorus) about this over the past few weeks. And this is all the more reason the spot with Keerthy Suresh struck us as odd, because while the commercial use of the product is in the space of women empowerment, the ad in question about the in-home use of the product seems a trifle obsolete.

A press release sent by the brand team mentions that the campaign is aimed at amplifying consumer connect and engagement within the southern region and that the 50 second television commercial has been launched in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The note also states that the TVC ‘captures the bond between a daughter-in-law and her in-laws beautifully’.

Commenting on the new campaign, Parveen Sahni, business head, Usha Sewing Machines, said, “The TV commercial is an effort to engage with southern markets for maximum reach and impact. With this campaign we are looking to connect with the consumer and bring to life the joy that comes with unleashing one’s creativity using a sewing machine. We hope to increase our brand salience as well as connect with consumers and sewing enthusiasts within these markets.”

The new TV commercial is being aired on a mix of top Indian language general entertainment and news channels in an 8 week campaign that started on March 21; it will be complemented by a print plan featuring the brand ambassador across women’s magazines and regional language magazines with high readership in their respective states. The ads will also be promoted across all relevant digital platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and OTT’s like Hotstar, Zee5, etc.

Tamanna Virmani, co-founder and executive creative director, Blue Oktopus Communications, begins her critique of the commercial by pointing out that some ads take us back in time and make us feel nostalgic and leave us with a good feeling, but this ad is not one of them. “The Usha Sewing Machine film with its treatment and message takes us back to a time where most modern women wouldn't want to go. The message is regressive. In this day and age when films look modern especially in their treatment, look, tone and manner, this ad (from a plot and story point of view) looks as if it was shot in the 70's,” she says.

Tamanna Virmani
Tamanna Virmani

Going on to argue that an ad should either change our mindset, enlighten us, inspire us, leave us with a rush of emotions, or connect us to the times we live in, she adds, “(The team) could have altered the storyline in many ways to resonate with the thinking of the modern woman who defines herself as separate from stereotypes…”

Raghu Bhat, the founder of Scarecrow M&C Saatchi, concurs, “The ad shows the bride hungry for approval from her in-laws. It shows her overwhelmed with gratitude on getting a sewing machine from her mom-in-law. This raises the question – should a brand mirror reality or be a voice of change? So is the progressive, stereotype-busting portrayal of the woman (that we see in dozens of ads across categories) just an advertising formula, then?”

Raghu Bhat
Raghu Bhat

He reminds us that most modern soap operas on TV get eyeballs by the bucketful across India by pandering to stereotypes, but points out that “advertising seems to adopt a different path while talking to the same woman.”

Why so? “Since Ramayan is back, it's the right time to ask - what do the women of Bharat and not just India, think of the self-sacrificing Sita? The Usha ad comes at an interesting time when the virus has inverted a lot of things,” Bhat says.

For the record, Usha International, the company that makes Usha sewing machines is a 86 year old company that was founded by Lala Shriram in 1935. They are currently headquartered in Gurgaon, India.

TV commercial credits

Agency: Goldilocks

Production house: Old School Films

Director: Gautham Menon

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