Namah Chawla

Grand Vitara ad sparks debate about portrayal of women in ads

Maruti Suzuki’s ad for its latest hybrid car, Grand Vitara, features a woman admiring it.

In February 2022, automaker Mahindra’s ad for its new ‘Thar’, was a refreshing break from stereotypical sports utility vehicle (SUV) ads. While retaining all the elements of a usual SUV ad, like the rough terrain, the sound of engine and a dust storm, this one featured a woman taking over the driver’s seat.

Also Read: Mahindra Thar shuns formulaic SUV advertising; puts the woman in the driver's seat

Five months later, another leading automaker Maruti Suzuki has released an ad for its new SUV ‘The Grand Vitara’. This time around, the woman is not at the wheel, but is seen admiring the car and adds no value to the product proposition.

Industry experts have taken to social media to call out the brand and the ad for its portrayal of women.

In an age of gender sensitisation, industry bodies like the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) are taking steps to create awareness about the portrayal of gender, especially women, in ads. The Maruti Suzuki ad is reminiscent of the 1990s and doesn’t reflect today’s ASCI’s codes.

ASCI’s code of self-regulation states, “Advertisements should not indulge in the sexual objectification of characters of any gender or depict people in a sexualised and objectified way for the purposes of titillating viewers. This would include the use of language or visual treatments in contexts wholly irrelevant to the product.”

Although the ad has got some flak on social media, it must be mentioned that the ASCI has not received any complaints about it yet. So, it has refrained from commenting on the ad.

Speaking to afaqs! about the ad, Maruti Suzuki India’s senior executive director (marketing & sales) Shashank Srivastava says, “Putting a handsome guy or a sexy lady in an ad, doesn’t mean that you are objectifying them. It is done only to appeal to a younger and more progressive audience.”

Shashank Srivastava
Shashank Srivastava

The brand can’t just show the car, as it is about somebody admiring it, feels Srivastava. “The aim was to show the car through the eyes of the beholder, rather than just showing it as it is.”

“Second, the brand doesn’t want to limit the audience to just a family or a corporate executive or a young couple. We didn’t wish to show a particular user of the car. We wanted to add a human element to it. We wanted to show somebody who’s admiring the car’s features and design,” he adds.

The car is positioned for the younger, sophisticated and urban audience. Hence, the automaker decided to cast a young woman, states Srivastava.

Experts, however, feel that the sensibility of the ad is outmoded. As a result, it doesn’t stand out and is unlikely to leave any impression on the minds of viewers.

Naresh Gupta, co-founder, Bang In The Middle, feels that if the brand had actually thought about what it stands for, it wouldn’t have made the ad.

Naresh Gupta
Naresh Gupta

“The ad is poor, in terms of strategy, and even poorer in execution. To use woman as an object to sell a car is so 1970s. Today, women are one of the largest buyers of cars (SUVs). If you’re a family looking to upgrade to a bigger offering from Suzuki, the ad will leave you with an unpleasant feeling,” adds Gupta.

According to Jay Morzaria, creative director, OktoBuzz, the ad is a result of a lazy brief that evolved into an even lazier execution.

“I don’t think there has been much thinking behind the ad. My wildest guess points to a boardroom full of men who feel that SUVs are meant for men and, hence, the ad needed something to ‘attract’ them,” Morzaria mentions.

Jay Morzaria
Jay Morzaria

Vani Gupta Dandia, founder, CherryPeachPlum Growth Partners (a marketing-driven management consultancy), finds the ad ‘bland’ and ‘insipid’. “Regardless of the sex appeal it (Maruti) tried to create with the model, I was left uninspired even after watching the ad many times.”

Vani Gupta Dandia
Vani Gupta Dandia

In Dandia’s opinion, the ad fails to break the clutter, sell anything specific, or even stick in the mind of the audience. “It doesn’t tell me why I should buy the car, other than the fact that this is a good-looking car. But even there, it’s too generic. It doesn’t leave an impression in my mind – like what particular facet about it is so different that I could buy it for its looks alone,” she explains.

Gupta of Bang In The Middle also says that while the ad fails to create an impact, it also offends women and should be withdrawn. He points out, “The whole auto segment isn’t regressive. There are brands that are good, when it comes to gender portrayal. This ad calls for an apology from both the brand and agency. The only way to force this, is if women raise their voice against the ad. Otherwise, there will only be a few lonely voices.”

OktoBuzz’s Morzaria seconds this thought and believes that sensitisation begins at home and, in this case, it begins with having enough women in the room.

On how brands can be more sensitive, while portraying women in their ads, Morzaria mentions, “When a campaign involves a woman or is targeted at women, just hear them out in your office. Check if what you’re saying is relevant. Check if it reeks of misogyny. And, while you are at it, check if you’re stifling the voices of women or those around you, whether intentionally or not. It’s that simple, but easier said than done.”

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