Namah Chawla

Inclusive ads, the new norm?

Colgate’s latest ad features a bald influencer and another one with crooked teeth. How do brands crack the code of embracing imperfections?

Colgate, as a brand, is usually associated with pearly white and perfectly aligned teeth. Other dental hygiene brands also depict and associate themselves with perfect teeth in their advertising communication. While this makes for an obvious advertising narrative for such brands, one may debate if this practice sets unrealistic standards.

In a bid to make a difference, Colgate’s recent print, outdoor and digital ad features artistes and influencers like Dolly Singh, Toshada Uma and Prarthana Jagan. They are seen confidently flaunting their teeth and bodies, which don’t match the ideal set by brands.

There are certain beauty norms that, once breached, might make people uncomfortable. The ad for the leading dental care brand’s new toothpaste ‘Colgate Visible White O2’, aims to break through the cluttered category. It demonstrates how these women have embraced their teeth and bodies.

For years, Hindustan Unilever’s body soap brand Dove has resorted to a similar kind of advertising. Instead of casting airbrushed models with perfect bodies, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign features real women of all ages, embracing their unique bodies.

The recent advertising campaigns of new-age brands like Urbanic, Clovia, Nykaa and Mamaearth have also emphasised on embracing internal beauty that goes beyond a woman’s physical appearance.

A brand like Glow & Lovely (earlier called Fair & Lovely), which is known for relying on the societal pressure to have a fair skin tone, was also seen taking a similar approach in its recent ad. The brand altered its brand name to Glow & Lovely in 2020. In a statement then, it said that this change in brand name was the next step in the evolution of its skincare portfolio to “a more inclusive vision of positive beauty”.

The Glow & Lovely ad, which was released in 2021 to celebrate female Olympic athletes, underlined that beauty or ‘glow’ goes together with success, aspirations and hard work.

Explaining whether such narratives benefit the brands or not, Ramanuj Shastry, director and co-founder at Mumbai-based Infectious Advertising, says, “Increasingly, people will not buy just the brand - they will buy into the brand. The way brands speak and act will determine their relationship with a very woke generation. Brands today have to be heroes, championing causes.”

Shastry adds that people don’t forget the way brands make them feel. So, brands must help reshape the existing societal narratives to be perceived as cool or admirable.

Shradha Agarwal, CEO and co-founder, Grapes, says that during client pitches these days, brands like talking about such inclusive narratives.

Sharing a few examples, Agarwal says, “We came up with progressive campaigns for brands like Acne Star (#SkinKaReset) and Prega News (#SheCanCarryBoth), celebrating the not so perfect aspect of the individual. One of our clients, Mamy Poko Pants, is disregarding the age-old expectation that a mother ought to be skilled and perfect in all her responsibilities. The brand urges the fathers to share the responsibility of taking care of the child along with the mothers.”

Shwetha Iyer, SVP (marketing) at Mumbai-based SuperBottoms, is of the opinion that the woke culture is very closely tied to the outrage culture. “With easy access to social media, brands get a lot of flak if they do something wrong. Due to such social media outrage, many brands are forced to pull their ads down. Therefore, most brands are now trying extra hard to come up with inclusive narratives.”

According to Iyer, Colgate’s recent ad seems like a force-fit - the brand is trying too hard. “Putting a bald girl and one with crooked teeth in a stereotype of white teeth, seems inauthentic. However, if such inclusive narratives are executed nicely and seem believable, then it works in the brands’ favour.”

Grapes’ Agarwal explains that while these ads are relevant for television, the acceptance and mileage they get from digital and social media platforms, are far more promising and favourable.

“The medium is not important, the message is. A very large part of India still watches TV. Change must be accessible to all, and not just the privileged,” Shastry, of Infectious Advertising, signs off.

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