Devina Joshi

‘Jassi’ to ‘Jessica’: The changing face of women in Indian advertising

While the role of Indian women is changing rapidly in real life, advertisers continue using eager-to-please, submissive women to reach out to consumers. However, the trend does seem to be changing now, albeit rather slowly

Man worries over losing his job. Enter wife, with ‘X’ detergent in her hand. She washes his shirt, and voila! he gets a promotion at work. Next, a mother-in-law visits her ‘bahu’ for the first time, dreading the food she will be served. But the daughter-in-law uses mother-in-law’s favourite ‘Y’ brand of spices, and the rest is history.

These are just two of the many examples in Indian advertising where women are portrayed as eager-to-please, submissive people, whose universe is wholly and solely their families.

While the real world outside is changing rapidly, Indian advertisers continue to use this time-worn concept to reach out to consumers. But for how long?

Piyush Pandey, chairman, O&M India, feels it is time the ad industry stopped portraying women as being submissive and meek. He says, “Advertising tends to imply that women have no existence without ‘X’ brand. Yes, I do agree that a woman has a role as a mother, a wife and a daughter, but then we can show these things only up to an extent. We can’t keep pushing it. People are not dim-witted, they can see through clichés.”

He continues, “It’s not that advertising is some sort of a moral guide, but it still has certain responsibilities towards society as it reaches millions of homes and influences people.”

Even MG Parmeswaran, executive director, FCB Ulka, is of the opinion that there are quite a few retrograde ads that portray women as subservient helpers.

However, Parmeswaran is quick to add, “Advertising reflects reality to a great extent. This is probably why we can also see a few commercials doing the rounds that portray today’s progressive woman presenting herself as a confident homemaker.” He cites the example of the ‘Whirlpool woman’ as a sign of the changing times. Although in the ‘Whirlpool’ campaign, the woman is essentially shown helping her family, what’s different is that she is portrayed as a confident woman of today.

Ryan Menezes, national creative director, Mudra, is also against such stereotyping. He says, “The advertising industry, however, cannot be solely blamed for portraying women in such submissive roles; the popular television soaps do so, too.”

He adds, “Even research indicates that women themselves prefer being seen in such stereotypical roles rather than as progressive women, as the latter are still a minority in India. In addition, it’s relatively easier to convince the clients as these concepts are already time-tested.”

Josy Paul, national chairman, rmg david, finds ‘submissive’ to be a rather harsh term to define the women in such ads. He says, “I feel that the stereotypical role of women that exists today is more of a ‘preserver’, who brings harmony into a home. In Indian advertising, stereotypes are becoming two-dimensional. A mother bringing a glass of milk for her son doesn’t imply that she is serving her son. Rather, it brings out the finer nuances of the mother-son relationship, which is important for the ad and the product.”

Sanjai Srivastava, vice-president, Lowe, is completely defensive about adverts showing women in homely roles. He says, “Contrary to the general perception among certain individuals, these commercials are by no means derogatory or demeaning for women. For a common Indian woman, social appreciation is a big high as it is a sign of her success as a homemaker. And this is true for all socioeconomic groups.”

Pushpinder Singh, national creative director, Ambience Publicis, finds an easy solution to this ongoing debate. He concludes, “Portraying women in different avatars is largely dependent on the product category. As we can’t show a homely woman in an IT ad, I also believe that it’s better to have stereotypical women for a detergent ad.”

© 2005 agencyfaqs!