Advertising has the power to drive change, advertising can create new reality. The brands need to relook at most of the dominant codes they push in advertising and actually push and become the drivers of new sensibilities. Then the consumers will surely connect in stronger, engaging ways
Delhi | January 11, 2017
On New Year’s Eve, the act that happened in Bangalore shocked the nation. Men caught on camera, groping women and misbehaving. The reaction from the political class was on expected lines, blaming western culture and the usual unseen monsters. The outrage this time was serious and intense, forcing the CM of Karnataka to acknowledge the problem and apologise.
This one incident forced me to think why we in advertising cannot change the narrative. There are some outlier brands that are talking of gender sensitivity, but most brands are about playing the dominant societal codes in their communication. Brands often do not reflect the progressive mindset, they reflect the dominant ones, and this helps them to be seen positively by the mainstream consumers.
The question then to debate is this: what happens if the brands decide to relook at most of the dominant codes they push in advertising. What happens if the brands actually push the new gender sensibilities? Maybe the brands can become the drivers of new sensibilities. If the advertising campaigns can drive the new sensibilities, the consumers will connect in stronger, engaging ways.
The first thing that needs to change is the way mothers are portrayed. The mothers are always the nurturer, the provider of food, the ones who take care of hair, teach beauty tips to daughters, get evaluated for making fluffy chapattis and see love soar because they can make tea. Change this scenario. Let mothers only be seen with sons. The conversation between mother and sons is about being responsible, about being responsive, about knowing how house is run, discovering that there are no demons in the kitchen. The conversation can go beyond mother and son to between mother-son-daughter. This is the conversation where the son actually listens to life’s truth as told by sister. There is a huge change in the perspective that advertising can drive. From noodles to atta to tea to milk additives, mothers can drive a change that needs to be driven.
The second thing that needs to change is the entire alpha male portrayal. Why should men be in control in categories like automobiles and deodorants?
A deodorant is the category where man gets to choose girl or girls depending on his sex appeal that is enhanced exponentially. The narrative can change. If deodorants are about sexual attraction than the attraction can be crafted in reverse. The choice moves from men to women, who choose based on factors far more than pure machismo. If the category is built on sexual attraction, then the category can build narratives that are driven from women’s point of view. Male superiority works for the alpha male, but also becomes the wrong narrative for the wider society. This is true even more of the automobile category. Here the male becomes attractive thanks to a set of two or more wheels. It’s easy to move the needle and make women attractive thanks to two or more wheels. There are many more things that can change in this category, all with the underlying theme of male superiority.
Financial category has always portrayed father in control, and often the context is of father and family with son playing a prominent role. This is a category where the predominant roles of males need to be tampered and balanced to create a far more balanced narrative. This has implications beyond gender balance, more so because the category has poor penetration among women.
The issue of subservience of women in society is deep rooted. These are realities that find their way into advertising and through ads into popular culture without trying too hard. The spiral continues, the perceptions get hardened and pop culture moves in certain direction, doesn't evolve to a new look. With the deep-rooted biases against women now being played out in open in the biggest of cities in India, we need systemic intervention to change.
Advertising has the power to drive change, advertising can create new reality. It’s time that we collectively stepped up and make this small change in narrative. The change cannot be driven by an odd outlier brand.
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle. The views expressed are personal.)