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IAA Seminar: Portrayal of women in advertising is changing for the better

Among the speakers were Srinivasan Raman, KV Sridhar ‘Pops’, Sonal Dabral, Sam Balsara, Colvyn Harris and Sanjay Tripathi

IAA Seminar: Portrayal of women in advertising is changing for the better

Among the speakers were Srinivasan Raman, KV Sridhar ‘Pops’, Sonal Dabral, Sam Balsara, Colvyn Harris and Sanjay Tripathi

Sarmistha Neogy | Mumbai | December 11, 2014


For ages, the projection of women in advertising has been extremely stereotyped and clichéd – from treating them as sex objects to associating them with gender stereotyped roles like cooking, cleaning or child rearing. But, in the last few years, we have also seen some beautiful ads that have attempted to shed these uncalled for tags associated with women. Overall, these are few and far between and there is still a long way to go. This was the topic of discussion at the IAA Seminar yesterday in Mumbai, where advertising honchos and marketing heads spoke on the ‘Portrayal of Women in Advertising’.

The speakers for the day were Srinivasan Raman, Executive Director at Hansa Research, Dr AL Sharada from the NGO Laadli, Dr Sonya Mehta, Psychologist, Sanjay Tripathy, Senior EVP – Marketing, Product, Digital and E-commerce, HDFC Life, KV Sridhar ‘Pops’, Chief Creative Officer, Sapient Nitro, Sonal Dabral, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, DDB Mudra, Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison Group, and Geetu Verma, Executive Director, Foods & Refreshment, Hindustan Unilever.

A survey undertaken by IAA and Hansa Research on ‘Changing Trends in Portrayal of women in Indian advertising’ was inaugurated at the seminar. The research was conducted across three key markets of Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, among both men and women. One-on-one personal interviews were conducted with 94 professionals – 55 from advertising and 39 from marketing.

Some of the key findings of the report are that the portrayal of women is no more synonymous with being merely homely, individualistic or just being provocative. Today, in advertising, women are shown as energetic, multi-taskers, self-confident and modern. 91% men and women say that ‘women are shouldering equal responsibilities with men in the family’. Interestingly, 89% of the men think so and 97% women think so too. Advertising professionals are not shying away from depicting the ambition and gratification of women in their communication in order to connect with the audience. And, finally, all the professionals are of the view that the change has been positive and they like the change.

Dabral from DDB Mudra said that the reason why we have certain ads which portray women in stereotyped roles is because of “lazy advertising”. Today, women are comfortable in their own skin and her opinions make a difference. “I like the way any relationship is shown, be it couples or the manner in which changes in saas-bahu relationships are being projected. Authenticity is something which always works and it will continue to work. I particularly don’t like any of the deodorant ads, which always show a swarm of girls getting attracted to one man! I also apply deo, but nothing of this sort has ever happened to me!” he said.

Pops spoke about how the creators of ads sometimes don’t realise the power they have in their hands. He said, “Creators always have a choice, no one is pressuring you to make stereotyped ads, but viewers don’t have that option, they will have to see what is shown to them. Therefore, you can’t show an ad where the man talks about giving importance to his wife’s opinion and then show the woman entering the scene with a cup in her hand. The audience is very sensitive to the image being shown, so one needs to be extremely careful. I believe that in another two-three years, stereotyping will go away and technology will help in achieving that. A lot of money is going to come from women, so, because of our own selfish reasons we should stop stereotyping them.”

Colvyn Harris, Chief Executive Officer, JWT South Asia, highlighted the importance for company boards to have an equal representation of women. Tripathi played some beautiful gender-sensitive ads by HDFC Life and spoke about how women have always been an important part of HDFC Life.

Balsara, on the other hand, spoke of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and how it works closely to monitor all the ads and takes action on ads which are of bad taste. He, therefore, wants consumers to have confidence in advertising.

The last session saw an engaging discussion with actors Dia Mirza, Richa Chadda along with Anuja Gulati and Monica Tata. The ladies talked about changes that are slowly taking place in the film industry too.

Srinivasan K Swamy, President, IAA India Chapter & Vice-president – Development, Asia Pacific, IAA, and Chairman & Managing Director, RK Swamy Hansa Group, said, “I thank all the industry professionals and organisations who came forward to support this initiative. IAA has been conducting a host of activities for the benefit of the industry and society. This was yet another initiative which clearly underlines our commitment to the philosophy that what is good is good for business.”

Executive Summary of IAA-Hansa findings on ‘Changing Trends in Portrayal of Women in Indian Advertising’

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