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Commentary: There is more than just being gender sensitive!

It’s high time that we not just focus around creating ads that talk about social upliftment and women’s empowerment. We need some serious conversation around little things depicted in the ads and that is gender stereotyping

An ad shows a woman happily explaining the importance of using the right dishwasher. Another shows Salman Khan wooed by Prachi Desai, washing clothes with a smile on her face. Yet another ad of an insurance company portrays a recently retired man telling his dependent wife to cut down on expenses. The fourth one again shows Salman Khan’s machismo of getting hold of a Thumbs Up by doing all kind of stunts. The fifth ad is surrogate advertising by an alcohol brand that shows a gang of male friends celebrating friendship.

There is a common thread in all these ads. They have all unintentionally stereotyped men and women, showing them doing things they are expected to do. Advertisements showing women doing all sorts of domestic work is perhaps as old as television. And what do men do? Well, they drive, buy insurance and do stunts.


Backing the stereotyping is an intriguing report by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and J.Walter Thompson (JWT), which says that men get four times as much screen time as women and are spoken about seven times more than women in advertising. The global research found there are twice as many male characters in ads as female characters and 25 per cent of ads feature men only, in comparison to just five per cent featuring women only. Similarly, 18 per cent of ads feature male voices, while less than three per cent of ads that feature female voices only.

The UK advertising regulatory body recently decided to come up with rules banning ads that promote gender stereotypes or denigrate people who do not conform to them; sexually objectify women; or promote unhealthy body images. At the Cannes Lions Festival, Unilever unveiled a new global alliance as it bids to wipe out stereotypical portrayals of gender in all advertising and brand-led content.


But in India, there is no direct rule even under ASCI’s (Advertising Standard Council of India) purview to ban stereotyped ads. Though the ASCI has norms to safeguard integrity of women, there is nothing that bans gender stereotyping completely.

Why can’t we have rules that stop ads supporting gender stereotyping? What is holding us back? Is it the ideas, brands, society or our thinking?

The need of the hour is for brands and their creative partners to come together with ads that question stereotyping. Creative agencies require a good amount of push and belief from their clients to come up with ideas that curb gender inequality and stereotyping. A campaign reflects the value and philosophy that brands and their creative partners hold together. It depicts their thought process, which depends on the ideologies and thinking of people working at the creative agencies and brands’ end.

Advertising is a highly visible business activity and any fall in moral standards can lead to severe consequences for the company and the image of the brand. Advertising reflects society to a certain degree and has an impact on the cultural changes and behaviours of consumers. Hence, advertising experts should take the responsibility of breaking stereotypes that influence the cultural aspect of the society and keep in mind the prestige of the gender.

In some cases, advertisers may intentionally or unintentionally use stereotyping to show a product as appealing to their desired target customers or in an attempt to infuse humour into the advertisements. But sometimes the stereotype may rely on the characteristic that is negative or exaggerated.

Times Jobs CEO ad (Where the woman spends more time with the CEO to get a promotion)

Keeping in tune with the changes around the world, India should come out with norms to ban gender stereotyping completely. Unwillingly or willingly, the industry influences the consumers. Some might argue that an advertiser’s job is to sell the product and are here to do business. But it is also the responsibility of the creative agencies to sell those ideas to the brands that have a meaningful impact on the society along with promoting the product. Consumers learn a lot from what they see. A single step taken towards depicting gender equality in ads can cover miles and miles of change in the thinking of people.

So, even though we intend to communicate a ‘product for girls’ or ‘like a woman’, it should be done in a positive light. J. Walter Thompson Milan had recently done a clever and outstanding piece of advertising that must inspire many to avoid any insulting impression for both men and women:

Not everything is that shallow! Brands are realising the importance of depicting a thought processes that make a positive impact on the society. In the last few years, Dove has taken a bold step by pulling a real Bruno Mars and telling women they’re beautiful just the way they are.

Dove#ChangeTheRhyme ad

Ariel has also tried to evoke a conscience in men that washing is not only women’s job

Ariel #ShareTheLoad ad

Titan Raga’s #BreakTheBias ad urges people to change the way they look at a women’s success.

Titan Raga #BreakTheBias ad

Elle has asked men to let her be what she is!

We need more ads of these kind that completely wash away the stereotype that men and women come from different planets.


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