What Ticks for Indian Consumers/ Women – Prathap Suthan and Gautam Talwar/ Kavita Kailas

06 Nov,2014

Continuing with our extracts from the second edition of the MxMIndia Annual, we present contributions by Prathap Suthan and Gautam Talwar and Kavita Kailas.

 

 

Do we or don’t we need a list of do’s and don’ts?

 

By Prathap Suthan

 

At first it struck me as embarrassing that I have to write this. I mean just how silly are we? Are we so bad as an industry that we need people to actually sit down and write this? Are we so bad and so out of whack that we need to course correct, and we need to sanitize our heads, and flush vermin from our minds? Are we getting it all wrong, are we irritating and insulting women consumers day in and day out, and is the nation up in arms against the lot of us? Of course not. As an industry, barring a few exceptions, I think most of us are sensible and sensitive to everything this country is all about.

 

Including safe guarding dignity, driving respect and taking advertising to half a billion female consumers. Most of the people in advertising instinctively know that we need to get the balance between entertainment and communication right. Provocative, yet tempered to our diverse cultural reality. After all, the work that we do are the ambassadors for brands and companies and services. We cannot afford to be irresponsible. Our business is linked to our ability to coerce with grace. We are trained to be correct by instinct and experience. We don’t have a choice not to. We too have bills to pay. Besides, our work gets whetted internally.

 

Considering that in many agencies, women create advertising for women. And even if they don’t create all the communication, they do act as filters within the agency. Our women are competent to understand themselves, both as creatives and consumers. Or fight against what they think is wrong communication, both as strategists and consumers. I would actually say that some of the better minds in advertising and marketing belong to women. The checks don’t end there. Let’s not forget that there are enough women in the brand teams of the clients who spend the money that makes advertising visible.

 

They are possibly tougher than any other safety net one can think of. Only if their compasses permit, does a script become a film. Forget about telecasts. Then there are the women in film-making, research, media, and even mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives who sort of approve or disapprove the creative work before it actually breaks in public space. Somewhere in all that, flaws get picked up, corrections are made, and every rough edge is smoothened. It’s almost impossible to do a rogue commercial aimed at female consumers.

 

 

Evolution of the Indian woman in the last decade

 

By Gautam Talwar / Kavita Kailas

 

The representation of the Indian woman in the media has undergone three major thematic evolutions over the years. And in a sense, all three of these themes closely relate to each other for their changing influences. First, the judgment on the woman’s physical appearance has distinctly shifted.

 

When only a few decades ago, women who showed skin on television or exposed her mid-riff were seen as loose and lascivious, today the same archetype is perceived as edgy, progressive, aspirational, powerful, and modern. Consequently, the “good-girl” archetype is now dead.

 

Being sexy and edgy are positive and desirable brand cues instead of the homely girl. Today, we showcase the girl who rides her own bike with her hair open, and we downplay the girl with the plaited, oily hair.

 

So, what used to be considered aspirational as far as a woman’s physical representation is concerned has switched sides: the cues are the same, but the evaluation has changed. Another shift has occurred in the dynamics of power in representing women in the media. Earlier, a powerful woman was typically represented as the highly sexualised vamp character.

 

The positive representations preferred to showcase women in meek, humble, and gentle avatars. Typically, this was also accompanied by a desexualisation and hyper-emotionalisation of the female character. Now, we are beginning to see positive representations of women who wield power not just sexually: we see the headstrong mother of the Bournvita campaign who does not let her son beat her in a race.

 

We have the “Tiger-moms”who want the best for their children and family. The mother-wife figure has become far more dominant and assertive, and we see that in the Tanishq campaigns, Jabong Online Shopping ads, and more. Despite these two major shifts, the focus on a woman’s body has not waned.

 

 

 

So instead of pointing the needle of blame at advertising, maybe it’s a good idea to look around. Because advertising is not the only segment in the overall communication and creative industry. We are not the only influence medium. Look at the gigantic Hindi and vernacular cinema. I am not sure those movies have plots, scripts and gyrations that will pass muster at the prim ladies club. What about the lyrics of our music industry? Most of which aren’t just simple double entendre. They have meanings that will covertly and overtly make birds giggle and bees blush.And I have seen SEC A++ families and corporate India wiggle and jiggle to these lusty lyrics at parties, weddings and even at office gettogethers. What about those maudlin serials on television? Plus the raunchier variety of Big Boss and what else. Just what kind of thinking drives and mass-produces these to our people across the country? If you are looking for breaches in our system, these are those uglies that bash women down, pin them down into roles, cramp them into definitions, reduce them down to objects, talk down to them, and treat them without grace and equality. Advertising at best is just a fleeting 30 seconder. Or a small print ad.

 

Are they so powerful to destroy our society and disrespect women for all time? I have a feeling that we take ourselves too seriously, and self flagellate for things that we aren’t responsible for. We are just the barnacles. We aren’t the whale. Most of us, men and women in our business, work and think right. We already know our do’s and don’ts.

 

 

 

We still require women to pay lip-service to the preordained framework of beauty. What has changed is the metrics of this beauty: earlier it used to be the fair and voluptuous damsel; today it is the fair, tall, and thin model. And perhaps this final aspect of focusing on the woman’s body may never change – regardless of the fact that the highest number of graduates from B-schools in India are women according to a study done by India Today; regardless of the fact that industry stalwarts like Narayan Murthy and Tarun Das prefer women employees far more than male employees; or even regardless of the fact that the recent Kangana Ranaut interview on Front Row showcased a modern woman who was far more perceptive, sensitive, and intelligent than was initially perceived.It is still the woman’s body-and our judgments about it-that captures our collective attention as a national pass-time. Overcoming this frontier might perhaps be the most formidable challenge we may encounter as professionals in the business of advertising and media communication. – Gautam Talwar is Chief Strategy Officer at Rediffusion-Y&R and Kavita Kailas is Head, Strategic Planning, Rediffusion-Y&R.

 

 

Tomorrow: Friday, November 7:  Teens – Balu V

 

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