So which ads are most gender-sensitive?

08 Mar,2016


The image of the women in Indian advertising, is changing. From wife/mother/homemaker earlier, she is now career person/influencer/decision maker as well, which is a more accurate reflection of society. But it is still only a handful of ads that have gone a step further to bend gender stereotypes and show men taking on the roles traditionally played by women in a household. Gender sensitivity in advertising is still some way off, but the new, empowered woman in today’s creatives, shows it isn’t that far down the road either. Meenakshi Menon, Founder, Spatial Access, and AL Sharada, Director of Population First speak about how today’s ads have come a long way and pick their favourite TVCs…


Do you think advertising is more gender-sensitive today than ever before

Meenakshi Menon: I think the biggest problem with advertising today is that it lives in cuckoo land. You see the people in ads that you would never come across in the street. And the way advertising portrays women has also historically been a problem. But I think recently, one has seen a positive change.


AL Sharada: There has been a visible change in the last two or three years, perhaps as a reaction from younger women and men against gender stereotyping and gender violence. Also, more women today are influencing and being actively involved in purchase decisions. There is more participation of women in the workforce, so obviously advertising can no longer ignore them. I don’t think it is being done because of social or altruistic reasons but it [has become] an important issue for [marketers]. Particularly with digital media, they are able to explore these issues in a more elaborate way.


Menon: Now that you mention digital media, I think a lot of advertisers today are concerned about the gender issue not because they are genuinely concerned, but because digital and social media will immediately pounce on somebody if they are seen to step out of line. So thank god for social media.


And would you say that gender-sensitive ads can really change social beliefs and improve the lot of women in the country?

Menon: It’s a popular myth that advertising reflects the reality of life. So if wives are being beaten up in the privacy of their homes, should they then also be beaten up in the public arena of television? This is such a stupid argument. But as practitioners of advertising, if we believe that because of our creative work people go out and buy one brand rather than another, then it is our responsibility to not just reflect society, but actually guide society as well.


At Population First, you’ve been doing a lot of activities to educate advertising people. Do you think you have been successful?

Sharada: It really had a lot of impact in the sense that the [feedback] we received from the senior-most leaders in the industry was amazing. And that makes me very optimistic and hopeful that we will be able to take this agenda forward. Particularly, if you look at the fact that an ad is instituted for gender sensitivity this year means a lot because the industry is recognising gender-sensitivity as an intrinsic value for good communication.


So let’s talk about the ads that you find worthwhile, sensitive and ‘right’…

Menon : I’ve been very impressed with Ariel’s Share the Load ad. Everytime I see it, I want all the men that I know, to see it too. Today it is becoming increasingly fashionable for men to cook, but it’s not fashionable to do laundry. Everywhere across the developed world, laundry is seen as a chore for the individual — men and women do their own laundry. What I really like about it is that it’s the father saying, with regret, that he did not help his wife, or [pay heed] when his daughter was playing house while his son was playing cricket.


Sharada: I totally agree, because in all our campaigns, we see that if you don’t change the family, you can’t change society. The balance between the father and mother is [shown as] unequal and this gets perpetuated through generations. This ad actually talks about the whole gendering process that happens in the family, where the girl is given a tea set to play with, while a boy is given a cricket ball, and how that builds up all the associated roles and responsibilities, which are not equal.


What other ads would you list among the Top 3 or 5 on gender sensitivity

Sharada: I think the Titan Raga ad is good because it talks about the right of the woman to have a career, and also subtly and effectively shows the attitude of a man when he wonders how he can be without a job…


Menon: Another ad I thought interesting was the Biba arranged marriages one, where a hackneyed, traditional situation – of a boy’s family coming to see the girl – is [turned on its head] when the boy says, ‘Give me 10 days, and I will learn to cook something for you’. I thought that was really amazing.


Sharada: There are two or three ads that challenge the gender stereotypes of a man. One of them is the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, where they show the man spending time with his daughter, taking her for her performance, taking her out for a meal and then, because he has to get back to work, he takes her to his office. The work-life balance we see in this ad, is usually associated with women, but here a man is seen striking that work-home balance. Another ad I like, which is similar, is the Raymonds one where a man opts to stay home to look after the child while the woman goes to work. We really need to question the ‘macho’ image of men, and bring in new and more socially-acceptable images of them. I also like the Myntra ad where a woman decides to leave the job [because her boss has promoted someone else over her because she is pregnant]. It addresses a very important issue of gender discrimination in the workplace and it was significant that they had a woman boss in the ad…


Any message for marketers and the creative fraternity on producing gender-sensitive advertising?

Menon: One way to distinguish advertising that is gender sensitive from advertising that is gender offensive, is for [a male] creative director to ask himself if he would be okay with an ad that portrayed his wife or mother in a similar way. If he uses that as a filter, then you might find more people saying this is ok, and that is not. We need to educate people on how they can tell whether something is gender sensitive or not.


Sharada: There are four or five points which you should keep in mind when you are creating an advertisement. You should give equal space and an equal role to both men and women. I find many youth brands doing that, having an equal number of young men and women in the ads. Second, the way they are addressed and spoken to in the ad, is also very important. Third is to keep this in mind: Are you promoting certain stereotypes because they are comfortable and accepted, and will not cause hassles, or are you reflecting the reality? If you keep these things in mind, I think you can avoid being gender insensitive in your communication.


Menon: Frankly, I think that we have seen a lot of gender-sensitive advertising today because more and more marketers are concerned about consumer backlash. Because of social media, it is very easy to point out something that is offensive. And yes, this trend is not limited to the urban areas alone.


A part of this discussion appeared in BrandStand on Zee Business on March 5 and 6. Catch it on YouTube at This story first appeared in dna of brands on March 7, 2016.


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