AdStand: Breaking stereotypes or strengthening them?

Celebrity is the most commonly employed brand strategy to stand out and build image. In this hyper connected world, the strategy is to find a provocative social problem and create a branded message around it. There have been a slew of brands from telecom to fashion that have used progressive feministic appeals to cut through clutter.

Latest to join the battle is Biba.

Biba is an ethnic wear brand for women; its early days were about being the official partners to movies and dressed up many a star. End of last month it released a campaign – #changeisbeautiful – about breaking a few stereotypes and creating a new convention. It uses adusky protagonist, questions conventions and establishes new conventions. It has been rewarded with thirteen million plus views on the web. Clearly it has been a viral hit and has generated a conversation.

The commercial starts with food (how can I marry a person over samosa) and ends over food (does the groom know how to cook?). Somehow in our progressive brand worlds, cooking and dusky skins take centrestage. Biba while having good intentions and wanting to get into progressive conversations actually stays in the conventional zone. To a certain extent it is comical in its characterization, and that takes away from the hard-hitting appeal it could have had. Biba I feel missed more than it scored.

I would like Biba to look at these two TVCs from Bharat Matrimony. The first commercial is about husband seeing off wife who has had an opportunity of lifetime, and the second is about the husband being the critic of the wife’s stage performance. These two are not viral hits on net, but are far more compelling and could easily fit the #changeisbeautiful narrative. Bharat Matrimony does not get into overt drama, or into a preachy mode and definitely stays away from Kitchen. Bharat Matrimony scores many points with its sensitive portrayal. The ads are about letting wives chase their passion, about giving wives the space they need, about husbands that stand by them, and all this is delivered with powerful portrayal. To me Bharat Matrimony broke the stereotypes that we in advertising have built over the years.

Brooke Bond tea’s latest transgender band is attempt in the same direction. Co-created with YRF, endorsed by Sonu Nigam, Brooke Bond has taken the initiative to further the cause of gender equality in India. The band’s first song is the cover version of Pharrell William’s global hit ‘Happy’. What the brand does well is to stay away from meddling with the overall construct of the narrative; it’s not overtly branded for a tea brand. What it does not achieve is true gender diversity conversation. It leaves the conversation in the known stereotypical zone. I hope as the initiative progresses, they actually do something about the problems of community and truly work towards generating equality. For me, it is an initiative that has the ability to grow into something very substantial for the brand.

The way to merge social stereotypes and have a hard hitting commentary about it has been shown by Kalki in this video.

Printing Machine, written and narrated by her, is a powerful statement on what today’s news media does to women. How everything is seen from sensationalizing angle, on how every event that happens will be used to create commerce.

Click click clika lika lik lik the tap on the lap goes zip zap is very much a commentary on how we in advertising sometimes mindlessly use social cause to create messages to be vain, progressive, forward thinking, when we are actually stuck in our own stereotypes. Remember this too is a commercial message from a brand of cosmetics, and that makes it super powerful.

original published here

Women, advertising and societal stereotypes

Stereotypes are societal shorthand. Stereotypes are simple ways of communicating complex ideas in a simplistic ways. Stereotypes are manifested through many forms in media and are used to represent both men and women. What defines stereotypes is the amazing consistency they display. They may reflect changing societal norms, sometimes they do, yet they don’t move away from hard codes of imagery that exists in society.

The fact is that advertising industry has not created any of the stereotypes, but they certainly have strengthened and propagated many of these stereotypes in order to sell many brands and categories. Advertising does not necessarily depict how women actually behave but how we think women behave.

Today despite changing gender roles, increase in literacy levels, greater number of women joining work force, increased financial independence, greater ownership of cars and bikes certain gender stereotypes have not changed.

These are four stereotypes that the advertising industry refuses to let go off.

1.Curse of dark skin: This is one stereotype the world of advertising has just refused to give up on. Possibly the origination of this stereotype could be the rule of English in India where the fair skinned women were thought to be the epitome of beauty. The entire fairness category is stuck in this time wrap. The women protagonists can be good singers, working women, Cricket commentators, budding entrepreneurs but they cannot succeed in life if they are not fair. Wish the advertising and research industry stepped out to see how dark skin need not be a curse.

2.The ultimate smell test: As a housewife earlier she lived by the kitchen test, today she lives by the smell test. She wasn’t a good wife or daughter-in-law if her kitchen wasn’t sparkling clean; today she is a failure if her toilet is not smell free. Bad odor has become the final frontier of womanhood, mom hood and everything else. Seriously!

3.The melt by diamond wife: As clueless husband you are allowed to make as many mistakes as you can make, only until you can break the bank to buy a 3 carat princess cut sparkling rock for your wife. If only this mistake and make up situation was as simple world will be free of domestic strife and divorces. A sparking rock does not lead to domestic bliss; this is one stereotype that is not going away soon.

4.The fairy Godmother: she knows it all has all the answers. She knows where the missing socks are, she knows which cooking oil will produce tastiest food, what exercise regime you need to follow, how using a home made medicine will make acnes vanish! Yet the fairy godmother knows nothing about finances, insurance, holidays, credit cards, driving, computers and mobiles. So either she knows it all or she knows nothing! It’s time the industry made up its mind

The reality is that women have changed. Working women don’t always wear pants to work. Their husbands don’t sleep hungry in the night.  Their kids do very well in school. If such concepts are ever tested in focus group, women will react with disdain. Some of these portrayals have started to diminish, but most are going strong.

Stereotypes are shorthand, they simplify complex ideas, it’s time the advertising and marketing industry become change makers and sow seeds of new stereotypes. Its time the advertising professionals themselves changed


Original Article was published in Marketing Booster Magazine of March 2013