October 05, 2009

It’s A Bad Ad World

LATELY, WHILE CHANNEL SURFING, I came across two advertisements, prominently aired in prime time slots that went something like this:

Ad 1: A little girl whines about how her hair isn’t as long as her mother’s was in her childhood. The mother apologetically mentions that she has to work while Nani (her own mother) was “at home all day.” As she drops her daughter off to school in a car driven by her, the girl whips around and retorts in Hindi, “Then don’t go to office!”  The situation is resolved by the mother saving the day, her job and her relationship with her daughter by producing a satisfactory solution, namely a bottle of Clinic Plus shampoo.

Ad 2: A schoolgirl, not much older than 8 or 9, boasts to the camera about how her mother is special because she lost oodles of weight on a Special K cereal diet that requires one to eat two bowls of cereal, twice a day as one’s only form of nourishment. The mother comes in at the end, smiles indulgently at her and then the audience and fondly asks “Bahut bolti hain na?” (Speaks too much, doesn’t she?).  And the ad ends with them sharing a cuddle.

So let’s think about this:

  1. Mummies must primarily attend to their children’s every whim, to the point where their own needs/career aspirations must be sublimated. Vanity and shimmering hair over all else!
  2. Little girls think it’s okay to be terribly proud of not-so-skinny mums turning skinny (so if they didn’t, would they be unhappy or embarrassed?)
  3. Even if it’s half-jokingly, a girl who speaks “too much” must be chided, especially by her own mother.

Some ridiculously naïve part of me kept watching in the hope that the mother in each ad would rectify the daughter’s misconception but really, are the folks selling shampoo and breakfast cereal listening to a feminist rant? Three guesses, people.

On a more heartening note, take a look at this post on Saffron Tree. As a preschool educator, I constantly struggle with poor female representation in narratives and often create my own stories to compensate. But of course, the telly will keep beaming what it will as long as cereal and shampoo sell. Knew there was a reason they call it the idiot box.

20 comments to It’s A Bad Ad World

  • Shivani

    I was hoping to see an article here fisking (?) the Clinic Plus Ad. I haven’t seen the other one – though it’s now apparent that it’s much worse than the former.

    //but really, are the folks selling shampoo and breakfast cereal listening to a feminist rant? //

    No, they’re SO not! That’s why we had a radio-ad a year ago about an “especially-for-women” electronic showroom because women have difficulty understanding electronic gadgets! (their words, not mine 🙂 )

  • Also only rich folks who can afford to buy platinum love bands can have the perfect relationship and you’re only worth it if you decide to smear your face with whitening cream. The sad thing is that these products are endorsed by any number of celebrities.

  • Divya

    i am so glad we got rid of TV years back. We get movies for kids on weekends and i pre-screen them based on various factors such as violence and how they portray women. So if you disapprove of the messages on TV (i do), vote with your feet and boycott them. When enough number of people do this and the TRP is hit, produces will listen.
    Oh, if it is relevant, we live in Bangalore.

  • This is nonsensical. There is no need to look at a child’s embarrassment at his/her parents using gender glasses. It is universal. My 9 year old cousin gets all grumpy if her dad walks her to the schoolbus stop in his pajamas. She expects him to dress nattily to even let him walk her. Ironically, he is an ad film director. If you want an ad example, what about the ad where a child takes great pride in her dad’s big car? Does that imply daddies are supposed to buy expensive cars to keep the child happy?

  • Dilnavaz, following Ultra Violet for sometime now. Haven’t seen these ads here but would’ve felt the exact same thing. Sadly we are yet to grow up. I wonder if there are any women present on the creative as well as approving committees of these ads/companies. How could they say yes to such mis-representation of women?

  • girl-in-the-dirty-shirt

    there is always the ponds series of advertisements. the first one where a man paints a woman’s portrait and frowns at her “black spots” and as every day passes by, with the application of “ponds white beauty” her spots vanish and this young man has to correct the painting. the ad ends with a diamond ring on the girls fingers in the painting. ah, yes. symbolic of what is in store for her in the future!

    the second one is the Ponds Age Miracle advertisement with the tagline being something in the lines of “see the change in YOUR HUSBAND in just 7 days” (emphasis added)the woman looks at her wedding picture with great sadness thinking about her ageing skin (but she is using the cream at this time) while we are shown, simultaneously a man running around and handing huge boards to people in a building. the woman gets a message and she looks out and voila! right in the opposite building are the words “marry me again!” awww. all because of Ponds’ miraculous Age Miracle cream!

    i dont even know where to begin with the problems that these ads put forward.
    first of all, a “flawed” (in terms of spots or acne) complexion is extremely unappealing for a man (evident through his facial expression.)The woman decides to use ponds and lighten it up to please him. In the end there she is, with a ring and a man.

    secondly, the woman has to use ponds age miracle NOT to make herself feel better but to make her husband happy. A woman needs to satisfy her husband by reducing her wrinkles, and needs to look younger for him in order to maintain the relationship. now, here is a thought: isnt the husband ageing as well?
    why is it that we only see the men as desiring objects with certain needs and the women constantly trying to please them?

    lets twist these ads for a moment. what if the girl in the first example didnt like the young man’s body? what if, the woman in the second example is deeply unsatisfied with her marriage because her husband is ageing faster than she is and isnt as vigorous as he used to be? 🙂
    when are men going to be shown in advertisments using cosmetic products for the “woman they love”? when are the woman going to be also shown as desiring beings than just be reduced to the “desired” flawless object whose whole life revolves around moulding herself to be desirable to the male?

  • girl-in-the-dirty-shirt

    oh yes, the kellogs ad is just plain disturbing. that child who is barely 10 has internalized the conditions imposed on a woman by the society. what hope is left. next thing we know, we would have bulimic/anorexic 10 year olds.

  • Nayantara

    So agree with Divya….we don’t have a TV either. The messages blasting from it are not what want for my kids. Carefully screened DVDs n VCDs and a million books, I hope will build up a stronger self-image and self-esteem.

  • I hear you. The ads get worse and worse – I’d posted about the Vaseline Healthy White Ad (http://reviewroom.blogspot.com/2009/07/in-all-fairness.html) but there are so many of them now. I’d thought of calling each one of them out on my blog, but haven’t been able to commit time to do it yet.

  • ritwika dasgupta

    I remember, some years ago , when i was still in my school , one evening i was walking on the road when a man ( who was no less than my father’s age) walked past me .I can’t ever forget the smirk on his face as he walked past me and threw a comment in the air.” I cant let a woman ( mind you I was not more than 10 or 11 years old that time )walk before me,I am a man and must lead.” That comment, even after so many years, has not left me . Somehow , its perhaps the same stereotypification that prompts ads like this.Perhaps these ads are varied manifestations of the same mentality.A woman having long hair,a fair woman chosen over a darker one, a woman( or about to become one)trudging behind a man ( or all the men of the world!!!! )

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Shivani: And I heard about a special magazine explaining economics/money to women. While it offends me, I can’t help wondering what kind of market research these guys did and how they conclusively came up with the need for dumbing down certain topics for our gender.

    Kriti: I wouldn’t rate celebrities as socially conscious people. Which is why there aren’t any I really respect. And those I do wouldn’t be called celebrities.

    Divya & Nayantara: Good for you guys!

    Alan Smithee: Actually, yes, that’s exactly what the ads attempt to suggest. Female=all-sacrificing caregiver, male=benevolent provider. There are any number of adverts that feed off men’s insecurities too.

    Minal: Thanks for your comment. Sadly, plenty of women don’t question stereotypes precisely because they don’t see them as such.

    girl-in-the-dirty-shirt: Good questions. Let’s hope someone relevant is listening. Pre-teen schoolgirls who believe they’re overweight do exist, but thankfully I’ve come across very few. (Not that I’m claiming it’s a representative sample.)

    Amodini: Like Minal in the comment above, I’d love to know whether there’s a qualified gender sensitivity panel reviewing these ads. I’d be very surprised if one exists.

    ritwika dasgupta: My only reaction to the strange man you described is: ?!!

  • A very nice observation. I go through ads like these always wishing there would be some place to discuss such atrocities!
    I still see no one mentioned the ‘Airtel’ ad where the mom takes her young son to task who is then shown making a ‘make belief’ cell phone complaint to his dad who’s not at home. When the punishment is over, the young MCP says “You got scolded by dad didn’t you?”
    A typical Indian household? I mean, the ad would have been less sexist if a young girl played the part instead of a 5 year old boy..

  • I agree that those two ads have a pretty regressive attitude towards women but I have been noticing that Ads on TV channels seem to be trying to incorporate a ‘cute kid’, no matter how unrelated the product might be to a child. The ones that come to mind is one for a dog food (Pedigree, I think it is called) and the new ‘Das Auto’ ad (Volkswagen?). Actually, now that I think about it, there was another car ad with the kid being in the central role (Maruti, I think).
    Anyway, this is just an observation of mine. 🙂

  • Zora

    I agree with you, but I think that ads mainly try to forward the ‘cute kid’ policy as Apoorva said. I also agree that this kind of bias or indercurrent should not be there.

  • Arya

    hi guys i havn’t noticed the first 2 ads but ofcourse i’ve noticed the airtel ad & felt the same. The mom is portrayed as one who’s not working & one who’s afraid of the dad.But ofcourse i’m having my own funny experiences.In my college in our internet cell once i was browsing the UN website on a debate on women equality issues.then one of my seniors who is ofcourse a boy or rather a man came .He saw what i was doing & came to me with a sarcastic smile and asked are you a feminist?Atfirst i was shocked then i simply smiled & asked him why he was asking so. then he was shocked & simply said nothing .That incident really opened my eyes on the attitude of people towards this movement.i have heard many of my girl friends critising even the word feminist.they actually thinks that feminists are the people who says that the men should go to moon.they dont have the patience even to understand the movement which gave them many of their rights.

  • Dilnavaz Bamboat

    Sowmya: I haven’t seen that one, but it sounds just as infuriating as the rest.

    Apurva: It’s either children or women. Nobody seems to believe men when they sell. 😛

    Zora: How is a tantrum-throwing child cute? 😕 I, for one, wouldn’t be amused by a sulky brat who demanded things from her mother!

    Arya: Send them a link to Ultra Violet! 🙂

  • How is a tantrum-throwing child cute?

    It’s the same reason why there was a popular show called, “Kids say the darnest thing”. 🙂

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  • colorpurple

    Loved your article. you really do drive home the point about how women (female child also sometimes) are portrayed in media and slowly they seep into the public consciousness and become the norm. garnier color naturals ad is another which makes me scream murder. a younger sister runs to her older sister, melodramatically screaming that her life is over because she has one gray hair. and the reason she thinks her life is over is because boys wont want her anymore! ok i admit i do not know anything about the achievements of this character (education, age, working or not, etc.)but looking at the house it seems like she comes from a family in which she has most probably received some level of education, she seems fairly confident and conventionally good looking, however, none of that means anything. because her worth and identity is wrapped up in a single strand of gray hair.

    if that is the case, the only option i have is to either pick up the dye or just simple roll over and die over my worthless existence.

    i am still waiting for an ad that is female friendly. have you come across any on the indian telly?

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