Empow(d)ered woman -Indu Balachandran

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/indu-balachandran-on-the-bold-new-face-of-women-in-indian-advertising/article7460411.ece 
Indu Balachandran is the author of "Don’t Go Away, We’ll Be Right Back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising"
indubee8@yahoo.co.in

Forget fairness creams and powders. Welcome to the bold new face of women in Indian advertising

Earlier, if an Indian woman was seen coming out of the closet, it was usually with some cleaning implements in hand; to make the floor sparkle and shine — before her husband brought his muddied boots home from the office. Now, it is to declare her sexual preference, not her floor-cleaner preference. Jai ho, Indian advertising!

Even as the recent Myntra commercial sold clothes woven around a story of two women (deeply in love with dressing, and each other), came the news of a shattering of glass ceilings; a noise heard around the world of international advertising. India had won the Cannes Grand Prix for a P&G campaign: The Glass Lion for addressing gender inequality and prejudices.

This brand new category created quite a buzz at Cannes, the ultimate award show celebrating the best of advertising from around the world. India, rife with gender inequalities and stereo types, seemed a happy Lion-hunting ground, and had some worthy contenders for this most coveted prize. And win India did — not once; but twice, with two path-breaking ideas for P&G.

‘Touch the Pickle’ for sanitary pads directly addressed and defied a ridiculous Indian taboo that a girl who has her periods should never touch the pickle jar, as it would cause its contents to rot. The phrase was a war-cry to challenge many other hushed no-nos that we in India know so well: don’t enter the kitchen, don’t play vigorous sports, don’t enter a temple. This provocative insight by Creative head Josy Paul’s team at BBDO, Mumbai, was the core idea that freed sanitary pads from coy references to ‘those four days’, not to mention doing away with the mandatory brand-demo every client insists on putting in; (undoubtedly confusing a lot of ignorant males that girls ‘bleed blue’ once a month).

The Indian win was even more creditable as it beat the Internet favourite #Likeagirl campaign from the American sanitary pad brand Always. After winning the Facebook Award just a week earlier, Likeagirl somehow paled into an already-heard-that-one idea. To the jury (eight women, two men) of the Glass Lions Award, ‘Touch the Pickle’ must have scored high on quaintness and Third-World charm, even as they exclaimed to the press: “This is a gender issue that impacts every single woman worldwide, it’s innovative and disruptive, entertaining and engaging…” They were also referring to the huge body of work supporting the idea — from TEDx talks to stand-up comedy routines — that made Whisper shout it out for young girls. (Curiously, not against male prejudice, but women themselves — elder women perpetuating age-old meaningless customs, despite suffering so much themselves as teenagers.) True, not one of those modern upper-class girls depicted in the ad would’ve even heard about that pickle superstition; but the insight became a curious catch-phrase to build up a huge ‘movement’ around the brand. The results were stunning too: Whisper’s share of voice went up from 21 per cent to a remarkable 91 per cent.

And then lightning struck twice in the same place: BBDO won for fighting gender bias — again! This time, not that strike of lightning we know so well telling us how to get whiter whites but a detergent brand that put laundry advertising in a new spin altogether.

The main TV commercial shows a very real-life drama unfold, even in the most liberated of Indian homes. An elderly lady comments on how far working women have come, and even shares with her friend, the fact that her daughter-in-law earns more than her son — said with a hint of pride, and no prejudice. Even if the commercial had ended right there, it would’ve been a strong message to society that it’s ok for a woman to earn more, even the son’s mother doesn’t have an ego problem… Just as we are silently applauding the moment, we hear an interaction between the daughter-in-law, busy with her laptop, and her banian-clad husband. “Why didn’t you wash my green shirt yesterday, yaar?” asks he, in mild annoyance. Three women turn very slowly to look at the man. In the moment of profound silence that follows, comes the sledge-hammer of a thought: Why is laundry only a woman’s job? Silence. Ariel. #ShareTheLoad.

It is easy to understand how this ad resonated with every member of the jury, even without cultural contexting. In 90 per cent of urban Indian households, laundry is considered a woman’s job — not just for ensuring promotions at work for the husband, or an impromptu dance with the adoring slave-wife, as she puts out the tightie-whities to dry. Housewives almost always operate the washing machines…as many men, it appears, who so love the knobs and touch-screens of their cars and music systems, can’t figure out the dials of washing machines, and anyway who has the time to separate coloureds and whites and dainties. Perhaps a dirty secret of even first-world Western households…

In a witty ad campaign that uses humour rather than strident berating, P&G pushed guilt-struck males into sharing the load, and even earn bragging rights, by blogging about it in a contest that took off like a washed handkerchief in the wind. Extensions of this huge core idea found their way to celeb fashion designers endorsing their labels, quite literally: “Can be washed by both men & women’’ said the label at the collar. Next, the most watched-space for young men and women was hit too, with Ariel. “Will you Share the Load of household chores with your partner” appeared on online Matrimonial websites. A moment for reflection for every male chauvinist contemplating marriage, for sure.

The banter-with-a-serious message continued with encounters with newly wed celebrity couples. The message Share the Load, percolated to many other household chores. The dabbawallahs of Mumbai carried the message on their shirts, even as they delivered lunch-boxes (lovingly filled by the wife at home, perhaps). But even as one senses the fun the agency must’ve had coming up with this good-humoured washing of dirty linen in public, the dazzling results came in: sales registered an increase of 60 per cent as women must have added Ariel Matic to their shopping cart to further remind the man of the house that it’s not about who wears the pants but who washes them too.

Cannes awards apart, we can look back on the past year and recollect a number of gender-benders that have hash-tagged their way to fame. Havells had ideas as endless as their gadgets. One laugh-out loud example: at a girl-seeing-ceremony, the mommy-ji laments that her darling phoren-returned son seeking a wife suffers so much in his bachelor life abroad, stepping out even for coffee. Thump! The defiant girl firmly places her coffee-maker before the startled boy, saying take this one and settle down, no visa problem either; as she herself wants to be a wife, not a kitchen appliance. Havells#Respectforwomen. Undoubtedly!

The much-hailed Titan Raga went on from its widow re-marriage theme, to showing poised single women moving with the times, despite running into ex-lovers at airports making dumb observations (“we could’ve made it work, if only you’d quit working”). Nimrit Kaur’s amused rejoinder said it for all of us who encounter retrograde male attitudes.

The Airtel wife-who’s actually-the-boss. The Bournvita competitive mom. The Fastrack convention-defying teen. The HDFC parent-supporting daughter. The Sofy imnotdown Gal.

What a different face of the woman of today! One wonders if planners in ad agencies arrive for work with a checklist in hand, ready to pin their next advertising message on a sharp arrow that carries a gender issue shooting out of TV screens. Well, we’ve had them push the pay-packet envelope already with the Ariel ad, but why, wonders my friend in advertising, didn’t they push that Whisper insight to a far edgier level than the rather unheard-of but cute ‘Touch the Pickle’ superstition? Isn’t ‘Enter the temple’ the more real and prevalent issue to highlight?

Meanwhile, it is refreshing to take the conversation away from the clichéd fairness creams and powders that once represented the empowered woman. Or the ‘empow(d)ered’ woman, as a wag put it. With gender-fighting enzymes and ego-boosting enhancers, Indian advertising is firmly keeping stride with today’s aware Indian woman.

Indu Balachandran is the author of Don’t Go Away, We’ll Be Right Back: The Oops and Downs of Advertising.

indubee8@yahoo.co.in

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