All of us who have been watching TV since our childhood have known advertisements as the constant companion to our favourite TV programmes. Some old advertisements are still stuck with us and would start playing in our heads at the oddest of hours. The four drops of Ujala or be it the washing powder Nirma, advertisements have occupied our minds more than we imagine them to. Why not take some time to think about how these advertisements have contributed their part in making the social setting as it is today? How many of us bought market products without watching the advertisement first?
Advertisements shape our consumer behaviour to a great extent and our consumer behaviour in turn shapes a lot in society. Almost all the advertisements that we encountered during 90s and early 20s were market oriented. And while it is not a bad thing to promote your products advertisements (Advertisements give us information about market products albeit sometimes fabricated, also it is the marketing strategy most invested on today), there have been examples like the Fair & Lovely ad which got into controversy for encouraging colourism. This certainly is bad news for our society. This particular Fair & Lovely ad featured a young bronze skinned woman who after using fair and lovely and hence acquiring a lighter skin tone attains all the success she wanted to, namely a nice job, own house, own car etc. The ad invited criticisms, especially from a section of socially aware Indian youth and recently we saw launching of a campaign called unfair and lovely. The sole purpose of unfair and lovely was to spread the message that colorism is something that is very much prevalent in advertising and it is damaging to the society as a whole. The obsession with lighter skin tone even in countries like India where most of us are brown skinned leads to the feeling of inferiority, undermining the beauty of a select group of people (notice the hunt for fair skinned spouse in matrimonial sites?) and reducing one’s identity to the colour of one’s skin as it was featured in the fair and lovely advertisement.
The point of elaborating on this is to explain how certain brands use sexism, racism or colourism in this case to promote their products while misleading a bunch of us and making profits from encouraging social evils. But then again, every cloud has a silver lining. Recently we have witnessed launching of advertisements like share the load by Ariel detergent, actionaid advertisement for recognizing the contribution of housewives to economy, touch of care by Vicks making us aware of important social issues like unrecognized female labour and LGBTQ rights.
Share the load campaign by Ariel launched an advertisement on air questioning the role stereotyping of women in our society. A woman, whether she is working outside home or not, is always considered as the homemaker. And the work women do inside the four walls of their household is unpaid, unheard and unseen. Household chores are not considered as work even when if left unattended, such chores can shake the very foundation of a family. So why cooking for your family not considered as the kind of work that is contributing to the economy when the husband can’t go to work without food or the children can’t learn in an empty stomach? Then there are those women who work outside their homes too, and they have to bear the load of double burden of office work and household chores. Because women in a patriarchal society do house hold work by default. The Ariel and the action-aid advertisement makes us aware of the unpaid and unrecognized labour women in our society are burdened with. The action-aid advertisement features story of a man in rural India who marries thrice just because the household needs someone to fetch water from a well far away from home. It depicts a very visible scenario of role stereotyping and devaluing household work done by women, but there are thousands of invisible scenarios where we do the same. In our own households the division of labour/devaluation of female labour according to gender is pretty much prevalent but it is normalized to such an extent that it is not seen as anything unfair to the women. How many of us acknowledge our mothers for feeding us, clothing us or taking care of us? The number is negligible.
The touch of care advertisement by Vicks, that has gone viral in social media, features the real life story of a transgender mother Gauri who raised Gayatri with everything a child can ever want. Gender identity of Gauri doesn’t deter her from having a family. The advertisement throws light on how rights of the people who deviate from gender binary are denied to them. In most circumstances even their existence was not acknowledged until recently when Indian government recognized the third gender as the other gender. But we failed to bring in the material shift in our society to treat the LGBTQ community as our equals though when asked we all are believers in equality. The Vicks advertisement speaks through the daughter of Gauri who wants to be a lawyer so that she can give her mother the rights that are her due and which are denied to her.
Though advertisements with a social message are increasing in number, most of the time they seem forced or their orientation towards making profits by targeting a specific community trivializes the important issues. But as said earlier every cloud has a silver lining and out Indian market is stepping towards a more socially aware future. And that’s what counts. A thought can evoke a thousand thoughts and that has the potential unlike anything to bring in a revolution.