Women’s image in advertising has always been a hot topic of debate in creative circles: Is it regressive and stereotyped or is there a positive change? Do bikes, colognes and diamond ads present the Indian woman in the right light? exchange4media spoke to some creative gurus to find out.
Piyush Pandey, Executive Chairman & NCD, O&M, admitted that the image of women in Indian advertising has been regressive but he also believes that the overall image has improved. “Every industry has some things that are not right. But currently, most advertisements are doing their bit to give women the image of having earned a rightly deserved position, rather than just being second in importance. The image of women today is keeping with the society -- confident, not second-priority, successful -- and that is what the woman of India is.”
Josy Paul, NCD, JWT, agreed with him. He said, “I think it's getting progressive. We have many advertisements where women are doing what contemporary women are seen doing. Whether it is in making the first move as shown in Femina or Pepsodent, or making decisions in the ads of Saffola, or being equal partners, there is a contemporary face and a modern value. We have a lot of young people in the industry today and they are not harping on past stereotypes. They go by the contemporary values that they see around them. Even on television, we are seeing a lot of women now.”
Santosh Desai, Head, Future Brands, however, has a different story to tell. He believes that today it is all about looking good and that from an overall perspective, while deterioration sounds simplistic, the depiction of empowerment and coming to the fore has been used by brands.
He noted, “Today it’s about appearances. Earlier, the anxious person was the housewife, whereas today the anxious person is outside, at work. It’s all about whether she is looking good enough.”
“If she had to meet expectations at home earlier, today it is about meeting those kinds of appearance expectations at work. The entire thing reduces to her appearance. She may be the liberated woman at home, but much less outside. Things like pimples, cracks are what I call creation of ‘markets’ for self-hate. There have been some ads that have created iconic images of women, like Cadbury’s and Ericsson in the past. Today, I would have to struggle to find such iconic images in advertising.”
One point however that Pandey and Desai agree on is that it is not the responsibility of advertising to change or help change the image of Indian women. Observed Pandey, “The responsibility of advertising doesn’t start with trying to change the image of women. Since advertising is a commercial business, that would mean expecting too much from it. However, having said that, it should not be derogatory to anybody.”
“This charade of appearances we see in advertising today is all part of the celebrity culture, and it could be true for men also, but given the power equation, it is harder for a woman. Advertising cannot make a conscious effort to change this, it should happen on its own,” he added.
And as Desai remarked, “I think instead of a self-conscious effort to further the cause of women, it should happen on its own."