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Education sector needs to address the white space and have women promoting their brands, opines the industry
Changing modules of learning, massive inflow of venture capital, and growing competition in the space has really pushed the education sector in India, especially ed-tech and digital education, to surplus growth during the pandemic. As per a TAM AdEx report launched earlier this year, the sector saw a rise of 91% in ad insertions on digital platforms and 23% on television in January-March 2021 as compared to the same period last year. Most of these advertisers belonged to the digital learning category, including Whitehat Jr, Byjus, Exam Online App, Cuemath.com, etc.
And while the sector is on an upward trend, it is not making a strong case for inclusivity, as the latest TAM AdEx Celebrity Endorsement report highlighted 一 between January and June 2020 & 2021, none of the education sector brands were endorsed by female celebrities. E-com-Education, in fact, is the eighth top category when it comes to the number of celebrity endorsers, at 14, all of them male.
Reacting to the data, SheThePeople founder Shaili Chopra said, “There certainly is a gender gap when it comes to the education sector ads. The reason for this is how generally we perceive the role of women in society and how it is being propagated by the media over the years. When you do a celebrity endorsement, brands often want to attract big masses and play on their appeal. And sadly, not many female celebrities have managed to attain that because of the characters that they have been made to play on-screen. How many movies or TV series have we seen wherein a woman is shown to be career-focussed, getting her degrees, and not leaving everything behind for her family or the hero.”
However, she is glad that the things are changing, albeit slowly, in cinema and other content platforms and she is hopeful that education brands will soon tap into the potential that female endorsers offer.
MullenLowe Lintas Group Director – Marketing Krishna Iyer feels that it is a bit premature to deduce that there is a gender bias. He noted, “Communication for a young category such as edtech, which is eager to make its mark and breakout into a growth path, takes time to evolve. As the category starts to evolve with more and more users experiencing it, the propositions start to look similar. The better, faster, promises appeal to the mind and when there is no more differentiation, the emotional appeal starts to give brands shape and meaning. Frankly, it is very early days to say that there is a gender bias. As the category matures, we may see more exciting and inclusive campaigns.”
Zirca Digital Solutions Creative Director Abhijit Rajan, on the other hand, feels that education brands make a “poor case for inspiring the adoption of learning platforms” at an overall level.
He quipped, “TV ads are relying less on popular faces and opting to inspire with deeper differentiators. Male celebrity brand ambassadors as icons of educational excellence have always made me cringe. Brands do this because they prefer to cast their nets wider and chase mass appeal instead of addressing well-defined audiences. It’s lazy thinking. At best it works only for awareness and recall (and that is hardly positive). But what happens to trust and loyalty? Nope. Male celebs are preferred purely because they represent the peak of ‘success’ in Indian society, and of course offer die-hard fan-bases. That’s about as much logic there is to the average brand strategy. It addresses the lowest common denominator, the homogenous mass mindset. If one were to look deeper, the concept of success now varies vastly from person to person.”
dentsumcgarrybowen India EVP & Head- Planning & Strategy Vishal Nicholas, rightfully, highlighted that the problem seeps much deeper than just advertising. “I think decisions or even conversations are led by the male due to a very practical reason that goes unnoticed. What people tend to forget is that the salespersons in these categories are predominantly male and when they come calling to your house to make a sales pitch, it just seems convenient for everybody that the male of the house appears to lead the conversation even though female participation may be more covert. Maybe the edtech industry needs to be more inclusive in their sales hiring.”
He further noted that brands are missing the emotional quotient in educational brands. “The other reason could be this misconception that education is a rational decision only and therefore it tends to get attributed to the male. But again people forget that education has an emotional side to it as well – the child’s excitement, frustrations, achievements and disappointments. – things which are often best understood by the child’s mother.”
Interestingly, the case just might not be for the education sector. Any sector that is opting for celebrities in above the age group of 21-34, is skewed towards male celebrities.
Can having a female endorser have any negative impact on education brands because of societal norms?
Chopra disagrees. She feels that the need is to have a holistic approach to how women are generally portrayed in the media, and the society will welcome the change.
Rajan noted, “Public perception is evolving and advertising has to evolve with it. Having a female endorser can only have a negative impact if she is not the right fit for the brand. Her being female won’t mar a brand’s image or sales per se. For instance, nearly every Indian could attest that they had more women as teachers than men. What still stops us from using women as role models? We’ve got to start somewhere. Even if it is with a female celebrity.”
Iyer added, “Any edtech brand has universal appeal and cuts across both male and female audiences. So, does the gender of the brand ambassador really matter for it to succeed? Academically, girls generally fare better than boys. A female brand ambassador is a white space that edtech brands may not have explored yet.”
Nicholas agreed, “Definitely public perception can play a constructive role because marketers listen to their consumers and if the tide of public perception turns, marketers will inevitably follow. I don’t think having a female endorser can have any negative impact at all. Women in fact understand better than anybody what works for their child and what doesn’t, which teaching modes does her child respond best to and where her natural abilities lie.”
Which female celebs could be a good fit for education brands?
Shaili Chopra feels someone like Vidya Balan, who has a strong motherly personality, and herself is a very strong woman could be a great ambassador for the sector. Another name she suggested is Kriti Sanon. “She herself is an engineer and is taking phenomenal path breaking roles, which could make her an excellent fit. The brands just need to see women beyond just beautiful faces and that’s what would really prompt the change.”
Rajan noted, “Just by virtue of being parents, we could choose Twinkle Khanna and Kiran Bedi, Aishwarya Rai and perhaps Kajol. For a digital audience, from a strictly ‘learning & development’ perspective, one could pick multiple social influencers including bloggers, artists, educators, independent travellers and more. Essentially, women who can be role models; women with a point of view.”
Nicholas shared, “Any female celebrity who exudes youthful wisdom, progressiveness and love for education. An interesting tie-up was the association between Cuemath and Vidya Balan just after her movie Shakuntaka Devi was released.”
Iyer shared a similar point of view as he quoted, “Education & technology are great tools for empowerment. The girls from Tier 2 and 3 cities are waiting to come out and shine. Brands playing in the edtech space have a brilliant opportunity to connect with them and make them feel empowered. Additionally, a female brand ambassador could prove inspiring for a cause such as this. A celebrity mother with kids can be an excellent choice. Madhuri Dixit or Kajol can be a wonderful fit.”
However, they all agreed that along with picking the right celebrities and endorsers, these brands need to focus on their storytelling and creating a strong brand proposition as well.
Rajan concluded, “No matter what celebrities we choose. No matter what times we’re in, what resonates with an audience is authenticity. Furthermore, if you’re a brand looking to simply sell units, and you’re on a tight budget, be sure to put your money on ideas that raise ROI, not just eyebrows.”
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