Guest Column: Is Indian advertising communal?: Pratik Mazumder

Mazumder talks about the stereotyped portrayal of communities in advertisements

e4m by Pratik Mazumder
Published: May 26, 2018 10:07 AM  | 4 min read

Families are an important target group for brands. One doesn’t have to try hard to see that a lot of brands talk to the average Indian family. Most of the ads we see have a family in it. Be it FMCG, consumer durables, household goods or even financial products.

This is how it is done. The ads are meant to make you relate to a brand. Using a family is the easiest way to do it. But there’s one thing I fail to understand. Why the families portrayed in these ads are never from the minority communities? In a country like India, where so many communities co-exist, why don’t advertisers tell stories that have a family from a minority community?

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The trend has prevailed for the last 50 years. It feels like a default setting that automatically chooses a ‘Hindu family’ to tell a story. Even if you think hard, you would not be able to remember one ad that had a Muslim family or say a Northeastern family, unless the ad revolved around Eid or Bihu or had a message about secularism and unity. 

In fact, the ads have a stereotypical way of portraying the minority communities, especially the Muslims. They aren’t portrayed like the families one sees in a Safola or a Disney Channel ad. Instead, you see them at loggerheads with their Hindu counterparts. 

As a marketer, I take the blame as well. I’m certainly not communal but the advertising campaigns that I have had been a part of make me think otherwise. Subconsciously, I have made the same mistakes. Never thought that I was doing something wrong, till very recently. The thought made me go back and look at advertisements that I have been a part of. Now I see them in a different light. Instead of really digging deep into the psyche of the minority communities, we settle for the bookish portrayal.

I firmly believe that brands don’t discriminate. They don’t make products just for one community. Their offerings are for the entire country. All communities included. So why don’t we do the same when it comes to advertising? What stops us from being secular in the stories we tell? If a Muslim or a Northeastern family can identify with a Hindu family, then there’s really no reason to believe that a Hindu family can’t identify with a family from another community. After all, family isn’t about what religion you follow. Family is about love and care. And last I checked, these feelings weren’t communal. Everyone understands family because everyone is a part of one.

One might argue that as a brand, we try to target the largest group. Even the “white-washing” in the West is a proof of that. But then, there also have been brands that showed that it isn’t the only way to do it. Their advertising goes beyond skin colour or communities. All that matters is the message. It doesn’t matter who or what the protagonist in the ad really is. The following two examples prove that back then and even now, brands are trying to blur this difference. They are trying to tell stories that go beyond colour, creed or communities. Undoubtedly, a much more progressive approach.

Coca Cola 1971 Ad:

Star Plus Nayee Soch Ad:

It is time to do some thinking. Just because something has been going on for years, doesn’t mean it is the right way to do it. Our stories can always be better. The way we target our audience can be better. And while doing so, we ourselves could become better.

Don’t you think so?

(The author is the Chief Marketing Officer of Times Internet)

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of

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