Will brands make good on their gender inclusivity promise?

The creative minds of the industry feel that changing the gender roles in advertising is laudable but brands should also be walking the talk and making the world more inclusive

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: Sep 24, 2021 8:17 AM  | 5 min read
cadbury ad

Often called out for its sexist narratives, the Indian advertising industry, over the past few months, has given us some thoughtful ads centred on the changing gender roles in the society, from Cadbury’s “Kuch Khaas Hai” revisit to Manyavar's #Kanyamaan campaign. 

But is this really the beginning of a positive change or just lip service by brands to seem woke and be part of the changing trends? Some of the industry insiders share their thoughts. 

A beautiful start but still too far 

The industry reckons that the creators and brands are both trying to create a healthy gender-inclusive narrative but feels that it is still too early to celebrate. 

DDB Mudra Creative Head - West Pallavi Chakravarti says, “ I think these are early days yet, but the signs are encouraging. More and more, we see brands wanting to stand up and be counted among those for whom equality is a way of life. No amount of focus on this subject is too much in my view, so frankly, even if a brand is putting a piece out there to render lip service, it is still in service of the larger cause. In a nutshell, I'd say the journey has begun - it's our collective responsibility to ensure that we keep moving towards the final goal - be it through word or deed.” 

Infectious Advertising Director and Co-founder Ramanuj Shastry also feels the same. “I think it's about time for a change in the advertising world. Social media and connectivity has made us one with the world. Sensibilities and sensitivities which would have normally taken years to permeate our social strata are now adopted at the speed of thought. 

"As a consequence, gender representation has also changed in communication. But I am absolutely not satisfied with the progress that has been made. As the parent of a small daughter, I have vested interest in the gender narrative. I want the world to change much faster than it is changing right now and every little help from my community will count. And we have a lot to do.” 

Goes much beyond just advertising 

While the creative and gender-sensitive ads are touching all the right chords within the industry, they feel that gender-inclusivity should run much deeper than just on the screen. 

Cheil India CCO Emmanuel Upputuru rightfully points out, “Most of the brands these days are just trying to tick a box when it comes to gender inclusivity, and it frankly appears in their attempts in the advertising domain as well. It’s not nice when that effort shows. The change must be more natural; it begins right from how the products are designed and how they can solve the specific problems.” 

FoxyMoron (Zoo Media) NCD Dhruv Warrior further notes, “Equality is not a topic that should need to be addressed. It should be a state of being that we have achieved. And that is exactly how our industry needs to approach gender inclusivity and diversity too. 

"Like the creation of any ad, social media post or film, the effort begins behind the scenes. We need diversity in our industry and it starts with the people we hire and ends with the stories the world sees. We need to work with casts that are diverse, actively choose production teams that are inclusive, find makeup artists, stylists, musicians, artists etc who fall outside of traditional gender definitions and give them an equal opportunity to shine. 

"This isn’t about saying ‘LGBTQI’ needs special treatment, this is about ensuring they have the SAME treatment as everyone else and those changes begin with the understanding that emails don’t begin with Ma’am or Sir, Mr. and Mrs., rather start by addressing an individual by their name.” 

Chakravarti also asks similar questions, “One point to ponder, however, is whether this wave is the flavour of the season, or a movement that will shape the course of communication for years to come? 

"I think the answers lie in how these brands behave off-screen. Are they walking the talk? Are hiring policies changing to promote diversity? Are women and non-binary individuals being groomed for leadership to the same extent as their male counterparts? Are maternity leave policies evolving to include both parents and to be more flexible? In some cases, the answer is yes. And honesty, that's a great start. In cases where the answer is no, perhaps our community needs to keep pushing the agenda and keep the conversation alive through the kind of campaigns we see frequently today.” 

However, the industry is positive that the changes will soon follow through as the society becomes more aware and sensitive to the cause. All of them agree that the industry has to achieve a lot more in direction and having supporting clients is one of the best ways to achieve that.

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