Sexist or progressive? New Airtel ad creates serious buzz for the brand

Airtel benefitting from the intense deserved or undeserved buzz around its new smartphone network commercial "Boss". Read the article to know more.

e4m by Priyanka Mehra
Updated: Aug 5, 2014 10:06 AM
Sexist or progressive? New Airtel ad creates serious buzz for the brand

‘Boss’ is the new talk of the town and no this time it is not associated with Rajnikanth but leading telecom player Airtel’s new ad campaign which portrays the woman as her husband’s boss in office.

The ad has been accused of promoting stereotypes. The ad which shows a couple working in the same organization, wherein the polite but determined lady boss demands her subordinates, stay back and work. She later transforms into a loving wife once she is at home, whipping up a meal for a husband, asking him to come home. She reassures him by saying she will wait, whilst he says he has been given too much work by his ‘Boss’ (all using Airtel’s smartphone network). 

The ad has received extreme reactions mainly divided into two camps the first one of the ‘accusers’ those who believe the woman coming home and cooking is regressive, and an attempt at toning down the fact that her husband is her subordinate in the office. Some have even dubbed the character as schizophrenic and one who can’t make up her mind, while the other camp comprises of the ‘defenders’ of the ad who believe it is perfectly normal. In either scenario, what might possibly be a storm in a tea cup on social media, has resulted in a huge share of deserved or undeserved buzz and publicity for Airtel.

What does the intense social media buzz do for Brand Airtel?

The brand may possibly not have received so much publicity and buzz post their celebrated campaign ‘Har ek friend zaroori hota hai’ also by Taproot India in 2011.

“It does wonders for the brand. It is good for a brand to grab attention and make conversations happen ‘off’ the television. The ultimate success of an ad is when it becomes a part of social conversation. If an ad can evoke sentiment, it can evoke it at many levels and in many degrees. The usual ad does it for those 23 seconds when the ad is playing, a better one has you thinking about it minutes after. The best actually makes conversations happen. This Taproot offering does exactly that. I do believe it is a nice line to take for Airtel,” opines Harish Bijoor, brand expert & CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. 

“Both Airtel and the agency have achieved what is of primary importance to the brand. To keep conversation on the brand going! For the young audience, what we see in the TVC is part of life. To the elder generation, this probably comes across as an impractical story. Nevertheless, overall positive 'impression' on the brand,” feels Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman and Managing Director, RK Swamy BBDO.

While some may feel the brand just got ‘lucky’ receiving this kind of publicity and buzz on social media with a mediocre commercial and may or may not hit the emotional chords. What is it that has led to immense debate and discussions and the dream of every brand - ‘consumer conversations?’

“I think the ad is ‘attempting’ to be progressive, and this comes through. This is what could be leading to all sorts of intellectualizing on the ad,” feels Arun Iyer, National Creative Director, Lowe Lintas and Partners.

“Frankly, I am surprised at the buzz. There is nothing that warrants this level of talk on the work! Is this some digital agency who stirred this, I wonder?” observes Swamy on a curious note.

Role-reversals have always created buzz feels Bijoor who recalls the Taj Mahal tea ad that showed a man serving his wife a cup of tea when she returned from work, which also garnered similar reactions. “Tanishq had the conversation going recently with their Remarriage commercial, and now it is Airtel. Many others have done similar turn-table roles and have got consumers on Twitter,” he says.

KV Sridhar, Chief Creative Officer, SapientNitro India however maintains a positive view. “It is a beautiful ad. How often do you see a woman as a boss? Women at work are always represented as perusal assistants, here is a brand showing her in a progressive manner and you fuss about her cooking? Is it not natural for one to cook if the other is working late?”

The immense discussion on the subject just highlights how advertisers and agencies need to sensitize themselves to a heightened degree when it comes to the portrayal of women. 

“We all need to sensitize ourselves when it comes to portrayal of women, we can’t run away from this. There has to be genuineness in the portrayal, people can see through. The portrayal cannot strengthen regressive beliefs, despite the dichotomy of the society we live in,” shares Iyer.   

“Respect and dignity should be shown in a natural relatable way rather than forced preachy way,” adds Sridhar echoing Iyer’s sentiment. 

As Bijoor says, “Respect the woman. Respect the man. And respect the consumer at large. Within that format, just do what you want! What's the point of advertising if you cannot pull heart-strings and get a conversation going offline?

The question is does it really matter who is cooking tonight?”

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