The past year saw a number of advertisements challenging the status quo and grappling with prevailing stereotypes.
One TV commercial (TVC) that garnered plenty of discussion and debate on social media was this Airtel ad, which took on traditional gender roles even as it showcased the capabilities of Airtel's smartphone network. The TVC featured an urban couple, working in the same organisation. The twist was that the woman was the boss, and was shown ordering her husband/subordinate to stay late at the office to complete an assignment. She is then shown heading back home, where she transforms into the 'traditional wife' who cooks and, over the phone, coaxes her husband to come home. Twitter was soon abuzz and the ad was also the subject of debate on a news channel's prime-time show - was the ad progressive or was the brand simply promoting cleverly disguised gender stereotypes?
Agnello Dias, co-founder and chief creative officer of Taproot India, the agency that conceptualised the campaign, had a ready rejoinder for critics: "I respect them but also disagree with them. True freedom is when a woman is free to decide exactly what she would like to do and how many roles SHE would like to play, one or three or five. It is really up to her and no one else." With which I absolutely agreed. The fact that the woman was cooking did not mean that she was a victim of social norms or regressive in some way. I believe that both the brand and the agency were courageous and did a commendable job in bringing non-traditional gender roles into the public arena.
The second commercial film I would like to mention here is the Titan Raga airport ad. Like the Airtel ad, this too highlighted the modern woman and also received mixed reactions. The TVC featured the female protagonist, who runs into an ex-boyfriend at an airport lounge and as they discuss their past, and what 'could have been', it is revealed why they separated. He wanted her to quit her job, to which she did not agree. With the Titan Raga watch on her wrist, she mentions that his mentality is still the same as it was when they separated. This ad was a nod to the modern confident woman who leads her life according to her own choices. She is a self-respecting, successful and independent woman who does not need to depend on a man. She enjoys her freedom - freedom of thought and freedom to lead her life the way she wants. Rajan Amba, global marketing and product head, watches and accessories division, Titan Company, when asked about this ad revealed that it reflects current trends and attitudes: "We did this because we needed to be relevant to the woman of today."
The third stand-out commercial on my list is Hyundai's 'Life is brilliant' ad. The first India-centric corporate film by the Korean auto giant gained over four million views on YouTube in just a few months. The film depicts a father who takes care of his son while his mother is working away from the family. The son, who is missing his mother, floats a paper boat in water and the next morning when he wakes up, he is pleased to see his mother at their home (brought back in record time courtesy a Hyundai vehicle of course). Even as it challenges stereotypes about the mother needing to be the primary caretaker of the family, the ad highlights how the family's bond remains deep and unthreatened by her physical distance.
Ads, like other forms of communications, play a very important role in breaking stereotypes and influencing the perceptions of people. Last year also saw a very interesting social experiment conducted by a website called Trulymadly.com. This group challenged the status quo, spoke to the boys and girls of Delhi and came across many people breaking stereotypes. It became a viral campaign, amassing thousands of followers on its Facebook page.
In a country where thousands of women do not have basic rights and control over their own lives and lifestyles, these courageous advertisements reveal that our society is really evolving. While we are getting entertained and emotionally influenced by commercials such as these, let us strive to make these media representations a reality and make the country a better place to live in.