Are brands turning feminist? Yes, perhaps that is an exaggeration, but the truth isn't so far off. Women have always been at the front and centre of an advertiser's target audience. They've been spoken to, cajoled, even pleaded with, to give their blessings, their husband's wallet, to various brands.
However, the interesting part is the context of this conversation. Women have mostly been spoken to in relation to someone else. Buy this milk product, it'll make your kid come first. Buy this detergent, it'll make your husband shine brighter than others. Perhaps the only exception to the rule was sanitary napkin advertising, where the theme of empowerment dominated.
Brands are now not just embracing women, they are becoming her voice. They are raising her issues. They are celebrating her.
Fifteen years back, I started out in social communication. And at that time, I guess that was the only kind of communication that spoke about rights in advertising. Over the years, I have stared many times at a brief and argued about the one-dimensional woman, it was referring to, only to be told that the woman I was talking about wasn't mass enough. Or, I wasn't getting her. Those were tough times to be a woman in advertising. To fight a patriarchal image of the woman, at the risk of being seen as someone who doesn't connect with them. And if I did manage to present an "alternate" point-of- view, it was always presented as an option. One to be humoured but never to be taken seriously.
But in the past few years, there has been a definitive shift in this conversation between advertisers and women. Today, more and more brands are seeing and speaking to women for who they are. And not for the roles they play. Brands today are not afraid of the complex and messy side of women. Of their aggressions and vulnerabilities.
And just maybe, the credit goes to the rise of the independent, financially stable Indian woman. Who unabashedly loves to spend on herself and does not feel any guilt over it. With money comes representation, especially in marketing. Brands and advertisers just could not afford to not speak to women directly, as women. Thus began the conversation, one that is constantly evolving.
Brands are now not just embracing women, they are becoming her voice. They are raising her issues. They are celebrating her. A number of pieces of work, from Mia #BestAtWork, to Benetton's 'United by half' are examples of this evolving conversation.
Mia by Tanishq's #BestAtWork
So, have brands become feminist? Perhaps the more pertinent question should be why brands have become feminist. Advertising is probably one of the truest reflections of society. If brands are becoming feminist, it is only because people are becoming feminist. People all over the world are now more socially conscious than ever before. LGBT rights, the anti-war movement, women's issues, are all being spoken about as never before. And for brands to appeal to the ever-increasing socially aware consumer base, they can ill-afford to lag behind.
"Blood" by Bodyform
So, here's hoping there are more briefs and more brands that want to connect to the Indian woman and not her interpersonal roles.