Sex sells. And so does sexual objectification of women. Which is why the advertising industry, in particular, is full of sexism and sexist stereotypes.
Cars are sold by placing scantily clad zero figure women next to them (and in some cases, by curvy women gagged up in the car boot with Silvio Berlusconi in the driving seat – shame on you, Ford). Then there’s the selling of ‘lady products’, such as hair removal creams, that shame women for not taking care of our stubble (I’m looking at you, Veet).
But one of the most frequently recurring images is that of the mother in domestic situations – the mother washing the clothes after the kids have a fun day at school, the mother frying pakoras and jalebis for the evening snack while managing to look good for the husband, the mother choosing Horlicks/Bournvita/Complan so her children grow up quicker and so on.
So, it is refreshing to come across the latest ‘Respect women’ advertisements by Havells Appliances in India which not only refuse such sexist stereotypes but turn them on their head. The appliances Havells are trying to sell – juicer, mixer, iron – all belong to the ‘domestic’ sphere. The target market for these domestic appliances is largely made up of women which says something in itself. But, quite cleverly, Havells have kept the conventional settings and changed the woman – it’s no more the traditional mother figure, say hello to the new woman who is articulate, clever and does not wait on her husband and children.
One such setting is that of a visit by prospective in-laws to arrange a marriage. The boy’s mother quips about her son who lives in USA, “Ek cup coffee ke liye bhi bahar jana padta hai.” (“He has to go out even for a cup of coffee.”) The implication, which is very common, is that he needs a wife to do this for him. The girl puts the Havells coffee maker in front of them and suggests that the boy settles with it – “No visa problems” – and adds, “Kya hai na aunty ji, I’m not a kitchen appliance.”
There are many more such delightful advertisements, including one in which the wife gives a steam iron to her husband when he complains about the state of his shirt. She says, “Ek general manager ye bhi nai kar sakta to kya sochenge employees?” (“If a general manager can’t even do this, what will the employees think of him?”)
I can’t decide which one is my favourite but I think the juicer advertisement is worth a mention too for showing a woman going out jogging after putting the juicer, a carrot and orange in front of her husband and his friend: “Hello, I’m his wife. He thinks I’m a kitchen appliance.”
These 30 seconds advertisements are brilliant for showing that sexism is not the only way to sell and that the women in the target market are no longer taking it lying down, so the strategy needs to change. Much as I’d like for these adverts to not be unusual, we know that sexism still prevails in advertising. One can only hope that these herald a wave for a new kind of advertising in India and elsewhere.