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Advertising - Big Idea

Special Columns
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Editor-in-Chief
Dr. Arindam Chaudhuri
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The Indian Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) has recently launched a gender sensitisation initiative to fundamentally change the societal attitude towards women. But, the big question remains:
It was the horrific Nirbhaya case of mid-Dec last year that truly unleashed an unprecedented, collective outpouring of shock, rage, fear and grief that had to be seen to be believed! The trauma and tragedy that defined the mind-chilling incident elicited widespread reactions across every strata of society, at home and abroad. Some of the most explosive pieces squarely put the blame of this heinous act on media – cinema, TV, advertising – for consistently (and shamelessly) portraying women as delectable objects of consumption and desire. Be it Fevicol (mein to tandoori murgi hoon yaar, gatkale saiyan alcohol se) or the amazing glam, sexy, designer other woman in TV serials, or again the impossibly hot babe who axes you and compels you to use Man-force to go the distance – the portrayal of women across popular media streams remains flamboyantly irresponsible and dangerously titillating.

While the big daddys of media will (as always) continue to offer their age-old, mothballed and musty line of “Don’t shoot us, we’re only the piano players” (to read: we only reflect what is happening in society, not creating or pre-empting it), the critics insist it’s just their way of shirking responsibility to cleverly tap into the baser instincts of a humongous target group, diverse and broad-based as hell, and rake in the loot.

The Indian Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) seems to have taken this red-hot issue by the horns and launched an aggressive initiative to stop violence on women (VOW). A powerful and persuasive communication tool that is mandated to inform, educate, persuade and sell, Advertising as a CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity can and does act as a mover n’ shaker of popular beliefs and mindsets, showing the light if not parting the waters. Under the initiative, IAA hopes to kick-start a series of one-day gender sensitisation seminars for people from film, advertising, TV, print and script-writing areas. The second phase of this initiative will comprise a contest to create a multi-media campaign addressed to the mother of all – eve teasing. The jury will consist of eminent personalities from and outside the adfrat.

Kaushik Roy (Chairman, IAA Public Service Committee and President, Brand Strategy & Marketing Communications, Reliance Industries) believes this is an important thrust because “TV has tremendous impact and reinforces stereotypes while portraying women. IAA plays an effective role in advocating self-governance” and backs it up by indicating the complete blackout of cigarette advertising as an example. So will this gender sensitisation, IAA-driven seminars work … or are they yet another example of Adville posturing through hi-fallutin’ platitudes, to show people how much they care?

Theatre & Film Director Feroz Abbas Khan (of Tumhari Amrita, Saalgiraah, Gandhi My Father fame) can’t resist a snigger before he takes off. “Boss, it’s advertising’s spin on ... advertising!” He elaborates: “Specialists in hypocrisy and double talk, this lot are champions of manipulating emotions and tapping into that vulnerable space between the heart. The brand-building gurus are most anxious to build their own brands, be perceived as the caring, responsible, good guys on the right side of the political divide! If they were really so concerned about right and wrong, wouldn’t at least one person raise his/her hand to veto campaigns against the insulting and regressive Fair & Lovely range of lotions, creams and cosmetics? They dare not because conscience doesn’t stand a chance against market forces!” Khan believes that schizophrenia is the new normal in today’s consumerist society and these seminars are nothing but PR exercises for the group that has initiated them.

BBDO Chairman & Chief Creative Honcho Josy Paul, up next, offers his informed take. He believes that any talk, discussion – water-cooler, bus-stop, cocktail party, student canteen – is better than no-talk. “Instead of looking at the ball, why not go out there and kick it, pass it to another and watch the amazing action that follows,” Paul tells 4Ps B&M. He talks passionately about a recent campaign (Gillette Soldier for Women) that his agency unleashed through TVCs. “We used the signature slogan, The Best a Man Can Get, as a metaphor, an agent of change to drive men to re-think their role in the world of women. If you stand up for them, they will stand up for you. This ad is just a curtain-raiser. There is huge follow-up action on the anvil in terms of partnering/collaborating with a wide range of like-minded groups like NGOs etc. It’s not a campaign, but a movement,” adds Paul.

However, Roy winds up the debate in a positive way. “I believe there is a change that is happening and advertising agencies and their clients are aware about the opportunities that lie in doing gender sensitive advertising. The recent ad for a fan brand where the husband chooses to adopt the wife’s surname rather than changing hers is a great example. It’s a stand-out ad and manages to connect with the brand benefit with the line – hawa badlegi. I therefore have full faith in the advertising community to do something constructive because the winds of change are visible,” says Roy.

At the end of the day, it’s a tough call. Communication of the CSR, public service & societal upliftment variety have happened before but seldom had any impact worth noting or remembering. Why? Critics believe these exercises invariably get into creative, ego-tripping, self-indulgent mode offering ads admired by their zonked-out peers, but largely ignored by most due to confusion and bewilderment. While it’s too early to be judgmental about the IAA’s well-meaning VOW seminars and unfairly dismiss them as dramabaazi, the true followers of this programme – always giving the IAA benefit of doubt – will hope that this well-intended and much-publicised initiative involving important groups does not end up lip-synching the letter instead of embracing, powering and living the spirit.

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