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(F)empowering ads: A look at powerful women-centric ads

Having been bombarded with ads that are not just plain regressive in promoting the stereotypes of the obedient, submissive wife, a ‘fair’ bride, or a woman who contributes little beyond deciding what her husband and kid should eat, but also so obnoxious and puke-worthy (remember the 18 again vaginal tightening cream ad????? Aaaaaarrrrgggggghhhh!!!), I have been yelling (and for years now) how it is about time brands break away from the stereotypes that have long been the heart and soul of advertising. Ads showcasing women choosing an apt cereal (that too not for themselves!) or a perfect detergent are not relatable. There is a need to break away from the rut of gender stereotypes that have long flooded the Indian ad-scape and pave the path for ads that are smart enough to weave their products into a storyline that appeals to the aesthetics of a wider, pertinent social conversation, in relation to gender equality.

Of course, I had flung my remote control across the room years ago, sick of all the regression that my television set regurgitated almost on a daily basis in the most repugnant manner ever. But boy, am I glad that my reaction (and that of thousands like me!) and a consistent stream of invectives shot at the way ads are (lots, still!!) made is beginning to bear fruit. There is a visible trend of ads that are creating quite a stir by embroidering their products onto the larger fabric of social messages and intelligently so. By showcasing ‘stronger,’ ‘powerful,’ and ‘independent’ women, the brands are not only emerging from the muck and grime of the ‘stereotype’ rut but also carefully weaving in women empowerment into their brand communication.

As such, ‘fempowerment’ is surely making its way into ‘mainstream’ social conversations and is being ingrained in psyches vis-à-vis a widely engaging and quite an enabling (I admit) medium – ads! Here are a few ads that have proven to be an immensely rewarding experience to watch, for their women-centric foci of interest (and also because there wasn’t a need to throw my remote control and break it, so saved me the bucks that’d be spent buying a new one! 😛 ) and are slowly paving the path for a ‘utopia’ we believe can be possible for women one day:

1. Havells’ ‘I am not a kitchen appliance’ ad

I love this short and powerful ad for its pertinence to the Indian context. Havells has picked up the ever-so-common arranged marriage meeting setting and overturned it with a smart quip at the ‘expectations’ from a potential ‘bride.’ Especially powerful for its message ‘I am not a kitchen appliance,’ this one not only breaks free from the stereotype of the ‘woman/wife’ as a ‘cooking bot,’ but also does all of it in the most succinct and sweet manner possible. When taking such a jab is possible with an immensely disarming smile, who is to say if that much-needed ‘respect for woman’ isn’t lurking about somewhere near in the New Year, or maybe the next? J

2. Titan Raga – the ‘woman of today’

This ad is one of the most powerful ads I have seen in a long time. An ad by Oglivy India, this one is a tribute to the ‘woman of today.’ In a chance encounter with an ex-flame, our leading lady Nimrat Kaur happens to strike up a conversation about the past. The ex-boyfriend paints a rosy picture of ‘what could have been,’ and it is only later that we learn that all of it was of course, contingent on her giving up her job. Glad that she didn’t give in to his demands, we find her fingering her ‘Raga’ on her wrist and smiling an all-knowing smile of how nothing about him has changed. Confident that she made the right choice, she buys the visibly-uncomfortable guy a cup of coffee. As powerful as the screenplay is, the ad poignantly conveys the ‘power’ in being a ‘free soul.’ Clubbed with the fact that it’s the ‘time’ for the ‘modern woman’ who possesses exclusive rights about making her life’s decisions, we could not help but love the ad more and more!

3. ‘Dekh Le’ – an awareness initiative about eve-teasing by Whistling Woods International

Women are no strangers to men whose prying eyes follow them everywhere! A hard-hitting ad that captures the unsettling stares of men, this one is a compelling move to shame men who ogle! With an equally telling and striking song composed by Ram Sampath and sung by Sona Mahapatra, the ad garnered 667,881 views within a week of its release. Holding a mirror to the men who hardly realize how their actions affect the women they cast their ludicrously lascivious and discomfiting stares at, is probably a potent weapon to put the eve-teasers to shame!

The process is certainly contestable given the alarming situation of women’s safety in the country and the growing incidences of rape, but we do believe that the thought is certainly a valid starting point.

4. Tanishq wedding film – an ad about remarriage

Another well-made ad film, this one is telling for two reasons. One, it showcases a bride all set to remarry. Two, we see a dusky resplendent bride reveling in her remarriage as much as her young daughter! Challenging the social outlook on remarriage and the conventional standards of beauty, this one is doubly eloquent in championing women’s right to freedom and in being appreciated for who they are. Unaffected by traditional ideals of what constitutes ‘beauty,’ (apparently that is ‘fair and lovely’ for India – one of the most damaging things splattered across tableaus, billboards and more) our dusky bride is gorgeous in her wedding attire, Tanishq jewellery, and a dazzling smile. And it is precisely her independence and confidence in her own skin that makes happiness become her!

5. Airtel boss

This is another ad that sweetly captures how relationships in the workplace are kept separate from that within the familial domain. The ad shows a couple who work in the same office and it is not until much later that we learn that the boss at the workplace is the loving wify of the man she demands overtime from. The reason the ad clicks is the way hierarchical positions at the workplace does not affect the dynamics of their personal relationship and how the woman is shown as a competent professional who does not shy away from donning the ‘loving and caring wify’ robe when she gets home early! Cute! Of course, we’d like to see what happens when the hubby gets home early!

6. Fastrack summer bags – ‘Move On’

Now this may be the controversial entrant in the category. But the reason the ad resonates with me (in the category) is that the woman is seen as fiercely independent in what she wears and asserts her sexuality and the choices made therein as freely as the clothes she puts on, without as much as a fear of judgment by the rather surprised (male) onlookers! With an apt tagline that says ‘move on,’ the ad is refreshingly liberating and aims to do away with the double standards that govern the code of conduct for men and women (especially in relation to sexuality).

7. Nirma ambulance ad

This one is on the list because it shows women making a ‘move’ amidst a crowd of passive onlookers. Whilst men are unwilling to participate in an important scenario, the women are seen as active participants in change in the face of a rather impotent crowd. They are also not as concerned about spoiling their clean outfits as helping the patient in the ambulance. The ad might not be as powerful or ‘viral,’ but it certainly carries the seed of women translating their experience of their role as ‘home-makers’ into ‘change-makers.’

8. Going Home – #VogueEmpower

This short film by Vikas Bahl and featuring Alia Bhatt can at best be described as a ‘hope,’ ‘a dream,’ of a distant future. The ad portrays a possible ‘utopia’ for women wherein women shall be able to let go of fear, openly solicit help, and trust other ‘people’ to treat her with nothing save respect. A strong and striking film about women’s safety, this one is a forceful rendition of the ‘world’ we women deserve to stay in!

9. Havells ‘Respect Women’ – The humma humma way!

Another one by Havells, this one lashes out against the conventional notion of a woman’s place being ‘in the kitchen.’ Done in a rather delectable and delicious musical manner, the ad is an apt treat for the ears, besides mind and soul. Turning traditional gender roles on their head in a rather subtle, yet appealing manner, the ad (featuring Vasudha Sharma and Sarthak Mudgal) is hummable and demands ‘respect for women’ – the humma humma way! Instead of yummm, let’s say hummmmm-a!! 😉

10. ‘Mujhe Pankh De Do’ – Stayfree Women for Change

This one is the ‘demand’ for equal opportunity and equal treatment in its most raw form. A vision of striving to live in a country where women are allowed equal space to pursue their goals and ambitions, the ad is a vivid reminder of how women are ‘people’ with ‘dreams, drive and ambition,’ and need to be allowed to b(reath)e as free as the other half of the population. There is a need to break free of the conventional fetters that tie women down to the traditional roles of wife and mother and allow her to spread her wings in the open sky. An impressive attempt, I only want to say – open the cages and let her fly!

These are a few women empowerment ads that saved my remote control from being broken again! 😛 And I know these are just a start. There shall be more flooding the screen this year, and I hope an avalanche follows, so much so that the ‘utopia’ we’ve all been wishing for comes knocking on the door. J

Featured image source: YouTube

Article Name
Women empowerment ads in visual media
Advertisements are grossly regressive when portraying women. Here's a look at 10 powerful women-centric ads, that pave the way for women empowerment.
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."