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  • Writer's picturePratik Singh Thakur

Digital & TV Ads- Legitimising gender stereotypes and what does it mean for upcoming businesses

Screen grab from the Cadbury Dairy Milk advertisement (1993, left) and (2021, right)

There are countless memories from watching advertisements right from my childhood. I would skip the channel if the ad was too long or boring, or laugh hysterically if something was really funny about it. I never appreciated those people who would constantly change channels in order to skip ads. For me, ads have always been these tiny little creative experiences. What I didn’t realize in my childhood was how these comical, creative, and star-studded ads were shaping my mind to conform to the gender stereotypes that prevail in society. I can’t remember how many times have I seen those ads where a married man makes fun of his wife in front of a group of people. That group of people on screen laughed and so did I. Because the people around me laughed at it, I thought it was okay to laugh at sexist comments running everywhere.

Remember those sanitary pad ads? Most of them never addressed it as a normal biological process. Instead, it was projected as a matter of shame and something that has to be dealt with secretly. A majority of them didn’t even use the word ‘periods’ and would replace it with phrases like “those problematic days” and so on. This is where the use of such language in portraying these issues comes into play, as it reflects how the majoritarian mentality beats rationality any day. It’s only up until recent times that the menstrual care brands have finally started addressing this openly, without any reservations.

While thinking about gender stereotypes, I had to walk down memory lane and guess what I found? Fairness creams. Tada! A billion-dollar industry that used advertisements to impose fear and insecurity about your skin tone. The obsession of having fair skin did not come naturally, but it was rather imposed by constantly telling you that your natural complexion isn’t enough. In order to look appealing and acceptable, just like celebrities, one has to abide by unrealistic beauty standards. The split-screen imagery where they showed a highly edited version of a darker-skinned person on one side and a confident, fair-skinned person on the other, did huge mental damage to millions. We often don’t realize the power of composition and framing when it comes to the visual medium.

Perhaps it is something that concerns only the professionals and not a general viewer. You must have come across those musical ads, where women are centrally framed. They are often surrounded by men who desire to be with them because they use the product that makes them so desirable. Representing women as ‘Objects of desire’ is a highly problematic issue on-screen. The representation of the LGBTQ community has been negligible in the advertising sector. Even if they get any sort of representation, it is usually to gain laughter out of it or stigmatize. It is to such an extent where the representation doesn’t even matter. We often see shots of traffic signals where a trans person could be seen begging or participating in a family ceremony.

Yes, these visuals exist in reality because of the social and economic divide, but one has to go beyond the conventional approach in order to justify the community’s representation. The marketing approach for the financial sector has been predominantly a man’s world. The popular notion that a man is ahead of the family and all the financial decisions must come through him, has been a bone of contention. This is the reason why we see male superstars dominating insurance policies ads, banking sector ads, and so on. Of course, there are a few exceptions to this but they just feel like a drop

in the ocean.

It almost feels like a rant but there is definitely some light at the end of the tunnel. The ‘woke’ and the ‘Gen Z’ have really started posting some hard hitting facts that challenge the foundation of a society that breeds misogyny on a daily basis. This has resulted in drastic changes that the advertising industry is going through. We are now witnessing major role reversals and inclusivity in terms of representation. No wonder it isn’t enough and this is just a beginning of a new discourse, but the fact that it has started is a great leap forward for a more inclusive society. The most recent example is that of the Diary Milk ad from the ’90s, which was a millennial’s favourite. It had a cricket match going on where a guy could be seen playing and a girl cheering for him at the stadium. The new ad reverses the gender role and now we see the girl playing instead of the guy. This minor change had a massive round of appreciation from many. It also tells us that even advertisements have a place in our memories and they have a shelf life too.

Undoubtedly, the digital space has become a plethora of products and services that occupy a considerable amount of your time every day. In that case, it becomes really important to have a check on the kind of content you consume. There is no denial about the effectiveness in terms of customer acquisition when it comes to digital gigs. It has helped the market grow tremendously by encouraging entrepreneurs to come up with more creative solutions to ease up their lives. All that is now required for businesses is to understand the pulse of the generation and acquire progressive ideas, which would not only help the market growth but also facilitate a positive change in society. A little more thought towards sensitivity and inclusivity in the marketing approach could help businesses stand out from the crowd.

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