I sometimes wonder who comes up with some of the terrible ads we’re sold. In today’s look at terrible advertising, I came across a December 2015 RentoMojo ad on my Facebook timeline that seamlessly incorporated some of the most terrible ideas that are in the world around us – simultaneously being classist, gendered, and casteist. It says its directed by Jay Bhansali from Veda Productions – so clearly there was a large team working on it, from scriptwriters, to directors, to whomever it was from RentoMojo who okay-ed it. But none of them seemed to see the inherent problems. So, RentoMojo, for your benefit, here’s your ad and a quick low-down and why you shouldn’t try selling your products along with social injustice.
Did you watch it? Did it make you uncomfortable? If it did, here’s why it might have. If it didn’t, here’s why it should have. Because when you’re hating on domestic labour, you’re being…
This one is the most obvious one, and should have been a no-brainer to the people who made the ad. You have these two well-dressed men, who are middle-class if not of a higher class, standing around and judgmentally watching their domestic labour. Never mind how hard the domestic labour is working. She is nothing but a machine that is supposed to fulfill the task of washing their t-shirts – and RentoMojo can sell you a machine that can do that task better.
If this doesn’t seem dehumanising enough to begin with, consider the fact that you never actually see her face. Her identity is of no value – it is only her labour.
There’s a lot of classist behaviour like this that the middle and upper-classes indulge in every day. From dehumanising their cycle-rickshaw drivers and refusing to pay them a fair price (despite this scorching Delhi heat) to forcing industrial labour to work in unsafe environments to get a job done. We don’t need you to be selling this idea to us too, RentoMojo.
Seriously, there are two men just standing around and judging their domestic labour. The sort of domestic labour portrayed in the ad is of the kind that women in India mostly perform. These women are given “lower ranking” domestic tasks than the men who are employed as domestic labour, and they are paid less. So they are underpaid – and, clearly in this ad – under-appreciated. These are the women who have to face the triple burden of gender, class, and – yes, caste.
The form that domestic labour takes is inherently casteist in India. Because of Brahminical norms of purity/pollution, “lower-castes” are given tasks that the “upper-caste” home-owners find “impure”, such as cleaning toilets. And more often than not, you will find that the same women who are asked to clean these bathrooms are not allowed to use them in the household.
So RentoMojo is being thoughtless in its mockery of the hard domestic labour this woman is performing. And domestic labour has it really bad in India – aside from the issues outlined above, it is mostly unorganised, and faces abuse that ranges from humiliation, to physical abuse and sexual violence, and sometimes even death.
India has a long history of ignoring and exploiting its domestic labour. Rather than delving into it, I’ll simply point out that the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 189 on the Rights of Domestic Workers has yet to be ratified by India. The convention attempts to lay down standards for decent working conditions, or, in their words:
“These standards provide the basis for improving the working and living conditions of tens of millions of domestic workers performing work that has been undervalued historically and traditionally done by women. They embrace a large and growing category of workers who are often migrants or members of disadvantaged communities. Their work is often hidden, their vulnerability high.”
So what RentoMojo has done is perpetuated the exploitation and humiliation that these domestic labourers (in India, generally lower-caste women) have to face every day. No, it isn’t funny. It’s dehumanising their labour for profit.
If you’ve read thus far, RentoMojo, and if anything I’ve written has made sense to you, I would like to suggest some alternative taglines for your ad. Currently, it stands at “When you see your maid beating the hell out of your favorite shirt :/”
Instead, I propose the ad be tagged with the captions:
- When you treat human labour as faceless and easily replaceable by a machine.
- When middle-class men stand judgmentally stand around while a domestic help woman works hard.
- When a labouring body = a machine, but a machine does it better.
- When RentoMojo emphasised that they thought dignity of labour was a joke.
- When casteist, gendered, classist exploitation of labour was exploited again by RentoMojo.
RentoMojo needs to listen up and think twice before they try and sell us exploitation along with their services.
I lived in the hope that RentoMojo would see how exploitative their advertising is. The first draft of this article suggested as much. But when I tweeted at them (@rentomojo) with some of these suggested alternative taglines in an attempt to explain how problematic the ad was, this was the tweet that they chose to like:
So they’ve out and out said that they don’t GAF (give a fuck) about anything except profit. So, no, we’re not making a big deal out of nothing. They clearly do not believe that ethical advertising, or business, is important, and have basically said that they have no problem with their exploitative advertising practices. If you haven’t seen it as problematic thus far, reader, do you see it as problematic now?
Featured Image: A still from the advertisement | www.youtube.com