Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for November, 2021 is Popular Culture Narratives. We invite submissions on various aspects of pop culture, throughout this month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to email@example.com
Advertisements whether in the form of print, hoarding’s on road, radio, internet or television serve one purpose – to create awareness about a certain products and in turn, increase their sales in the market. While most advertisements reproduce the prevalent norms and beliefs, a few speak question them and try to offer a counter narrative.
Since advertisements aim to sell products and services, they also tap into the psyche of the society when they try to position their themes in ways that are appealing to potential consumers. They pander to popular morality and majoritarian ideals because that is where most of their target groups are. In the process, they end up normalising rigid, patriarchal norms and reaffirming problematic values.
For example, Imperial Blue has an advertisement titled Men Will Be Men. This advertisement was posted on the official account of Imperial Blue Super Hits Music CD’s and showcases a female doctor checking the pulse and other parameters of a male patient lying unconscious on a hospital bed. A couple is seen seated near the patient, and the man is shown to be gawking at the doctor. The heartbeat of the patient rises when the doctor holds the patient’s hand. The end message is that whether unconscious, or visiting a severely ill kin, men will always ogle at women.
The woman is sexualised and the advertisement is made to appear as if the women is enjoying being stared at. The derogatory behavior of the men in the advertisement is not penalised but celebrated as something which is natural to all men. To an impressionable person watching this ad, it may appear that it is okay to stare at any woman with desire, because like the doctor, the woman will also enjoy it. The fact that it is a breach of personal space, or blatant objectification is not even vaguely touched upon.
Stay Fit, Feel Young with Dabur Honey is yet another advertisement telecasted by Dabur India which depicts a man adjusting the mangalsutra (nuptial neck piece) of his wife to make it more visible. The advertisement caters to the central idea that married women are a property of their husband and hence, it becomes important for the man to mark his property by making the mangalsutra visible (to other men).
The advertisement also depicts that a woman has to be physically attractive (thin and fair) to have the prolonged attention of her husband. The woman is depicted consuming the honey which keeps her in shape and it is because of her physical ‘perfection’ that she enjoys her husband’s attention. The advertisement roughly means that a woman has to cater to the main stream idea of beauty to be attractive to her husband. It also normalises the thought that a husband can be jealous and slightly uncomfortable with his wife being attractive and possibly having the attention of other men.
The Lipton green tea advertisement which features Shradha Kapoor is another example of normalising stereotypes. It depicts that a woman can lose up to two kgs of weight by drinking the tea. The actress is initially shown wearing a larger suit, with a plumper body, which is eventually shrunk down by the end of the advertisement. These kinds of advertisements advocate certain body types as desirable and assert that attaining that is not a choice but a necessity.
These advertisements are problematic because they promote diet culture and starvation without even thinking about the fact that not everyone who has a body unlike that of an extremely lean person may want to lose weight. When a teenager sees the advertisement, he/she is not only made conscious of what they are but also taught that Shraddha’s body type in the video is ideal. This accelerates body image issues and leads to various kinds of insecurities being awakened in them.
Similarly, a Fortune Oil Ad which promotes Fortune refined cotton seed oil reiterates problematic gender roles. It implies that it is a woman’s duty to cook delicious food for her husband, and the target audience of this advertisement is housewives. In the advertisement, a house wife is shown using the cooking oil to make amazing food for her police officer husband. While he enjoys the food at the office, the woman is seen pleased having made food that her husband loved.
These advertisements cater to the notion that is it is the woman’s job and her only purpose in life to cook great food for her husband, and that her efficiency as a partner lies in her proficiency in cooking. Women are always posited as the caregivers and are shown as if the only thing that they should be concerned about is catering to their husband’s needs and wishes.
The Harpic washroom cleaning agent advertisement featuring Akshay Kumar is a very popular ad that depicts Akshay Kumar introducing a new washroom cleaner to a bunch of women. Not one man is seen in the advertisement except Akshay Kumar who appears as a seller of the product on behalf of the Harpic team.
The actor is seen selling the product to the consumer pool that mainly comprises of women, who are depicted as proud for having cleaned their washrooms to the best of their capabilities. The advertisement also advocates that that woman who is happy with her washroom prior to finding out about Harpic is naïve to believe so because she doesn’t know of products in the market that can even do a better job.
These advertisements are telecasted on television on a daily basis, but are never questioned. They go uncensored, and the viewers sometimes don’t even realise that these advertisements are derogatory. I also believe that these advertisements work because somewhere or the other, they cater to the mainstream morality which is patriarchal and anchored on un-naturalistic expectations from women. They are expected to be of a certain body type, performing certain functions like – is cooking, cleaning and looking desireable.
These advertisements need to be questioned because they not only sell their products but also sell the idea of a perfect housewife, or an ideal woman. Hence, the products in them give the viewers an illusion that a certain kind of perfection can be achieved by means of their products. Luce Irigary, in her essay, When the Goods Get Together says, “Women exist only as the possibility of mediation, transaction, transition and transference between men and himself,” and these advertisements depict just this.
Ritika is a student of MA English at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi with research interest in women’s narratives and literature, gender, sexuality, and narratives on violence. You may find her on Instagram.