12 Indian Ads that Failed at Feminism
Gone are the days when a leading daily could display a full-page sexist ad of a suppressed suburban housewife, and call it good advertising. We’re in the age where companies are treading into territory that has not been explored before—making ads women-friendly, and taking them out of the kitchen, or the loo. While some ads have done an almost splendid job of getting the message across , there are those other few who have tried so hard that they tipped over the fence into wrong territory.
These are some modern day ads that dropped the ball on feminism, even while trying so hard.
Clean & Dry Intimate Wash
The only good thing about this ad is that it starts with the first few notes of the beloved Zeppelin number, Stairway to Heaven . The rest of the ad is a hilariously failed attempt at uplifting a woman’s self esteem. In a world where, on a good day, men can get turned on by even a chicken crossing the road, a woman doesn’t need to do much to get things going, let alone whiten her privates. This ad takes the fairness game to a whole new level and tries (well, yeah) to forge a sense of pseudo-empowerment by making women believe that the only way to leading a fulfilling life is by seeming attractive down there to your man. The feminist in us died halfway through this one.
Kellogg’s Special K
According to this ad, not only are we supposed to look skinny and attractive to our husbands, we’re also supposed to seek approval, and feel ecstatic when they skip the game for a micro second and glance at us. Oh, what would the women of this world do without you, Special K? This priceless attempt at uplifting a woman’s self esteem burns down within five seconds of playing the ad, when she's surprised that her husband's ‘paying attention’ to her. We would’ve bought into the Special K fan club had the ad shown her being a fitness-obsessed badass, instead of a demure wife desperate to please pati parmeshwar . Definitely a fail.
18 Again Vaginal Tightening Cream
If the whitening wash ad didn’t make you cringe enough, this one is sure to induce some serious gags. Not only is this already degrading from the word go, it also adds insult to injury by trying to market itself as God’s gift to women empowerment. It shows that a woman is only truly ‘empowered’ so long as she can keep her man ‘satisfied’ by altering her body. Of course, women’s own sex lives don’t count, it can be painful and uncomfortable every time, but as long as the man is happy - everything is great! Feminism hit the snooze button and went comatose on this one.
Side Note: While the end does show elders as sexual beings, which could be a good thing, it still is one of the creepiest things you’d ever see in Indian advertising.
Kelloggs All Bran
This ad is a slap on the face of every woman who does a stellar job of managing a house full of overgrown toddlers, and gets close to nothing in return. According to this ad, ‘that time of the month’ isn’t the only justification you can give to an irritable woman, you can also assume she’s probably constipated and that is the sole reason she’s on edge. Of course, your own inefficiency in getting your shit together, despite being a fully grown adult, has nothing to do with it. In the real world, whatever she thought to herself would’ve been perfectly justified had she mouthed it and stormed out on the husband. But sadly, in the ad-world, you’re just supposed to suck it in and eat cardboard flavoured cereal and get over it. Sexism served with bran and hot milk, coming right up.
Veet Hair Removing cream
First off, razors don’t turn your skin into a cactus. Secondly, men haven't monopolised the use of razors, anyone can use them. This ad, supposedly, tries to show how women are better off than men, but misses the mark terribly, and promptly jumps on the of body-shaming bandwagon. A couple of years ago, Hero Honda Pleasure asked a very pressing question that resonated with all us women out there, ‘Why should boys have all the fun?’ But this ad single-handedly throttles that message and gives us the ever-popular ‘you’re not a boy.' reprimand. Prefix this with every misogynistic statement made by anyone, and you’ll see how this ad fails at sending any sort of positive message to its audience.
This one’s wrong on so many levels, we’ve almost lost count. And it’s worse because Airtel tried so hard at making an ad that is, supposedly, ‘empowering’ to women. First of all, this ad is factually flawed: I mean, really, what company puts a married couple in the same team, let alone in two hierarchically distinct positions (HR fail!). Secondly, in all its suspense, our take home towards the end is that a woman, no matter how powerful or competent at work, will ultimately always be back in the kitchen when at home. So, no matter how awesome a woman may be at her job, her primary role is looking after her ‘homely affairs.' Imagine if the gender roles were reversed; if the boss was the husband? Would he really go home and cook for his subordinate wife? With this one, feminism is dazed and confused.
MTR South Indian Masala
Where do we even begin about this ad? Why is it this woman’s prerogative to ask every numb nut in the house what they want for breakfast? And this while they’re either asleep, or whiling their morning away. Why doesn’t even one of them offer her a helping hand? And after she magically conjures up a five-course meal in the name of breakfast, why does the husband express surprise at her efficiency? This ad, that apparently tries to portray its protagonist as some kind of superwoman, simply caricatures her as just another Indian doormat. Feminism is definitely gasping for air on this one.
Whisper Ultra (Touch the Pickle)
While on one hand, Whisper is trying to be a do-gooder by busting period myths, on the other, it’s really falling short in getting its priorities in place. In our country, there are far more harmful and degrading myths that are associated with menstruating girls and women. For instance, not entering a place of worship, not entering the kitchen, or not indulging in human contact. Of all those regressive myths, Whisper chooses the most archaic, and might we say, easiest of them all. It also incorporates some made up ones to the list. So, dear Whisper, wearing white during her period is not the sole concern of a woman on her period, and sports is something that should be given a rest when undergoing cramps and vaginal pain. Watching sanitary napkin ads like these probably added to my menstrual cramps all along.
Dalda Husband’s choice
So the ‘health ministry’ is, apparently, in this woman’s hands, but her cooking oil is her ‘husband’s choice.’ In the ad world, women don’t get heart attacks and are definitely in no way threatened by cholesterol and cardiac diseases. It’s always the men. And of course, men aren’t supposed to be taking care of themselves. What are women for? This ad shows how women in this country are given a pseudo sense of power, by ‘awarding’ them with the responsibility of ‘home affairs.’ This was made in the 2010’s, but looks straight out of a 1950’s coffee commercial. I guess we’d only truly have won the battle against gender stereotypes when the ad-world actually shows a woman who’s human enough to be prone to heart disease, and isn't playing full-time dietician.
In its poor attempt to portray a modern woman, this one is downright offensive. Not only is it degrading to women, it also buys in to the archaic stereotype about men only wanting sex and being prone to commitment phobia. Also, jealousy has no gender. India alone is rampant with jealous, jilted lovers committing hate crimes like rape, abduction, and acid attacks. So, saying women are the jealous ones is unfair and simply incorrect. And a voice app that needs to be portrayed as an ‘ideal woman’ who’s a sexually available and domestic, yet morally unabashed woman speaks volumes about our society as a whole.
To prove the aforementioned point about jealousy, here comes an ad about a jealous husband. Now we’re not sure of what makes him comically insecure about his wife looking attractive. Even though the girl here has some sort of superiority over her husband by looking fit and pretty, the ad shows that the ultimate power still lies with the husband, who has a say in deciding her moral code. Yes, you dropped the ball on this one too, Ad-world.
Fair and Lovely
Here we are at the feminists’ favourite punching bag—fairness cream commercials. One would’ve thought that fairness creams and colour bias are things of the past. But, unfortunately, in the land of Indian ads, you still need to be fair and look straight out of a glossy magazine to stand up to anyone. Even if that means standing up to your own dad, who has been in your life since you can recall. We’ll give it to this ad for showing a woman who wants to work before getting married, but the fact that she can’t even make her voice heard without looking fair and pretty, just makes us cringe. This one was simply unfair. (See what we did there?)
We really want to believe times are changing, and hopefully a lot more of our media culture will reflect that. But for now, let’s just suck it up and swallow some cardboard flavoured misogyny dipped in Dalda flavoured sexism.