India – the land of fairness creams, detergents that somehow only women use and sexist insurance policies. But this was India of the ‘90s, right? Or is it?

Sexist and outdated Indian ads are made even today, and we’re going to take a look at five ads that seem to be stuck in the wrong decade.

Why is this important?

We have to identify what advertisers are doing wrong, so that we can start doing things right.  It is 2017, after all!

#1 – Sell to women, but objectify them simultaneously – Jack & Jones

Indian AdsImage Source:

Watch it here

Breaking down the ad

Nothing much to describe here – basically a very macho looking Ranveer Singh objectifying women and not letting them ‘hold him back’! These pictures provide a pretty apt summary of what the campaign is about.

What’s wrong with it?

‘Don’t hold back’ should be an empowering message for women, but here it is used for a man to assert his power over a woman. Moreover, this ad seems to glorify sexual harassment at work, and that’s something that wasn’t okay even in the ‘90s.

A celebrity ambassador is always a good thing. In fact, India is the one country in the world where celebrities are as omnipresent in ads as they are in movies. Meanwhile, Ranveer Singh is a favourite celebrity endorser among Indian marketers. But in this campaign, he is not using his huge influence and star power to send the right message. Besides, the cringe-worthy focus on the woman’s behind and the reference to her as ‘work’ nullifies any star power that Singh might bring to the Jack & Jones campaign.

What’s right with it?

Like I said, the message ‘don’t hold back’ is a good one – it just needs to be used in the right way.

How could Jack & Jones enter the new millennium?

Even if you’re a clothing brand that primarily focuses on men, don’t feature the opposite sex as eye candy with no dialogue. Also, Ranveer Singh, with his up-to-date views on feminism and movies that portray 21st century relationships, is far from sexist. Use his powers for good!

#2 – Stay healthy to be a good wife – Kelloggs All Bran

Indian AdsImage Source: Vagabomb 

Watch it here

Breaking down the ad:

A wife is irritated with her husband’s inability to find his socks, until she eats Kelloggs All Bran and magically becomes the world’s most patient wife.

What’s wrong with it?

Stereotypes! Husband = Stressed working professional (who is wearing his tie but needs his socks now!), Wife = Equally stressed housewife, because she can’t locate said husband’s socks. The ads of 2017 have no place for stereotypes, especially when women are trying so hard to turn them on their head in real life.

Here’s the bottom line – the ad asserts the need for a woman to be healthy not for herself, but so she can be a better wife to her husband.

What’s right with it?

Encouraging healthy lifestyles is always a good thing, I guess? Not much else!

How could Kellogg’s enter the new millennium?

Reverse gender roles! A harried housewife and a stressed out working man is so ‘90s. Double income families are the norm in India nowadays – 26% of urban families and 35% of rural families run on a dual salary.

Also, perhaps the man can find his own socks? Why perpetuate the stereotype that women know where everything is, always? (I certainly don’t!) Ultimately, Kelloggs bran cereal is great, but let’s promote good health (for both men and women) for it’s own sake, and not to be a better spouse.

#3 – Be a boss at work, but not at home – Airtel

Indian AdsImage Source: Vagabomb

Watch it here

Breaking down the ad:

A female boss is shown to be tough at work, making one of her male subordinates stay late despite his complaints. Surprise twist – These two are actually husband and wife, and the woman ‘makes up’ for cracking the whip at work by cooking her husband’s favourite dinner at home.

What’s wrong with it?

According to Airtel, a woman can be a boss, but only in the office. She has only one role to play at home, and this is non-negotiable. Alternatively, a man can be accepting of altered general roles…but only to a point. A tough-talking woman is forgiven only when she makes him a heaping bowl of noodles.

It’s the 21st century – are we still going to pretend that female bosses are against the norm?

What’s right with it?

This ad has its heart in the right place. The woman is shown to be unapologetic about how tough she is at work – and that’s a good thing. The more powerful women are seen as bosses instead of bitches, the more both men and women can advance in the Indian workplace. Unlike the Kellogg’s ad, this one at least tries to subvert traditional gender roles. Perhaps we’ll have a successful experiment at this in 2027?

How could Airtel enter the new millennium?

Show a woman who is unabashedly tough at work and at home. She doesn’t automatically become soft when she enters the kitchen. Furthermore, show a woman who is too tired to cook an entire meal after a full day of work. That’s completely normal, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

#4 – Make a sexist ad, get trolled – ICICI Bank

Indian Ads

Image Source: BuzzFeed India

Watch it nowhere, because it has been taken down

Breaking down the ad:

The sarcastic comment above explains the ad quite well (and is, in fact, better written than the ad itself!) Anyway, the ad shows a woman getting angry with her husband for clearing the ICICI bank account yet again because she can’t use his credit card to buy jewelry. The husband immediately transfers money through ICICI’s new app, thus preventing her from leaving the jewelry store empty-handed.

What’s wrong with it?

Even in 2016, a woman still has to rely on a man’s credit card to satisfy her shopping appetite. Let’s talk about that shopping appetite for a moment, shall we? Every woman doesn’t need to have an insatiable one, and that too, for expensive jewelry

ICICI’s new app may allow an instant transfer of money, but making a woman happy is not as instant as putting a credit card in her hand. Remember, this is a bank headed by a successful woman, #40 on the Forbes power list. So why can’t the women in the bank’s ads mirror its inspirational female CEO?  

What’s right with it?

Drawing a blank here…

How could ICICI Bank enter the new millennium?

Unlike in the ‘90s, marketing is no longer a one-way street. Today, if you make an ad that is even remotely sexist, you will get trolled on social media by indignant consumers (see above). ICICI Bank should have taken consumer reactions into account. It did pull down the ad, but it was too late – content spreads fast on social media!

#5 -Meet the typical Indian woman, she buys a lot of clothes and jewelry – Amazon

Indian Ads

Image Source: Youth ki awaaz

Watch it here

Breaking down the ad:

In a nutshell, men complain about how much their wives shop but take back their words when they realize she is shopping for the family.

What’s wrong with it?

This ad is as infuriating as the ICICI Bank ad we just discussed, but should remain in the ‘90s for the opposite reason. If the ICICI ad portrays women as interested in nothing but shopping, the Amazon ad makes a caricature of them for having even the slightest interest in shopping.

Being a modern-day Indian doesn’t mean turning one’s nose up at beautiful clothes and jewelry, but this Amazon ad seems to thinks it does. The situation is only resolved when the husbands realise that their wives have been buying things for them and their children too. But what’s wrong with a woman treating herself every once in awhile (or for that matter, very often)?

What’s right with it?

The women do fight back, but they still feel the need to justify themselves. Not cool, Amazon!

How could Amazon enter the new millennium?

Why not just have an ad with women owning their love for shopping? And to avoid going down ICICI’s route, assert that these women are scavenging on Amazon with their own money!

We’re not even halfway through 2017, but it is already the year of global women’s marches, female CEOs and films with all-women casts. In India, too, it is a year where transgender women are openly featured in ads. So why do leading brands still resort to sexist tropes when advertising to an evolved customer base?

It’s time to be better, time to move out of the ‘90s for good. Here’s a list of very simple things Indian brands can do to achieve just that:

    • Show women as more – more than just housewives, credit card fiends and workplace attractions
    • If you walk the feminist plank (which brands undoubtedly should), walk it all the way. Basically, this means – Don’t chicken out by showing a female boss not be tough at home too!
    • Ads are a two-way communication channel now. Understand that, and use them to communicate a message that is befitting of the time we live in

Hopefully, the list of outdated Indian ads will get shorter as we move further away from the ‘90s. Did I miss out on an ad that particularly stood out for how out-of-tune it was? Let me know in the comments below!

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