Ad Nauseous

Mother Dairy’s regressive ads do way more damage to the Indian male psyche than all the Honey Singhs in India.

Mother Dairy Ads

Ogilvy might have become famous for saying – “the customer is not an idiot, she is your wife”. But sadly the sins of Ogilvy’s progeny have come back to make the big daddy of advertising eat his words. The two latest ads from the Ogilvy stable clearly prove that while the customer is not an idiot and is definitely your wife, she is also to be ill-treated and stay in permanent service of her son till he deigns to take care of her.

You think I exaggerate, but I do not.

In the last few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about how music and films are just ruining our young men and teaching them to treat women badly and as second-class citizens and sex objects. How can you blame the young Indian male for thinking he’s the chosen one and women are merely there to serve and service him? It’s not the poor lobotomised dear’s fault. He bought a Yo Yo Honey Singh concert ticket or a CD and his impressionable mind got corrupted – instantly. But much before he got the 100 bucks to spend on a CD or a movie ticket, he was introduced into his status as Lord And Master Of All The Women He Surveys through the wonder of advertising.

You’d have to admit that the reach of TV advertising – a visual medium which doesn’t require you to be literate or even have to understand a language – as long as you can see and hear, is far greater than any other medium. You can be pretty much from any economic demographic which has access to television to see the ads which our emancipated advertisers and companies are spending crores making.

Yesterday, the incongruously named Mother Dairy – which after its depiction of women should rename itself as the plough-bearing son-loving Mother India – released the second of two ads. The first is slightly better than the second, but then it’s all relative. It’s like saying Jack the Ripper is slightly better than Son of Sam.

In the world of Mother Dairy, there are no daughters. The only women are mothers. Mothers who live to serve their sons – much as Asaram Bapu wanted them to. The first of the ads shows a mother receiving a call from her college-going son who’s reached his hometown and is calling up to say he’s coming home. She’s obviously pleased to hear that. But the lovely son shows up with a veritable army of friends – all male, of course. The mother, who is shown in a white saree and with no help at home, proceeds to feed this platoon of friends without a complaint. The ad ends with the line that we can only do this with our mothers, and should drink a glass of milk every day so we can grow up and look after them in return.

The second ad takes it a step further. A young woman, seemingly in her early-Thirties, is sitting at a dining table with her husband. While her husband is eating dinner, she tells him with palpable fear that she has broken his trophy. He responds with barely repressed anger and disgust and tells her to never touch his belongings, and leaves the table. As all good husbands must do. She doesn’t argue with him or ask him to sit down and finish his meal. Again, as all good wives must desist from doing. This entire exchange is witnessed by their infant son, who she then walks up to and in a long-suffering manner asks to never play cricket in the house again. And asks him to go to sleep. Ma ho to aisi! Willing to get abused and settle for most probably a wallop with that broken trophy once she enters her bedroom and maybe even a spot of marital rape – as long as her son is spared a bollocking. She doesn’t utter an unkind word about his father or tell her son not to speak to women the way his father just spoke to her. So, what’s the lesson? It’s okay for your father to treat your mother worse than he would treat turd on his shoes, but it’s her duty as your mother to take the fall. And as a son, go ahead and lie and drink a glass of milk after that. Mummy’s there to take the brickbats. Would have made more sense if they’d shown the son step out, mid-rebuke by his father, and offer his father a Mother Dairy ice cream and mellow the mood. But hey, that’s just so boring.

But why blame Mother Dairy alone for reinforcing this image of the son as the one to be protected and cosseted at your own cost? Bajaj CFL has shown rare ingenuity in propagating another myth. I chanced upon this ad a week back, and I think it’s almost a year old. Just when I was pleased as punch to see that Bajaj CFL has featured a family with two daughters, I realised that it would have been better if they hadn’t. In the very inspired ad, a young woman is told that a prospective groom is coming to see her. But she looks horrified. Not because she doesn’t want to have an arranged marriage. No no. She’s most upset by her not-much-paler-shade-of-walnut complexion. After all, nobody wants to marry a blacky. She looks subdued and rues her dark dismal fate. Till her fairer sister tells her she has the solution for instant fairness and pulls out a Bajaj CFL bulb, fits it into the socket and switches it on to make darkie instantly fairer. And, of course, the prospective groom can’t take his eyes off Ms Fair and Suddenly-Lovely. Bajaj – sab kuch roshan kar de. Shining a light on the fact that a woman’s only quality which a man could want to marry her for is her fair complexion.

These are not commercials made a decade ago, when we didn’t know any better. Or when our advertisers and companies didn’t realise how they were portraying men and women. Or when they were unaware of the debates on how advertising can reinforce regressive practices. These are ads which have been released in the past year. And are in the same vein as ads which show women referring to their husbands as “aap” and in return being referred to as “tum”. Perpetuating the skewed social dynamic of men and women – and not too subtly. These ads are made after planners from ad agencies conduct focus groups, and the ads are tested out on audiences, before finalising them. Heaven help us if this what our focus groups are approving and identifying with. At least we know Asaram Bapu would be proud of them.

And then, just as I thought that there was no hope in the world of advertising, I came across an ad which celebrated women, motherhood, independence, freedom of choice – and featured not only no adult males but also featured a daughter. Blimey! No wonder it was made abroad, where the wild wild West lives. It’s the Fiat 500 L Welcome to the Motherhood ad. It features a young mother – maybe in her late Thirties – and her three kids, a daughter and a younger son and a baby. And she performs a gangsta rap on her life.

So while we wait with bated breath for our ad gurus to one day make ads depicting women and mothers similarly, maybe all our feminists who’ve been getting bent out of shape over how Honey Singh’s lyrics have corrupted the minds of young men across the country, could also focus on advertisements like these which propagate the most regressive image of sons and mothers in India – and of course daughters on the rare occasion when they feature them in ads. Or is it too infra dig to ask for a protest on Mother Dairy products and Bajaj CFL lights or hold a candle march outside the Ogilvy office?

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  • Jay

    Very well written! I completely agree! but I was pretty offended by the Honey Singh song lyrics..they were way too extreme. Not all his music is like that but I would say if you had read the lyrics of the particular song that was flagged up, you wouldn’t just say it shouldn’t bother us as much as these ads.

  • Mother India

    The Bajaj CFL commercial is even better than the Mother Dairy one. Liked the article. Maybe Honey Singh saw commercials like these when he was growing up.

  • “Mothers who live to serve their sons – much as Mohan Bhagwat and Asaram Bapu wanted them to.” I read in another Newslaundry article that Mohan Bhagwat did not say that – I really condemn the ads which promote fairness being preferred!

  • Anikethan

    In the name of trying to find the root of the problem, lets not read too much into everything. Taken in the right sense, there was nothing offensive in the “Mother Dairy” advertisement. But regarding the CFL, well, everyday we have been fed with all such nonsense in the media. “Commodification” seems to be the order of the day and people are being told via these ads that the measuring scale of you as a person is about the shampoo, cream, perfume and other cosmetics that you use, the costly dress that you wear etc.. And the extent to which this notion of being “presentable” has been accepted in society is reflected by the usage of these products by everyone around. As someone rightly said, “God made things to be used and people to be loved. But the problem in the world is because things are loved and people are used.”

  • Vivek

    Looks like the author of this post was deprived of mother’s love in her childhood… or may be she is yet to become a mother… that’s why she is offended by the first Mother dairy’s ad.

    • Disgusted

      such abuse towards someone you don’t know? how much pent-up anger do you have? you’ve amply proved the point that some indian men when faced with logic or intelligence or a point of view different to their own, can only react by being abusive or vulgar. and it’s very easy to write all this hiding behind a faceless nameless identity.

      • DisgustingTheDisgusted

        And this disgusting “Disgusted” is the poor, oppressed-by-everything author

      • ThinkSense

        Agree… but come on guy… when you write so much… make it a bit more readable… use points… at least smaller paragraphs…..

        I really mean it. PLEASE. Mens’ rights are extremely underrated, ridiculed.


  • Kunal

    Well written!. Thats the phsycological conditioning which Indian women has got over years by the men and their marketing. Few have respected women. Home labour is totally neglected, which requires the most understanding and fine skills. Modern India wants Sita with no conditions of Ram or Krishna being installed in men. Many Indian men, by forgetting to respect women and their role as per the vedas, have turned to irresponsible money makers, irresponsible decision makers, illplanned conceptualisers, manipulative implementers, failed citizens and parasites.

    • ‘Their role as per Vedas’?
      Sita, is not from the Vedas. And Sita is no dukhiyaari abala naari either. She gives Mr.Ram a piece of his mind for the uttar kaand episode. The originial Ramayan ends with the war BTW. Moreover, the Vedas, which you know squat about, had 30-40 seer rishikas. That is 30-40 of the so-called seers of the Vedas were Women.
      No one beats Indians at self flagellation. You prove this conclusively.
      Life isn’t just black or white. Ours has been a ptriarchal society. But some balance, would do fine. Even util the last century morganatic marriages resulted in societal violence in ‘progressive’ europe. The Nazis happened, Stalin happeend,dogs and idnians not allowed happeend. As for women’s suffrage, that too gathered steam only in the last century.
      We are and have been largely patriarchal, not completely patriarchal. there are things from our past that are horrifying and equally there are beautiful tales of progressive liberal attitudes where prostitutes and their children have not been excluded from society and given great respect. Read Devdutt Pattanaik’s various articles on this.

  • Sheila

    Well – I have had a mom-a woman of great strength and principles. I have been one who has brought up a well balanced young man. I believe a mom’s love is not only the soppy kind of love – it is about teaching kids to be self reliant, respectful to all – it’s, about being a role model as an equal partner in a marriage and about inspiring your kids to lead “good” lives. These ads propagate the very attitudes we think candle marches will eradicate.

  • Shobha

    Hahahaha the author has bollocks in place of brains.
    How ridiculous is this article.. looks like writing sane articles is too mainstream.
    The mother diary ads are great as they can be and about the Bajaj ads, since the author doesn’t have his brains at the right place, can’t smell the sarcasm in it.
    The husband in the mother diary ad DOESNOT behave ill, just because feminism is cool, wouldn’t he have any attachment with his trophy.. or should he have said oh you broke it, thanks.

  • Minakshi

    are you guys misogynistic because you have a guy’s silhouette in the comments?
    Get a life, please..

  • sri1608

    the mother dairy ads are not anti-women at all. in fact, they are not even about women. they are about love and care. its great that women are being depicted as the symbols and the vessels of love and care. now, men should be resentful and seething about that! the ad that drives me a little wild , now though is the bournvita one where the mother in an elite, indo-wasp household is shown to be ill-informed about the connection between vit d and calcium. the father as well as the 4 yr old son seem to have known it in their bones all along.

  • ThinkSense

    Seriously what a ridiculously written article! Taking offence on everything is just going on and on and on!

    And for every such “regressive” AD showing “regressive-ness” (aka mothers being loving mothers to their children), where this author says is disrespectful to women, we can show 100 scenes just in Soaps and Soap ads, where MEN are shown in extremely poor and ‘appeasing-a-misandrist-feminist’ way.

    PS. check why Soaps are called so. –

    (Hint- Who are the advertisers, who is their intended consumer-base, hence Audience? Whom will they ‘appease’?)

  • Fire your torrents to view Killing us Softly.. you will love it if you have loved this article!! A old version on youtube is also available

  • Comments and likes seriously show the unawareness and higly male centric thinking… and it would be wrong to think that this is limited to India.. This is a westernised thinking to ‘Commoditise’ womens body

    • Guys you must must see ‘Killing us softly’ if you have or not have liked this article

      • Tahera

        Yes you have rightly pointed out, Killing us Softly is a must see! without realizing we see women being depicted as the meek gender, or as the sex object used for ‘spicing’ up the commercial. Killing us softly brings out these issues very well.

  • Madhu allow me write an article or two 🙂

  • Varun

    I partially agree with you on the mother dairy ads – that the the boy is afraid of telling truth and mother should have instead tried to encourage and helped him to have courage to admit his mistake to his father, I mean kids are kids and they will make mistakes when playing. In the second mother dairy advertisement, perhaps if you replace the son with a daughter and bunch of girl friends, you would probably think differently. I do agree with you on the bajaj ad or fair lovely ad which suggests that being wheatish or dark is really bad for women. I would accuse the film industry, exaggerated Indian view of the west and partly arrange marriage tradition to create this white supremacy psychology. Just think about what pathetic message it sends to the men of our country and what torture/pressrure some would be brides might be faced with. I think all of us should strongly object to such advertisements.

  • brilliant article. advertising is made up of stereotypes. and commercial brands profiteer only by encouraging these stereotypes.

  • When I first saw the Mother Dairy ad where the mother takes the blame to hide her son’s fault, it made me cry. It made me want to call up my mom and tell her how much I loved her.

    Please don’t pollute that emotion for me with your misplaced aggressive feminism. Looking for faults where none exist, projecting a harmless thing as the root of the problem, and then offering to get rid of that thing to solve that problem, would not actually help in fixing the issue.

    I wonder if you would have taken offence if only the ad showed a daughter instead of a son. It would not have made one bit difference to me. I would still have called up my mom.

    • Dia Ghosh

      I don’t think the issue is that she took the blame for the son, but the way the husband reacted which was made to look normal and justified. The husband and wife/servant relationship is problematic, as the author clearly wrote, “So, what’s the lesson? It’s okay for your father to treat your mother worse than he would treat turd on his shoes” so give it another read before you get defensive.

    • aggressive feminist

      kartik, u wouldn’t mind ur dad screaming at ur mom? that too, bcoz she wanted to save ur ass??? u wouldn’t mind?

  • NM

    i agree advertisements are a further reaching medium than anyother…irrespective of demography…but this post kinda missed the point atleast in the most recent context…atleast in my mind it does not hurt women if they are potrayed as sacrificing mothers or ones wanting to pamper their child…every mother wants to pamper their children…according to me the problem is in this almost uncontrollable trend to passively attach a lustful potrayal of women to sell products…be it clothes automobiles utensils…anything…why do we skimpily clad models at auto exhibitions??? why have a model take off her clothes to sell them (im refering to the recent myntra ad)…there is a section of people who can digest this kind of advertising in the right spirit but i believe there is a far larger section who does not have the global exposure or maturity to handle it. And this is not just now…i remember there was a ad to sell a pressure cooker years ago where the curves of the product were literally compared with a models curvy body (in a saree though)…why???? my problem is with unnecessary bombardment of this idea of women as objects…i feel the ads are built with only the urban cosmopolitan viewers in mind…but they are telecast to all kind of viewers…television reaches more people today than any movie or song…it is as demeaning as an item song…and probably more harmful

  • football

    There is nothing wrong in showing mother as someone who sacrifices her life for kids which true everywhere. Why do people look into that in a bad light? My father served my grandma who’s in bed for 13 years!! A dog never followed me when i bought Vodafone as the ad says.

    No comments on that CFL AD.

  • Yeah, you’re right! Having said that our market for these products has grown and people who were not a part of the market a decade or two ago have also now got slight purchasing power.
    In the 90s, ads were made for a privileged upper middle class individual. In the 80s, only for the upper english speaking privileged classes. Times have changed and this churning eventually is going to help society.
    Let’s not pretend that things have got worse.These people always existed. So did Honey Singh and others like him. You just didn’t know about them because you grew up in urban upper middle class India where there is a pressure to confirm apart from the already existing homogeneity

  • Stop getting offended by everything Rajyasree. Take a deep breath, practice some Yoga and let the rage go. It will let you focus on the other kind of journalism – one that leaves a reader informed as opposed to listening to your outrage-at-everything.

  • Ruch

    Calm down woman. We all know social media, digital medium allows people to get more attention than they deserve but you seem to have taken this way too far. If you are such a feminist, then pick up the right cause and do something about it. Just ranting about issues which do not even exist portray you as an extremely frustrated woman, for reasons best known to you.

  • Ruch

    boss, what is this business of deleting comments? You cant rant away abusing creative people and giving away opinion even when its not needed and if somebody tells you what they feel about your blog, you delete. Some feminist you are!!!

  • Keep writing such articles.. look forward for more!

  • raj panchal


  • Niranjan

    I think the Bajaj CFL was a spoof of all those fairness cream ads. They were mocking all those ads which try to project that beauty is synonymous with fairness and the age old misogynistic view that women are to be judged based on how they look.

  • Ravi

    The fact that these ads pass focus groups and bylines integrate into everyday language, speaks volumes about the trarget demographic…me ….the TV/Cirket/filum/politics blinkered future of India!!!

  • isreali

    Going by the writer’s logic we can easily find a fault with almost every advertisement. Really surprised at how people think.

  • NP

    Good article but then this bit made me cringe ” Willing to get abused and settle for most probably a wallop with that broken trophy once she enters her bedroom and maybe even a spot of marital rape…” Aren’t we being too presumptuous about the marital rape bit? I know it happens a lot but it is presumptuous to say that a broken trophy could lead to marital rape.