Rajyasree Sen used to run the restaurant Brown Sahib in New Delhi and is a foodie. Much of her time is devoted to writing on pop culture and TV. She also maintains a blog foodforthoughtindia. blogspot.com, where you can order some delicious food from her catering outfit. And we can’t believe we’re plugging her catering business on a news site. Who approved this copy?
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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