The India chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA) hosted a panel discussion based on a study conducted by the UNICEF and the Geena Davis Institute (GDI). The study - #VoiceOfChange – tackled gender representation in Indian ads. Herein, the panellists discussed what real change in gender representation means and how it can become a catalyst for the advertising, media and marketing sectors.
The panel comprised Subhash Kamath, chairman, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and CEO, BBH and Publicis Worldwide, India; Rana Barua, group CEO, Havas Group India; Dr Sharada, director, Population First; Kainaz Karmakar, chief creative officer, Ogilvy; Atit Mehta, head of marketing, Byju's; Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari, artist, filmmaker and writer, and Nina Jaipuria, head – Hindi Mass Entertainment and Kids TV network, Viacom18 Media. Megha Tata, president of the IAA India Chapter, and managing director, South Asia, Discovery Communications India, moderated the session.
The virtual event kicked off with Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, representative, UNICEF India’s introduction about the birth of gender inequalities. She believes that conditioning starts much before the child is even born. “Gender socialisation is a learned behaviour, which affects women and also disadvantages boys. We learn social cues from family, schools and societies, including advertising and marketing. If we are to bring about a change, the advertising and marketing industry has to recognise the role they play and positively harness that power,” she said.
Before moving on to the panellists, Shreyasi Jha, senior advisor – gender equality, UNICEF, New York, summarised the findings from the study conducted by Unicef and GDI.
According to the report, both genders are likely to appear in ads with women dominating the screen and speaking time. However, it also highlighted other unfair equations, including issues associated with age, colourism, sexualisation, gender tropes, occupations, leadership, caretaking and parenting, that portray women in poor light.
Own your own
Tata, who moderated the panel, asked Kamath about the way ASCI views gender representation, he highlighted the need to raise awareness among one’s own conscience. “We have to believe that we have the power to change society. In the last 10 years, there have been many women on the top. We have focused on the complaints management system, and are now focusing on how to navigate the industry to be more responsible,” he said.
Kamath also told viewers about the ‘GenderNext’ – an initiative in the pipeline, which is slated to be launched by ASCI in September.
From the creative standpoint, Karmakar explained how women are their own enemies and believes that it’s time for the female race to put their foot down.
Sharing an experience from a time she worked on a particular Ogilvy brand, she said, “We once did an ad with a less attractive face and the results were not as good as the other work we’ve done. The client said it was because of the face, which really baffled me since that was their first thought out of a million reasons that it could have gone wrong. Having an undeterred spirit is the only way to counter such comments.”
Building business for good
Jaipuria spoke about how Viacom18 highlights social evils via its content, while also entertaining audiences. “We try to create leading female protagonists who are strong in character and have shows that showcase social ills that are still prevalent in the country. We have a wonderful mix that gets a lot of support from our advertisers and stakeholders, as well as our viewers. We focus on doing good business and helping the society at large.”
Reckitt’s Durex – one of Havas’ clients – is a torch-bearer brand for Barua. He spoke about the brand’s social language and humour that it is known for. He credits the creativity to the open conversations that happen among both genders in a boardroom. “Better late than never, but the needle has moved for us. After the year it was and the challenges we faced, the brand’s entire commercial was based on looking at women’s pleasure for the Durex’s Mutual Climax condoms. We are extremely clear about how our message will be perceived and I’m glad that we’re addressing this upfront. These conversations have to change internally for it to change externally,” he added.
Real life in reel life
For Tiwari, the spectrum of women’s representation goes beyond colour or caste. She believes that society is threatened the moment a woman is showcased as a decision-maker who moves out of her comfort zone.
Speaking about the importance of tonality in films and ads, she said, “The thought process of a society belongs to its mindset. We have the opportunity to at least change the tone of how things are said. When something is said repeatedly, it starts to drill into people’s minds. Doing psychological research is more important than other studies.”
Dr Sharada, who has been reviewing ads for Campaign India since 2013 spoke about how the representation of women in ads evolved over the years. “There are lesser ads that fall into the category of gender offensive now. Most of them are gender-neutral or gender stereotypical. However, women and girls are still typical advertising models and there is also an expectation from the consumers for the women portrayed in ads to be like that.”
She asked, “There are men in our lives who do chores, but why not on TV? It's necessary to show different dynamics of the ecosystem in a story. The more progressive messages we give, the more successfully the normalcy will grow. Things that happen in the narrative will have an impact on how we view situations.”
Importance of early conditioning
Apart from the myriad of values inculcated in kids from an early age, teaching them other non-negotiables is a must too, according to Mehta. “We have never spoken of gender equality as part of a day-to-day conversation. You need to impart education to kids and teach them the need to respect women. If this is done, we might not even have these conversations years down the line,” he added.
Kamath stated that the desired outcome in an ad might still contradict a particular point from some, but that must be respected and accepted.
Ogilvy’s Karmakar shared that a definite message can be easily weaved into a 30-60 seconds story and that even the subtle cues can make a huge difference.
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