Gokul Krishnamurthy
Aug 26, 2013

Opinion: Applying the ‘gender sensitivity’ filter to ads

Consumers will scrutinise ads increasingly, and brands that seem insensitive will get voted against.

Opinion: Applying the ‘gender sensitivity’ filter to ads

In a recent issue of Campaign India, we announced that we’d be launching a ‘Gender Sensitivity Score’ for ads soon. While it is restricted to television commercials (as are most campaigns published in this magazine presently), it is a start. And like with most good things kicking off, this too met with cynicism, criticism, et al.

We were asked, “What difference can a ‘Gender Sensitivity Score’ make?”

We were told, “Don’t you think ad agencies are already aware of sensitivity issues? They don’t need one more person to remind them.”

Also, it was alleged that an NGO view of things would be ‘skewed’ and ‘impractical’.

And we heard this too: “We are already grappling with so many issues related to client approvals and what not. This will create one more opportunity for the work to be criticised.”

In other words, the contention was that this will create another tick-box, and come in the way of ‘creativity’.

After considering each of these arguments and more, we humbly submit that the creation of such a ‘Score’ is as much an opportunity to be appreciated as it is to be criticised. And this criticism, if anything, is an opportunity to open the mind up to the issue of gender sensitivity in communication, ads included.

We’ve just received a note on a BCCC advisory to channels to not portray acid attacks, and of a couple of channels being imposed a financial penalty for breaching the content code.

There is increasing awareness among consumers and emphasis by regulatory bodies including the government, on sensitive portrayal of women. The voices against stereotyping or objectification of women are being heard more and are ringing louder. It makes sense for brands and their agency partners to stay alive to these voices and be ahead of the curve.

I personally hold the view that ads are dealt with far more severely than other forms of content (like film and television and even the printed word). And there are more informed schools  of thought that believe they should be censored more strictly - being involuntarily viewed, unrestricted content on mass media used to sell products and services. But that’s another debate altogether.

The fact remains that ads will get increasingly scanned and scrutinised, and brands will get increasingly punished and voted against. On the other end, brands that are in sync with the sentiments of the nation, will get voted for. In the interest of societal good and in their own interest, it therefore makes sense for brands to take the lead.

On an NGO’s views being ‘impractical’, we submit that it’s another perspective and one rooted in reality. It needs to be heard simply because while it seems like it’s coming from another planet, it’s coming from the ground beneath our feet. Which explains Laadli’s point of view being featured as the third voice in our Private View (ad reviews) segment beginning with this issue of Campaign India. 

When asked about what is gender sensitive or insensitive about a certain ad, we often have no response, because we have not applied the ‘Gender Sensitivity’ filter to it. It’s not that we’re pointing a finger at anyone – I am as guilty of not being conscious of how we portray women. There has to be a conscious effort to pass the piece of work through this filter, for us to be aware of what we end up creating or viewing and reviewing, and the ramifications. Hence the ‘Gender Sensitivity Score’ and comments from those reviewing it. Over a period of time, the belief is that most creatives will end up ticking this box in their subconscious, if they haven’t already.

We need to thank Mr Ramesh Narayan for having initiated the ‘Gender Sensitivity Score’. And to Onads Communications’ Jignesh Maniar and Yang’s (Saints and Warriors) Sanjay Sharma for helping us take the first steps. As for Dr Sharada from Population First (Laadli), we’re hoping this is the beginning of a long and meaningful journey together.

There are certain things that enrich what we do for a living more than any amount of money ever could. This is one of them.

(The author is editor, Campaign India. This appeared in the issue of Campaign India dated 23 August 2013.)

Campaign India

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