What Women Want – An Advertiser’s Perspective

What Women Want – An Advertiser’s Perspective

October 22, 2016

By Jayant Savant

Advertising is a major tool used by brands to deliver their message across to the audience. Television has played a huge role in this effort. Over the years, we have seen changing trends in the way TV commercials have been dishing out the message.

Back in the 80’s, when television first made its entry in the living rooms of hundreds of thousands of households, the advertising game changed completely. Suddenly ad agencies and clients were not just talking about print layouts and art works, but shoots, production, directors and locations. The budgets reached stratospheric heights. The brand managers, suddenly, had more responsibility on their shoulders.  In short, advertising had changed.

But amidst all this, one more thing had transformed. The pivotal role of women in advertising. Their role in advertising has been the subject of much public criticism, debate and empirical research.

TV ads definitely weren’t a first for women to be portrayed in advertising. Even before television commercials, we saw women in many renowned print advertisements. But TV ads were the crescendo.

Women have been cast as strong ‘brand ambassadors’ in the past. Throwback to the 80’s when India’s ad ‘God’, Alyque Padamsee created the memorable Surf commercial. Thus, was born the famous ‘Lalitaji’ character. She epitomized every virtue of a strong woman, who knew what she wanted. And made sure she got it. Then he made the Liril girl prance under the waterfall. A first for those archaic times.

Since then, the depiction of women in advertising has come a long way. Women are a lynchpin when it came to selling certain type of products, which appeal to the male domain. Of course, not that women have been neglected when it came to selling other products. But stereotyping of women in ads has been a bane.

In this era of globalisation, our values and lifestyle are shaped and influenced largely by the mass media. Besides persuading us to buy products, advertisements also carry a subliminal message. And this message is often based on gender stereotypes. The ‘genderising’ of products and assigning specific roles is harmful and a major deterrent to achieving gender equality in the society.

Commercials that readily come to my mind are those for deodorants and male related products. They have typically stereotyped the woman, showcasing her as an ’object’ across brands in this category. Therefore, almost all these ads look similar, and it’s very difficult to distinguish one brand from another.

But the landscape is changing. Nowadays we also see women being portrayed as independent freedom seekers; taking their own calls in not just professional sphere but in personal relationships too.

There are certain ads, which are a breath of fresh air as far as opposing gender stereotyping is concerned. They revolve around innovative themes; show women in a progressive light.

The Airtel commercial comes readily to my mind. The woman plays the boss, and the man, who is her subordinate, is also her husband. So while she plays the strict boss at work, she is also shown as a caring homemaker.

Bournvita is another commercial, where we see the woman play a determined mother. She is shown playing an active part in grooming and preparing her son to face the challenges of life. Thus, literally stepping out of the four walls of her house and actively participating in helping build the future of her son.

Raymond commercial gave a complete new spin to the role of women in advertising. Here we see the young man, who apparently is a stay-at-home dad, taking care of the toddler, while the wife goes to work. Thus, breaking the myth that men should work and women should be confined to domestic chores.

On a slightly lighter note, the commercial for a scooty brand, shows a famous Indian actress riding the scooty with much gusto, and loads of fun. No wonder, its tagline says, ‘Why should boys have all the fun!’

Internationally, Dove created a brilliant piece of insightful communication called ‘Real Beauty Sketches’. Here they actually used ‘real’ women, not models, to serve the insight that women are more beautiful than they actually think they are.

These ads play a huge role in changing the perspective of the audience, and the way they look at women.

For a woman who is shown as a career woman, it isn’t only about earning a steady income for her family. But it also signifies her desire to be independent, free and someone who wants to establish her own identity. Also these ads drive home a strong message that women don’t just want to be confined to domestic chores. Instead, they too have their own dreams and aspirations, which need to be fulfilled.

Such ads have a deep impact on the society. They don’t just inspire, but empower women. As advertisers (ad agencies included), we should take cognizance of the fact that we should show women in a far more progressive light. Thus, healthy gender relations can be fostered by improving the image of women, through advertisements. I’m sure, this is what most women would want!



Jayant Savant

Senior Creative Resource, Ideator, Writer, Problem Solver, at Ogilvy.

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