Gender Equality or Gimmicks: Popular Media

Brands better know “Strike the iron when it is hot” for maximum product awareness and visibility in target markets. They do no longer hesitate to touch raw nerves of the society, which stirs the imagination of some people for good and upsets some others only to get roasted over severe flaks by them. That’s exactly what Anouk, an Indian ethnic fashion brand, did to promote its ethnic wear collection for women.

Anouk’s digital campaign titled ‘Bold is Beautiful’ in collaboration with Myntra in 2015 appealed to liberal minds and irked the conservative ones at the same time. Like homo sexuality, gender equity is a very sensitive issue in India.

Gender disparity vs gender equality is a long-running issue in India. Recently it has gained momentum across the nation and been lavished with attention in popular media. Both commodity brands and populist brands are leveraging the power of this long-debated issue to grab a larger pie of their target markets by striking the raw nerves of the nation through unconventional advertisements and promotional campaigns.

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Some treat gender equity issues in India as mere gimmicks to draw attention, while others link their products with such sensitive social issues in mass-appealing ways influenced by a new school of thoughts in advertising. Recently, Bollywood biggie Shah Rukh Khan, a brand related to today’s popular culture and known for its marketing innovation, shook his legs with a newly formed band of transgenders. This seemingly liberal activity was part of his marketing campaign for his upcoming film Fan (to be released on April 15), not an act of promoting gender equity in India.

Was Shah Rukh Khan ever heard of or seen supporting or promoting the cause of “LGBT Rights” in India or abroad before he started marketing his upcoming film Fan post production?

It is evident from such pseudo-social activities that not everyone or everything talking about gender discrimination or gender equity in India does serve the real purpose just like ‘All that glitters is not gold.’ There is a fine line of distinction between mere use of a social issue as a gimmick or well-thought acts of supporting or promoting the same indirectly in visual media. The underlying purpose of packaging such issues as LGBT rights, lesbian relationship, gender equality, etc. with new-age advertisements to reach out to a larger audience is the same, but treatments are different.

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Some fashion and lifestyle brands are all the game in challenging stereotypical norms of advertisements including depiction of genders in corresponding product categories. They use male sexuality to highlight the beauty and usefulness of products for the fairer sex, and use female sexuality to hit the jackpot with products for ‘he’ in the name of supporting gender equality in their avant-garde advertisements.

Once I came across a men’s clothing video ad on Myntra’s online shopping blog. The video sensuously featured a female model wearing a men’s shirt with upper two buttons open to give a peek into her cleavage and wearing no pants.

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HommeMystere, an Australian company, took the world aback by unveiling a collection of lingerie including lace briefs and g-strings for heterosexual men in 2015. When the product was criticized as a fantasy of the gay community, the company made it clear that they designed the collection for men with no specific sexual orientation in mind. The motive was to defy the established fact that sexy underwear is women’s monopoly.

Fastrack Bold Statements, gender in Indian ads, gender equity in Indian media, unconventional advertisingWhat HommeMystere did last year is unimaginable in India now. India will take a few more years to free its men and women from their respective gender-based barriers like ‘men’s don’t cry’. However, unisex lifestyle brand Fastrack, a subsidiary of Titan, dared supporting gender equality through their unconventional promotional campaigns like ‘Just Be’, ‘Mature is In,’ ‘Dump Them’ and ‘Sorry for What’ featuring a female model shaving her head, another female model exposing an unsaved armpit, and a male model wearing throngs. Their creatives to promote lifestyle accessories for men and women challenged social stereotypes through gender reversal in 2014.

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L’Officiel depicted gender reversal and braved age-old gender stereotype on the cover of its February edition this year. The magazine chose Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Ranvir Singh from the current breed of Bollywood actors to don a new look with an Amrapali nose ring on the cover of the Valentine’s Day special edition. Using gender reversal as a gimmick, L’Officiel managed to capture the imagination of the youth including the fans of Ranvir Singh.

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Arjun Kapoor wears a pair of crimson red sandals in a song from the music album of his soon-to-be-released film Ki and Ka. He intentionally accessorized a black outfit with the same pair of women’s sandals to promote the movie Ki and Ka during an award show, leaving no room for doubt that his act of gender reversal is nothing but a gimmick.

Be it gimmick or genuine support for gender equality in India, it is nice to see today’s macho actors like Ranvir and Arjun Kapoor rise above conventionality in defiance and their acts of departure from the yesteryear ‘angry young men.’

Among the recent Indian advertisements that speak about the need of gender equality in society, I found Ariel’s Share the Load and BIBA’s Change the Convention less promotional and much humane. The former speaks about the need for male members of a family to share the load of household works with working women. The latter talks about a change that is gradually taking place in the way arranged marriages are fixed in India. Ads like these which subtly interweave thought-provoking messages with products are true ambassadors of gender equality in India.

Though celebrity endorsements using gender equality issues in India for film promotion or self publicity are undoubtedly gimmicks, let the ball roll on once it is out of the court. I would like to conclude in the Surf Excel way “Daag lagne se agar kuch achch hota hai, toh daag achche hai na.”

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