A television ad currently airing features a young man returning from the office, unexpectedly bringing a group of friends with him. They demand that his wife make them Gajar ka Halwa. Of course, she prepares it in no time in her Hawkins pressure cooker.
Her husband smiled proudly and said, “Akhir, biwi kiski hai?”
Having been raised in a common middle class family in a small Indian town, I know for a fact that no housewife, no matter how traditional, would welcome her husband bringing home a group of friends unexpectedly. and demanding. Gajar ka Halwa.
The fact that we in advertising still show such a scenario as normal or even desirable for an Indian housewife speaks volumes about the disconnect between advertising and the Indian housewife of today. She can have great Gajar Halwa make skills, but would also possess the skills to never be forced into such a situation.
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In the 1970s, Hindustan Lever launched a new refreshing soap called Liril. It was aimed primarily at housewives. The ad showed a young woman in a two-piece bikini frolicking under a waterfall.
A society-commissioned study of Indian women at that time revealed that the Indian housewife was busy with household chores from morning until night. But she had a little window for her when she took her bath.
The girl at the waterfall took advantage of this window. It was a wonderful way for the housewife to escape into a fantastical world of freshness during those few minutes she had to herself. All made possible by a lemon-scented bar of soap. And the soap was a smash hit.
These two starkly contrasting adverts – one from nearly 50 years ago and the other which is airing today in 2022 make one wonder if when it comes to portraying or targeting women Indian housewife in advertising – have we really come a long way, baby? Or have we really regressed?
Around 2013 or so, an organization dedicated to promoting gender equality in the media made the rounds of all advertising agencies. All of the agency’s creative directors have been rounded up and asked to be a little more sensitive in our portrayal of women and families in advertising. And it certainly made most of us realize that, perhaps unconsciously, we were helping to promote certain stereotypes.
I must confess that in my many years in advertising I have been guilty of portraying the Indian housewife as the stereotypical mother – happily cooking breakfast for her perfect nuclear family – a husband and two children – always a boy and a girl. Or a husband who buys his wife diamonds to show how wonderful she is.
Although such situations are still the norm in India, it is refreshing to see new advertisements that attempt to show non-stereotypical families. But we must be careful that this is not perceived as a simple symbolic gesture. For example, there’s a breakfast cereal ad where the dad is making his daughter breakfast while trying to braid her hair. The intention is commendable but the situation seems a little forced. The effort then shows that ideally, the situation should appear as normal.
I have advertised diamond jewelry for many years. Being a working woman myself, I had actually bought myself diamond jewelry a few times. But whenever I presented an ad where the wife bought diamonds for herself, I was always told that 99% of Indian women get diamonds from their husband or parents. In fact, buying diamonds for herself can actually be misinterpreted as the poor thing had no man or relative in her life who could shower her with diamonds – so she had to resort to buying them herself- same.
I knew that wasn’t true. But being a creative person, I was always faced with meticulously collected research data. So when I finally managed to slip at least one ad into a three-ad campaign done for DeBeers Forevermark – where a young worker blows all her bonus by buying herself diamond stud earrings – I felt triumphant.
A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. Therefore, today I am very happy to see many more ads where women are buying jewelry for themselves. And it’s not symbolic either. Seems to be a true reflection of the times.
The modern Indian housewife, whether she is a housewife or a working woman, is intelligent. She realizes that she still bears the greatest burden of household chores and raising children at home, even though she is a working woman. Therefore, a brand that recognizes this fact and points the best way forward, strikes the perfect note.
Ariel, the laundry detergent brand that says “Share the Load” has been doing it with great success year after year. The health drink ad where a kid carelessly packs tiffin for his mom because she needs her nutrition might be cutesy, but I can literally see all the moms go “aww” at that ad, just like the advertising mother did.
At least some in the publicity have begun to realize that the housewife in India is overworked and underrated. Any ad that acknowledges this fact seems to strike a chord with them. And that’s surely a sign that you’ve come a long way before portraying her as someone just waiting to do Gajar ka Halwa at the snap of her husband’s finger.
Nandita Chalam is the former Executive Creative Director of Wunderman Thompson and Lecturer in Advertising at the Xavier Institute of Communications. The opinions expressed are personal.