The Blatant Stereotypes and Subordination of Women in Indian TV Commercials

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Extracted with permission from The Beauty Paradigm: Gender Discourse in Indian Advertising by Jaishri Jethwaney, published by SAGE Publications India / SAGE Response.

Jaishri Jethwaney
Beatuy’s paradigm: gender discourse in Indian advertising
SAGE Publications India, September 20, 2021.

What emerges unambiguously from the analysis of Indian ads across various brand categories is the blatant stereotyping and objectification of women in the advertising narrative, in general. The saving grace in the current decade since 2011 has been on the objectification indicator which has fallen by over 19%.

Out of the eight indicators, namely, relative size, feminine touch, functional classification, family scene, ritualization of subordination, withdrawal of license, patriarchy and objectification, the two dominant indicators across the entire Indian advertising spectrum are Ritalization of subordination and Patriarchy in a majority of advertisements in all categories and subcategories of brands.

Microdata analysis

As the FMCG and Lifestyle categories have greater product line bandwidth, so the absolute data can be a bit misleading. Within these brand categories, let’s take a look at the microdata of some lifestyle and beauty products in CTVs, as reflected in the charts below to see how they fare on various metrics.

Contraceptives: 60 contraceptive advertisements from different brands were analyzed on the eight indicators. The results are no surprise.

Parametric Rating for Contraception (Lifestyle) on TV: 1991-2019

The negative weighting on contraceptive advertisements ranges from the minimum at 73% to the highest at 100% on the various indicators which reflect both objectification, indecency as prescribed by law and blatant stereotypes about women in all. Indicators

Deodorants: In the deodorant category, 34 ads were analyzed. The negative weighting on eight indicators ranges from 43% to 93%. On all of the dominant indicators, the ads perform poorly. Even on metrics like feminine touch and functional ranking, which are not considered dominant in most ads, the negative weight is over 90%.

Parametric rating of deodorant (lifestyle) on TV: 1991-2019

The tobacco: In tobacco advertisements which take the substitution route, 38 advertisements were analyzed, including 11 TVC. The stereotype of women in this category is quite blatant. Most tobacco products have men in male roles.

Parametric assessment of tobacco (lifestyle) on television: 1991-2019

Alcohol: This is yet another surrogate category that objective and stereotypes high weight women, as shown in the graph below at 73% at the lowest and 93% at the highest score on various analytic indicators. .

Parametric Rating for Alcohol (Lifestyle) on TV: 1991-2019

Beauty sector: In the beauty segment of the FMCG sector, 67 advertisements relating to face creams and soaps were included for analysis.

Parametric Beauty Product Rating (FMCG) on TV: 1991-2019

The negative weighting of indicators in beauty products is 49% at the lowest and 97% at the highest. In this category there is over 97% negative weighting on objectification and subordination and over 77% on patriarchy, which in a way postulates that despite being focused on women, there is also a strong undercurrent of patriarchal narrative in this segment.

The following table provides data on the negative weight of serial offenders in Lifestyle and FMCG brands at a glance.

Table: Parametric weights over three decades in five subcategories

Categories Subcategories Ritualization of subordination Objectification Patriarchy
Way of life Contraceptive 100.00 72.73 90.91
Alcohol 80.00 93.33 93.33
Deodorant 85.71 71.43 92.86
the tobacco 90.91 36.00 90.91
FMCG Beauty products 97.14 97.14 77.14

Indian ads on most analytical metrics performed poorly, with varying negative weights, although some positive change over the current decade is noticeable. Inappropriate portrayal of women is generally limited to certain categories of Lifestyle brands such as deodorants, clothing, contraceptives, alcohol and tobacco. As these categories are big advertisers, ads are naturally also frequently visible in the public domain, which has earned the advertising industry its fair share of criticism for its gender insensitivity.

The reflection of large happy families, common in Indian advertising for decades, is now relegated to the background. The narrative has now shifted from the ideal mixed family to that of a nuclear family and at times a single parent scenario, echoing the reality of the postmodern social ethos. Research has found that more and more ads with family scenes now have nuclear or single parents as the protagonists. It is not necessarily the single woman, but also not uncommon to find the man in custody of the child, doing the household chores.

If on the one hand some brands have experimented with the projection of an independent and daring woman, a reflection effectively projected by the filmmaker Homi Adjania in his “My Choice” advertisement produced for Vogue magazine, the role attempted by the film star Deepika Padukone , but the quintessential compassionate and caring woman hasn’t really left the Indian commercial. The man continues to the supplier and the decision maker. The 90s also saw the emergence of the “metrosexual man”, a coat rack of metropolitan and heterosexuals, on the advertising landscape. Such a man is aware of his appearance and attitude, and devotes time and resources to his grooming. We will talk about this man in a separate chapter in detail.

Jaishri Jethwaney has worked as a professor and program director (advertising and public relations) at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) for over 25 years. She is currently a senior research fellow at ICSSR based at the Institute for Industrial Development Studies (ISID), a nationally funded publicly funded policy think tank working on media policy issues.


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