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Women in Indian Advertisements - Plots & Perspectives By Dr Kisholoy Roy

In India, movies over the years have presented some extremely strong women characters on celluloid besides of course the traditional and vulnerable Ma, behen, beti etc. From Nargis in Mother India to Suchitra Sen in Aandhi, from Rekha in Khoon Bhari Maang to Meenakshi Seshadri in Damini, from Kareena Kapoor in Aitraaz to Madhuri Dixit in Gulaab Gang, from Bipasha Basu in Corporate to Alia Bhatt in Highway and the list can go on.
Women in Indian Advertisements - Plots & Perspectives
Women in Indian Advertisements - Plots & Perspectives By Dr Kisholoy Roy

However the moot point over here is that just like movies, advertisements too have been a reflector of the contemporary society. So just as we are getting to see more women centric films today presenting women characters with steely resolve, grits and guts (movies like Pink and Mom can be cited over here), our advertisements too are frequently highlighting the new age evolved women in this country who are not afraid to take challenges, speak their mind and walk the talk. Women in Indian society today are mostly tech savvy, socially connected, emotionally stable and financially independent and they are being well represented in contemporary advertisements. Yes, there are still a plethora of advertisements that highlight women whose world revolves around domesticity and who are all caring, loving and giving for their family members. The ‘Maggi’ and ‘Complan’ mother types are still very much existent as are ‘Wheel’ biwis. But then, slowly and steadily a paradigm shift is occurring in the context and content of advertisements as far as portrayal of women in advertising in this country is concerned.

This book is classified into two major sections viz. Perspectives and Plots. While the Perspectives section majorly speaks of the conventional gender portrayals in advertisements over the years in India and abroad and mentions certain unethical practices being executed when it comes to presenting women in ads, it is the Plots section that extracts some path breaking ads from Indian advertising annals that have stood the test of time not just because of their content but the way the ads portrayed women. Such ads were found to shatter conventional wisdom about women and expectations from women in an exemplary way.

As an author of this book, I do hope and pray that readers find this book enchanting, enriching and engaging. This book can well be considered as a reference material for students pursuing MBA programs in Marketing at various B-schools in India. It can also be of help to Research Scholars pursuing doctoral research work in areas of brand communication and of course content writers engaged in content development on marketing and branding practices.


This section mentions the various perspectives to related to advertisements and advertising. The section starts with mentioning certain basic aspects of advertising, myths surrounding advertisements, roles of advertising and then it mentions various marketing basics like Segmentation-Targeting-Positioning (or STP), Product Life Cycle (or PLC) and the 4Ps of marketing and how these serve as precursors to core advertising theory and practice. The section then goes on touch upon the issue of gender portrayal in advertisements in India and abroad. Certain unethical aspects like distasteful presentation of women in advertisements and gender stereotyping have been especially highlighted since they are directly concerned with the theme of this book. The final chapter of the section focuses on status of women in Indian society and how have they been represented in advertisements over the years. The section signs off on an optimistic note as far as depiction of women in Indian advertisements are concerned.

Welcome to the World of Advertising

Understanding Advertising

Every product today needs strong differentiation for its long term sustenance in the market and hence they need to be promoted in different ways by the marketer. Advertising is one of the promotional tools used by marketers to promote products in various forms of mass media. Of course in today’s market, advertising is often used along with other promotional tools like sales promotion, publicity, direct marketing etc. Moreover, advertising is just not restricted to print and broadcast media but we also get to find advertisements in the OOH (Out Of Home) space and advertising in the digital space. The world knows that creativity plays a big role in the development of advertisements but then it should not be mistaken that advertisements are a form of pure art; rather it is an output that should be saleable under all circumstances. An ad output is financed by a client and so the developer behind an advertisement should first and foremost cater to the interest of the client and his customer base. The creativity has to be synced with this requirement else it is not advertisement. In 1904, the famous copywriter aptly described advertisements as “salesmanship in print” since at that point of time, advertisements were strictly restricted to print media.

Coming to the definition of advertising, the American Marketing Association defined it as “any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods or services by an identified sponsor.” We thus find that the definition of advertising possess four important characteristics viz. paid form, non-personal presentation and promotion, of ideas, goods and services and finally identified sponsor. Advertisements are not a charitable activity. No corporate entity will advertise any product out of pure goodwill but in lieu of money. Thus advertisements are a paid form of promoting products. One cannot advertise oneself. As an author, I cannot advertise my own book. It has to be done by my publisher. Thus advertisements essentially are non-personal in nature. Advertisements can be developed for goods, services as well as ideas. We see advertisements of goods like biscuits, hair oil, shampoo etc and we also come across advertisements of service entities like ICICI Bank, SBI and LIC. We have also seen advertisements of ideas meant to create a better society like AIDS Awareness, Polio Awareness, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. In every advertisement, we do get to find the sponsor’s name. The source of the advertising message viz. the sponsor is identified within the message. It is the sponsor who is paying money to the developer of an advertisement.

Myths Regarding Advertisements

Often we come across people who hold certain conceptions regarding advertisements which are wrong and can be considered as myths surrounding advertising as an activity. The first such myth is that advertising is expenditure. Well the fact is advertising has asset creating ability. It is an investment that helps develop brands out of generic products. It is neither wasteful expenditure nor it has short term effect. Marketers need to be patient with advertisements since benefits from this often take time to experience or to take effect. There are many amongst us who believe that advertisements are one and only solution to sell products in the market. They perceive that advertisements alone can sell products. First and foremost one needs to understand that marketing as an activity is based on needs and wants of consumers. Until and unless a marketer can correctly identify a need gap and develop products that genuinely caters to the requirements of consumers no amount of brilliant and saleable advertising can help matters. Advertising is to be considered as another potent tool for selling products but not the only tool to sell. There is another school of misconception about advertisements that believe that the more you advertise, the more you sell. Just by pumping money into advertising without any informed thought cannot guarantee extra sales. The activity of ad budgeting which we will deal later with in this course is a scientific process based on certain well scouted information from the market regarding consumption behaviour of products and media viewing habits of target audiences. Critics of advertisements often say that advertisements are detrimental to society’s well being. Reason cited for this criticism is that advertisements promote materialism and false values. They believe that advertisements make people buy products that they do not need. However a majority of advertisements enables consumers to be informed about product features and benefits before they make purchases.

Evolution of Advertising

The earliest form of advertising was witnessed several centuries back in fact in 3000 B C in ancient Rome. This promotional form was actually launched by the ancient Babylonians who were known to be largely materialistic. They used to write on bricks that were used to build temples and the bricks carried the name of the temple along with the king who was building it. Since the time goods were available for popular consumption, the world saw street criers who went from street to street making public announcements of various goods like beauty remedies, fish and dairy products. Post the “Dark Ages” that followed the defeat of the Roman empire, advertising was found to regain its glory towards the end of the fifteenth century. In early 17th century, a new medium for advertising was invented in England and that was the newspaper. Newspaper advertising first appeared in America in the beginning of the 18th century. The Pennsylvania Gazette published by Benjamin Franklin in America became the largest circulating newspaper with the largest advertising volume during this era due to which Franklin is considered the Father of American advertising. The early 19th century saw the emergence of one-man advertising agent whose job was to get businesses from advertisers, send the content of the ad to the newspaper and collect the charges. He used to keep 25% of the money obtained from the advertiser as his commission for the services rendered. The early 20th century is considered as the “Golden Age” for advertising. It was during this era that important personalities of the advertising business like F. Wayland Ayer, Albert Lasker, Claude C. Hopkins, J Walter Thompson and John E. Kennedy made their presence felt and contributed significantly to the cause of advertising. The two major approaches to advertising viz. the “soft-sell” and “hard-sell” were coined during this time. While “soft-sell” was more to do with advertisements that were presented in literary style and used subtle techniques to advertise, the “hard-sell” approach was where consumers were informed about why they should be buying a particular product. These advertisements were more straight and rational in their presentation. The 1930s witnessed Raymond Rubicam (head of famous ad agency Young & Rubicam) emerge on the advertising horizon during this time and it was also during this period that radio emerged as a popular advertising medium. The decade of 1960-1970 is considered as the decade of creative revolution in advertising business as three outstanding personalities Leo Burnett, David Ogilvy and William Bernbach spearheaded the creative pursuits in advertising products. The 1970-1980s is considered the Positioning era since the concept of positioning was introduced during this decade by Al Ries and Jack Trout in an article published in Advertising Age journal.

In the Indian context, the Buddhists were found to rely on visual communication several centuries back to spread their religion. With this objective, Emperor Ashoka was found to set up rock and pillar edicts all over the country to spread the teachings of Buddha. The first Indian newspaper was started in 1780 in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Its name was “Bengal Gazette”. The first advertising agency in the country was started in 1907 in Bombay (now Mumbai). The first full fledged advertising agency in the country was luanched in 1931. Since the country gained independence, advertisements in this country have evolved with the times. Ad campaigns for brands like Amul, Lux soap and Liril are extremely noteworthy. In fact these campaigns have achieved a cult status in the country due to their immense recall over the years. Of course there are a plethora of other advertisements and ad jingles that have caught the imagination of the mass audiences. Sylvester daCunha, Bharat Dhabolkar, Alyque Padamsee, Santosh Desai, Prasoon Joshi and Piyush Pandey are some of the notable personalities from the Indian advertising fraternity who have ensured that durable brands are created out of otherwise generic products. Some of the leading ad agencies in the country are JWT, Lowe Lintas, Chaitra Leo Burnett, Contract Advertising, Enterprise Nexus, Euro RSCG, Equus Advertising, FCB-Ulka Advertising, Mudra Communications, McCann-Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather, Rediffusion-Young & Rubicam and many more.

Fundamentals of the Advertising Business

As already mentioned advertisements are developed by advertising agencies and it is the corporate entities known as sponsors or advertisers who engage agencies to develop advertisements for their products. It is the size of a company, its overall reputation in the industry, the nature of product to be advertised and the estimated consumption potential that defines the scale of business an agency gets from a client. Once a client engages an agency to develop advertisements for a product, coordination among various departments of the agency starts so as to deliver an effective output within a deadline. Budgeting to advertise is done at the advertiser’s end primarily and it is often in this context that large scale negotiations happen between client servicing team of an agency and the marketing department of the advertiser. Once an agency receives the creative brief ( a document that mentions what needs to be achieved for the product through advertisement), it is passed on to the creative department of an agency to conceptualize and develop and develop a suitable output. Once the advertisement is approved by the client, the final output is placed in a medium or on various media vehicles that are considered apt by both the agency and the advertiser. There are several supplier entities of an agency without whom it is impossible to develop and place advertisements in various media. Prominent among them are typesetters, photographers, film processing specialists, printers, market researchers, film and video producers and directors. Now a days a large proportion of work concerned with ad production for the television medium are outsourced by agencies to various individual freelancers and business houses.

Careers in Advertising

There are various career options in advertising. Primarily speaking while deciding on a career in advertising one needs to be convinced that one has that creative instinct in oneself for even if a person does not get associated with the creative department of an agency one needs to approach his/her work in a creative way. An advertising agency generally recruits Client service executives or Account executives for its Client servicing department and it also hires Copywriters, visualizers and graphic designers for the creative department. The client servicing department is the interface between an advertiser and the agency as it is the client servicing executives who are supposed to represent the agency, present its portfolio of work and bag assignments for an agency. Again it is the client servicing department who are often accompanied by the personnel from the creative department when they go to showcase the draft of an ad output created by an agency. The client servicing executives thus are the main breadwinners of an agency.

Another very common and important recruitment done by agencies is that of a Copywriter who is often called a ‘wordsmith’. It is the copywriter who is assigned the role of putting content into an advertisement. The headlines, taglines and body copy are all the brainwork of a copywriter. In a later module in this course we will have better understanding of what a copywriter does in an agency and his role in developing an advertisement.

There are people who are recruited as Researchers/Market Researchers in an ad agency and as Media Planners. The market researchers often are asked to undertake surveys regarding what approach to advertising will work in favour of a brand. They also conduct focus interviews and panel discussions after an ad is produced to understand its level of acceptability if and when it is released in the mass media. Media Planners need to study the media options for a product, the leading newspapers, radio channels, television channels, outdoor advertising entities available to reach a correct and informed decision regarding where and when to advertise a product. Buying the slots in media, scheduling the advertisements etc are principally done by the media planning and buying department of an agency. MBAs in marketing from reputed institutes of the country or people who have done courses in advertising from leading institutes of the country like MICA, Ahmedabad or FLAME, Pune are often sought after by agencies to be recruited as Client servicing executives. Even chances of being hired as Researchers or Media planning executives are also high. For the job of Copywriters, people who are fluent in English writing or the local language (for developing ads for local clients) are preferred over an MBA. Strong in literature with dollops of creativity and lateral thinking is what is required for the Creative department of an agency. For being hired as Graphic designer, suitable knowledge of DTP is required. Proficiency in Photoshop, CorelDraw and PageMaker along with knowledge of animation (certain advanced courses in this area are provided by MAAC and Arena Animation.

Advertisement Types

There are various types of advertisements. The classification is based on certain parameters like for whom an advertisement is being made, the nature of product being advertised, the nature of protagonist in an advertisement and the type of medium that hosts an advertisement. In this unit we will look at each of the classification parameters and also at the advertisement types within a category. The vastness of advertisement types will be well experienced and appreciated at the end of this unit.

Advertisement Types based on Target Audience

On the basis of target audience, there are two types of advertisements primarily viz. B2C advertising and B2B advertising. B2C stands for Business to Consumer advertising and Business to Business advertising. In the context of B2C advertising, there are four sub categories of advertising viz. National advertising, Local advertising, End-product advertising and Direct response advertising.

There are four types of advertisements that are aimed at the consumers as target audiences. National advertising is for products that have a national presence. The advertising is done at the pan-India level for the national brands. For example when we see advertisements for brands like Surf Excel, Nirma, Complan etc., they are national advertisements. Advertising done for locally manufactured products and for local retailers qualifies to be called local advertising. Adi Dhakeshwari Bastralaya is a leading garment retailer in Kolkata whose advertisements will be local advertising being done by an agency. End-product advertising is primarily directed at consumers but it is also directed at trade. Let’s say an advertisement for Boeing aircraft is aimed at fliers who prefer or will prefer Boeing for certain reasons but then this aircraft has to be purchased not by consumers/fliers but the airline companies based on flier preferences. Hence here we find that end-product advertising is aimed both at consumers and at trade entities. The purpose of direct response advertising is immediate action. These advertisements are meant for products that are not supposed to pass through retail channels but are meant to be transferred directly from manufacturers/marketers to customers. Products that are sold on Home Shoppe channel on television is an example of direct response advertising.

There are four types of advertising in the context of B2B advertising viz. Trade advertising, Industrial advertising, Professional advertising and Institutional advertising. Before products are available to customers, they must be available with retailers and retailers will stock products only when they are convinced about a product’s saleability. Manufacturers often use trade advertising for this purpose to promote their wares to wholesalers and retailers. Emphasis of such ads is on the profitability associated with stocking products for the wholesaler and retailer.

There are several industrial products like ball bearings, electric motor that may be the component of a consumer appliance which is being made by a company. For a company to pick up the raw materials from a manufacturer, it must be made aware and that is done through industrial advertising. In case of industrial products, advertisements do not aim to sell products but to inform about products. The actual sales happen when salespeople of a firm interact with the buying department of the purchasing firm. Advertisements that are directed to specific professionals qualify to be called as professional advertisements. When doctors are informed about new medicines or architects are informed about certain building materials, the doctors or architects take the final decision of buying on behalf of their patients or clients as the case may be. For products like medicines or building materials, the end user might not be an expert and hence it is the professional who plays a defining role in buying a product being advertised.

Institutional advertising is created to build goodwill for a company. Such advertisements mention about some positive attributes of a company and have three important goals viz. build consumer awareness and goodwill, financial relations and advocacy on a controversial issue.


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