Converse up — for a good deal

Pushpa Girimaji

On International Women’s Day, I would urge all consumers, particularly women, to become far more vocal when it comes to advertisements that are not in their interest, that denigrate them or show them in poor light. Today, there are innumerable online platforms that can be used to express your displeasure over such advertisements and stop them.

Women should make an extremely informed choice when it comes to products and services. By that I would mean not just the quality and after-sales service, but also the overall image of the company. This should include not just the ethical standards and fair play exhibited by the company, but also its attitude towards women. And what can be a better barometer of this than their advertisements

In other words, when you look at advertisements, don’t just look at what they are promoting, but give a thought to the way they are pushing the product. And if you don’t like what they are doing, express your disapproval.

Think of this: in an age when it is clearly accepted that household chores are to be shared by both husband and wife, the health of the wife is as important as that of the husband; a woman has as much right to go on a vacation and enjoy life as the man; why is it that our advertisements constantly try to impose outdated images? Why should an advertisement of a bathroom cleaner show women as the cleaning agents? Why should a pressure cooker advertisement or a masala brand promotion or a cooking oil advertisement feature only women? Why should only men be shown in advertisements depicting adventure and fun? Why should women be choosing oil that helps their husbands stay healthy and not vice versa? Fortunately, I do, nowadays, see a few advertisements that are moving away from these stereotypes, but they are, unfortunately, quite few and far between.

Advertisements are a powerful medium of communication and these can not only influence consumer choice, but also the way consumers think and act, particularly when the products or services are being endorsed by celebrities with millions of followers. Advertisers and endorsers both have to be sensitive to this and act responsibly. But it is not always so.

A good example of this is the marketing of fairness creams and soaps. It is true that colour prejudices did exist in our society, but in order to sell their products, for decades these manufacturers reinforced these biases with their toxic messages equating white skin with beauty and success!

A study on the influence of fairness cream ads on the purchase-behaviour and belief system of youth in Mysuru, published in the International Journal of Mechanical and Engineering Technology in July 2018, for example, observes how fairness cream ads influenced the definition of beauty, promoted an obsession with fair skin and created the belief that a person’s calibre or worth was directly proportional to her skin tone. The damage these advertisements did to the psyche of those with beautiful brown skin is phenomenal. Unfortunately, none of those who suffered an inferiority complex on account of these prejudices filed cases against these companies and sought compensation.

The endorsers of these products are even more guilty because the damage that they caused was directly proportionate to their popularity. It’s for this reason that I have been arguing that as atonement, the endorsers of such products should return all the money that they have earned through such ads. And this should be used to build top-class schools and technical colleges for girls in villages across India.

Last February, the Union Ministry of Health published a draft amendment to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, wherein it did not just prohibit advertisements pertaining to fairness of the skin, but also enhanced the punishment for violations — jail term up to two years and a fine up to Rs10 lakh for the first offence. This should have been done long ago, but even now, the government should bring in the amendment quickly — it’s already a year since the draft was put in the public domain for comments.

But here, I am not focusing as much on the laws of the land as the importance of public opinion and action. In recent years, many an advertisement has been brought down and the endorsers forced to stop their endorsement in the face of strong public opinion. So, take up the cudgels against anti-women advertisements and boycott the products in question and their endorsers too. And you will soon see a sea change in the advertising landscape.

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