By Vaishali Sudan Jun. 09, 2022
Advertising has always been a men’s club, and the terminally offensive Shot ad exemplifies how an industry struggling for ideas, almost always turns to treating women as props.
“W e got to bombard their eyeballs,” “Buy their ears!” For most brands – established or start-ups – you would often hear the founders, CMOs etc. screaming this at the top of their lungs. The ideation is considered to be the ‘fun’ part. For creative juices to flow, the conference room is all set with notepads and beverages. And then the collaborative conversations begin to fill the day with what seems to be a ‘productive’ use of time. Someone, sitting somewhere in a corner, initiates the ingenious scheme to ‘grab eyeballs.’ Most often than not, the goals are not even defined. I say so because in many years of having spent my time working on brand plans, marketing and branding strategies, drafting and implementing communication plans, I have rarely seen a brand that knows what they are talking about. Most of these brands, like Layer’r Shot, have just one strategy – do whatever it takes to get eyeballs.
The Shot perfume ad that has recently been taken down after outrage poured in online, was appalling, to say the least.
The Shot perfume ad that has recently been taken down after outrage poured in online, was appalling, to say the least. How was it even greenlit? “Sab chalta hai,” is really where this stems from. Like ‘it is ok’, ‘let it be’, ‘this is good enough’, ‘what can I do’,’ I don’t care’. The phrase Sab Chalta Hai reflects the smug approach to brand building. The tendency to take shortcuts, because everything on digital seems like a blur already. Just that in Shot’s case this translated to the trivialisation of something as serious and galling as stalking and rape.
“Hum char, aur ye sirf ek? Toh Shot kaun lega?” (We’re four and just one of it/her? Who will take the shot?) These are the exact words from one of the ads from the series. The camera capitalizes on the reaction to accentuate the impact by zooming in and focusing on the face of the petrified woman, and then shifts back to one of the men, who grabs a perfume from the shelf next to her, only to put her at ease. Only a sour, sordid brain can think of this as a marginally provocative but great idea. But to think that an entire room full of creatives, ‘thinker’s etc could not see what they were doing wrong baffles me. But knowing the world of brand building from the inside, it isn’t shocking.
The role most women play in advertising is to agree to the larger majoritarian view, which is almost always male.
Advertising has always been a men’s club. From the early years of advertising, to the whirlwind post-globalisation years when the space really opened to the modern day dynamics of the digital era, the landscape has changed, but not the treatment of women as objects. This can’t just be helped by putting more women in offices and teams, because I’ve been there, and when push comes to shove, it’s the ‘kuch bhi’ ideas that make the cut rather than the morally or culturally restrained ones. The role most women play in advertising is to agree to the larger majoritarian view, which is almost always male.
The digital world, owing to its ability to outrage and respond back, you’d think would balance the scales. But that isn’t the case. Using provocative hashtags while posting on a brand’s social media handles, e.g. ‘foot fetish daily’ when all you are doing is selling a pair of footwear for the sake of ‘grabbing more eyeballs,’ or glamourizing the image of a female model, mashing it up with a mild sexual connotation and serving the ad ‘hot’ are old tricks being served in a new bottle. These stunts are a reflection of the so-called creativity that is hardly creative or imaginative. The contextual objectification of women, regardless of the product, is everywhere to see. It’s so common that you hardly ask questions like ‘why is my toothpaste only being used by gorgeous women?’ or ‘why does every soft drink function like a flirtation device?
Advertising has always been a men’s club.
Sex doesn’t sell! I still believe it’s stories that do. But because the industry is crammed with untalented, inexperienced creators trying to launch a product that doesn’t even have a handful of USPs, edgy, rancorous ideas become the norm. It’s why sex and women’s bodies are used as vehicles for bad original ideas, and at times, the lack even of a product to sell. As a marketing professional, a woman, and most importantly, a mother to a little boy, I often question the ethics and morality of brands. What pushes them to implement depraved concepts? What kind of sickness of desperation can motivate people to toy with the idea of raping a woman, to sell a product that is nothing more than a scent?
You must make your product or service interesting, not just make the ad different in a way that it breaks the internet for x,y or z reason. A brand trying desperately hard to step away from convention to break the boundaries of basic etiquette, is also a brand that is not too confident about its own product. But TV ads that take crores to produce and place, are still being made on the age-old sexist mould of men thinking what sells. This money could be put to better use, but knowing the industry I’m sure it won’t be.
Vaishali is a seasoned brand communications professional with over 15 years of experience handling marketing. A mom to an 8-years-old, she is also founder of India’s leading parenting platform www.thechampatree.in