Friday, July 27, 2007

Changing portrayal of women in ICICI ads

Advertisements that we see around us are a good barometer of how society treats its members. The subject of fairness cream ads and their demeaning effect on women, especially ambitious ones who are dark skinned has been covered in numerous debates in the past. It is an accepted fact that those ads are meant to sell the concept of fairness being a desirable trait, and hence all ads will portray fairness in women in India as a desired goal, whether it be to get a better match in marriage, or to get a better job or a more glamorous job.
Something that is no so obvious is the portrayal of women in other ads such as the ads dealing with banking. One good example is the development of ads dealing with the selling of ICICI insurance products. The first set of ads portrayed women who were totally domesticated, without a voice, and who were shown as gaining assurance through the filling of their foreheads with sindoor. These first ads were criticized for a number of reasons such as the concept of showing a lady as totally dependent on the male for security, and who gets assurance only when her male is safe. The vermillion was extended to become the ICICI insurance mark, conveying the impression that ICICI was a way to make the status of women safer. Nowhere was it urged that even women could be insured, or that they were working in a job, or that their status in the family was such that it would be good that even they got insured. Mind you, ICICI has a number of senior executives who are female, and who doubtless are insured.
The next set of ads dealt with the need to save money, and had the catchline of why a person should save money. The prime set of requirements were to finance the son's education, and to get a good catch for the girl and have a good marriage. Again, the same stereotype, with the son needing to get a good education and the girl to get married. This ad was again criticized for the same reasons, and soon enough, it stopped coming. The inherent attitude about what is the priority in the life of a son versus a daughter was still the same.
And now the latest ads, these are somewhat better, but not quite. A wife is pestering her husband to sign the insurance papers, and to his question about what she will do in the event of his dying, the answer is about bringing up the girl child that they have and making her future secure. They cut a small section in the ad where she gave a flippant answer about going on a world cruise, something that seemed like harmless teasing, but apparently ICICI Bank did not think so. In this case, there are slightly more positive changes, in this case, they did not mention the words about saving money for the girl's marriage.
Of course, it will be real change when they start talking about arranging insurance for the working mother, but I guess that such things are still far away even though we have a larger percentage of the adult women working. I wonder whether this is something that other people have also seen?

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posted by Ashish Agarwal @ 11:59 AM