Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

What do the women in our ads usually do?

Updated Oct 12, 2015 10:57am
Why our brands and ad makers desperately need to think of women as human beings, not appliances or objects.

Quick test. Are they doing?
(a) Household chores
(b) Dolling up kids and/or their husbands
(c) As teachers or principals being insulted by kids armed with the latest candy
(d) Shopping
(e) Gossiping
(f) All of the above

In case you were wondering, the correct answer is (f).

It is puzzling that our ad makers belong to the supposedly ‘enlightened’ segment of society. They pride themselves in being liberal. Yet, when I see a woman or girl in our ads, she is usually a hapless creature devoid of any intelligence or feelings; in fact just another appliance to add to the fridges, vacuum cleaners and toasters.

Starting from the kids. Boys are shown playing soccer, riding bicycles, doing their homework and generally everything cool. Girls are shown preparing rotis in front of tearfully smiling moms (hello, Mom, she is too young to be so near fire), pushing trolleys and smiling vacantly while their brothers and fathers come home.

Take insurance. Every ad for a savings scheme tells you that it will help your beta to acquire a higher education and it will help your beti …. get married, of course! I have seen a ton of them and I have yet to see a variation on this theme.

According to our ads, this is the typical biography of a girl:

I was born with a belan in my hand. I learned to cook rotis when I was three (see the Guinness Book of Records for details). At five I was cooking complete meals. At eight I learned how to clean the bathroom, set up a trolley and to embroider which I used as a bribe to extract a decent meal out of my mom. At 12 I used a whitening cream which meant that in three years I got married. However I was killed off by my saas one day when my husband smiled at me in a dish-wash bar ad with my saas looking on.

Every ad for a savings scheme tells you that it will help your son to acquire a higher education and your daughter to…. get married! Every ad for a savings scheme tells you that it will help your son to acquire a higher education and your daughter to…. get married!

The most recent example: An appliances company (Homage) is running a campaign which equates women to ovens (ha-ha). The kids, the saas, the devar and the husband, all request the oven to heat a meal or make popcorn because the wife has fallen ill or has gone over to her parents. I mean, seriously? A sick wife/mother can be replaced by an oven? Hello, everyone: a woman is a human being, not a substitute for the thousand of appliances at your home.

It has been decades since we have been seeing cooking oil (Dalda, Habib) advertising themselves as the surest way for wives to gain acceptability with their in laws. In all these ads a humongous meal is prepared by one lonely woman, while the rest of the family chatters, claps and dances. Side note: according to our ads wives never need eat.

One ad for a kheer mix, made several years ago, takes the literal cake. It is an epitome of sick thinking, and a paragon of myopic vision. A bride is cooking kheer for her new household. Her husband’s kid bother warns her that this is a tough exam. Her saas looks on while declining to guide or help her. It is her father-in-law who gets to decide her fate based on the quality of the kheer. He takes a bite, then teases by first giving a terse reaction before endorsing the quality of the kheer and imploring the bride girl to cook more next time. And what does the husband do? He smiles and claps! As if it is completely normal to let your father determine the fate of your life partner based on her cooking skills. Laziza kheer mix is still running this ad today, and we are sopping both the ad and the product up (why, my mom used it on Eid), instead of damning it with Chris Brown-like levels of disdain and contempt.

.For the son, it is completely normal to let his father determine the fate of his life partner based on her cooking skills .For the son, it is completely normal to let his father determine the fate of his life partner based on her cooking skills

In our society, women are still homemakers primarily (and no harm here; it is the most important job in the universe), but they are also educated, intelligent human beings who often diagnose their kids’ illnesses at home thanks to the internet. They prepare gourmet cuisine, assist their husbands and very often juggle full time jobs along with all this. They are equal partners in everything.

Yes, there have been some ads which have broken the mould. HBL’s campaign with Samina Baig comes to mind (little as it has to do with banking). Ufone, in its drive to create funny situations, shows wives in hyper-aggressive mode thereby solidifying the ‘bossy’ stereotype awarded to every strong willed woman. A few years ago, Telenor postpaid ran a campaign which showed a female engineer working in the field and sending and receiving blueprints via her cell. I personally was quite impressed with how accurately it depicted some of the female professionals I knew.

My message to the ad makers: please think of women as human beings, not appliances or objects.


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Comments (42) Closed

ABida Oct 12, 2015 12:30pm

I couldn't agree with you more! Well written article

haris Oct 12, 2015 12:35pm

good one.

adil Oct 12, 2015 12:38pm

To understand this oppressive mentality, one should visit the factories of these cooking oils and ghees brands. I guarantee you, that will be the last time you will cook in those oils and ghees.

Mahmood Oct 12, 2015 12:54pm

Not entirely agreeing with you Sir. Many a people criticize ladies doing household chores or for taking care of children. Do you think that's an easy or less relevant job? Problem is not actually doing a particular job or role in the family, problem is with the value system. I appreciate my mother a lot for not sending me to school/college or work without breakfast for a single day in my life and same has my wife done since marriage. In now way, I feel by doing that simple but so important task, they are demeaning themselves.......the value is not in work but in "values".....and also please don't spoil and large portion of ladies folks who actually don't work in offices (in commercial ventures) and are not willing to even do household chores for the family too...what else do you want them to do? Elevation in status actually comes through work not by simply defining roles and treating somebody superior or insulting what a large number has been doing for centuries............

sean ain Oct 12, 2015 12:54pm

Women usually do what they are fit for i.e. look beautiful and for that they bag a good amount of money. What do you want them to do in adds?

Ali Oct 12, 2015 01:10pm

Misogyny is deep embedded in our society. You just can't expect women to be sole bread winner and men to sit back at home and fed the children in our society. Can you ?

Secular Pathan Oct 12, 2015 01:14pm

Yes, women are human beings, they can be productive and useful not just making saas bahu crap all the time.

Muhammad Oct 12, 2015 01:20pm

Our ads portray men as same. Its not about women only. Its about our collective intellectual level. Ads are made for public and have to be inline with public mental level...

Malik Oct 12, 2015 01:22pm

Not possible in muslim ummah

Huma Oct 12, 2015 02:01pm

oh dont forget surf excel! it eats me up everytime i hear MUMMY KO BTA DENA!!


MOHSIN Oct 12, 2015 02:38pm

Dude what about the ridiculous dancing and songs that we see everyday. Also people are crying in advertisement. Like you see in cooking oil or Ghee ads. Or you can see the ads like telenor. Doesn't make any sense to me.

XoF Oct 12, 2015 02:43pm

Lazziza kher mux got owned

Shaheera Jalil Albasit Oct 12, 2015 02:48pm

This piece of writing was a much-needed one. Massive shout-out to the author.

This needs to reach out to as many organizations / brands / companies as it possibly can.

analyses Oct 12, 2015 03:07pm

The examples you've written actually happen in majority of Pakistan's households. If you have an issue with the way women are given the task to cook food and their culinary skills are judged, then you should point it out to the real life people not the ads which is merely portraying what's prevalent in majority of the society.

Umar Oct 12, 2015 03:08pm

Oh come on now... These are advertisements only, take it easy

Saad Oct 12, 2015 03:21pm

@ Talha these ads reflect out society. They are made to attract customers who live in this society. So you can't make an add which the greater audience cannot relate to. I understand your intention but it has to be like this until our society changes as a whole.

Wiqas Oct 12, 2015 03:36pm

A good viewpoint but this is not limited only to Pakistan. Women is being used by worldwide media for promotions.

aslam shaikh Oct 12, 2015 03:43pm

Simply, they dream of 'stardom' (what they think it is) and in doing so they get exploited by vultures.

AHA Oct 12, 2015 03:54pm

For more maturity and variety please watch Indian commercials. Women are more projected as self reliant persons now than ever.

AHA Oct 12, 2015 03:57pm

@SAAD correctly said society needs a healthy change. Women are not objects. They are equal to men in all aspects and deserve equal respect.

NA Oct 12, 2015 04:22pm

If you think the ads are depicting fantasy. Ask a maid, a driver, a cook, a peon etc.. these ads are all depicting reality may be exaggerated at times but definitely not lies. the fact that you've written this article itself makes you an elite.. an elite because you can read write and have access to a publication. because you live in a country where literacy is around 30% with those who merely can sign their names being considered literate.

go to any school in an area of decent income and check the number of maids who are barely in to their teens there to pick up children of their masters who are no older than they are.

ads are meant to appeal to a broader audience.. to communicate with those who can't read but can see and understand its mass media. that's what the advertisers will use. they aren't here to change the way you think and act. they're here to sell a product.. just last week a father and son killed the daughter (teen) for not making a perfect roti.

zohaib Oct 12, 2015 05:17pm

misogyny has become a part of media and the sad thing is how even women are willing to accept this sexism in the name of tradition and religion

M Bilal Oct 12, 2015 06:01pm

You mean both genders should swap their positions in our ads?

Xari Oct 12, 2015 06:29pm

Though I agree with almost everything you have said, I would like to add that it is many times unfair to blame the ad-maker for the kind of ads that are running on TV....For example I have known some creative heads to try and convince the client to change the typical mom and child relationship and make it different, but it is in fact the conservative approach of the client that does not allow creativity or change to seep through our ads. And yes many ad makers are truly liberal but are stuck in what is their job because of what the client wants.

Talha Oct 12, 2015 06:41pm

@Mahmood, please read what I wrote again. I am by no means devaluing household work (I call it the most important job in the universe) . What i am saying is that the ads themselves are demeaning women and girls.

naeem Oct 12, 2015 06:47pm

You can't blame ads makers. Dominant portion of our public lives this way. So for psychological resonance to occur, ads are made according to what is normally happening around us so the viewer could relate to the visuals being shown on screen.

naeem Oct 12, 2015 06:53pm

first thing is that nothing is as it was used to be in old times. Now fathers are equally taking active part in raising their children along with working for bread n butter. And what's wrong in a women caring for her children. Either of the parents has to do that for the other one to have time to earn.

Asma Oct 12, 2015 07:18pm

Author, you've stolen my heart :-) Spot on

Just Someone Oct 12, 2015 08:12pm

@Mahmood : I agree with you. It is not about valuing work, but about valuing your "value system". And yes there are many women, especially the younger ones, who have been spoilt by such mantra and work neither at office and nor at home.

sohaib Oct 12, 2015 08:16pm

Well I dont agree with this fully. Lets not forget the facts. The problem is not what women are doing my dear. the problem is how we are treating them in response.

The household has to be taken care by housewife; there are no housemen. But yet they should be valued the most as men can't think of doing what they suffer from.

Appreciation, Love & Dignity that's all what we need to give. Women need to cover herself sensibly and decently like men do in their Masculine attire, and she should be given equal opportunites everywhere, e.g. Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto (very decently she used to cover herself)

Mughni Oct 12, 2015 08:26pm

Compare PAK adds with the Europeans, where women nudity is part of selling the products. Compare PAK adds to the US, and you will find women being abused to sell everything. Now I am not justifying the situation in PAK, but at least they are dressed up properly. But wait few more years, we are learning fast from our neighbors, soon you will be complaining for that kind of behavior.

99% Oct 12, 2015 08:50pm

99% of pakistani women end up doing the same thing.. all my classmates, who pursued a career till their weddings, all my cousins and my sisters as well... so the ads are representative of the 99% of the society we live in.. i don't see a big deal with it.. it won't be good business sense to market products for 1% of the society... its always better to be realistic than idealistic 99% of the time.

J Oct 12, 2015 09:17pm

Im sick and tired of articles of articles like these, yes its true that women are portrayed this way Im not disagreeing with that. What annoys me is we have adopted a victim culture where even the slightest offense on anyone is glamorized. Maybe we should stick to the stuff that matters and not who is cooking what and for whom.

Second Oct 13, 2015 01:11am

@Mahmood i second you :*

Shahid Akbar, Long Island, New York Oct 13, 2015 06:31am

A very good article. Please send a hard copy of this write up to every ad agencies in Pakistan.

Tamza Oct 13, 2015 06:54am

AND what do you see women doing in ads in Eu or US etc.

Tyrone Oct 13, 2015 07:46pm

I didn't find the Homage ads sexist. I agree you have a valid point. Apparently the only one to blame is society, you can't blame the agency -they blindly follow what the client wants. You can't blame the client, they follow what the society wants, if it's profitable. You can't blame society, they're too influenced by the media -where ads are placed and by ads. Marketers need to challenge societal norms if they are wrong. Marketers follow societal whims when they desire and they throw it away like yesterday's newspaper when they want to. They just don't have the guts in general to take on society. Let them ( women on the brand side) keep protesting and fighting the sexist views and maybe the rest of the nation will fall in behind?If not at least we'll have some fresh ads.

All is not lost Gluco and other brands are showing girls excelling, but I want more ads showing kids celebrating life not achievements whether academic or physical- the new Milo ad was refreshing.

zz Oct 14, 2015 01:30am

@Mahmood "Elevation in status actually comes through work not by simply defining ...."

That is the crux of the matter.

cube_b3 Oct 14, 2015 03:14am

So isn't the bossy stereotype a negative thing to show as well?

saad Oct 14, 2015 05:09am

@Mahmood Correct. I agree. Society now think taking care of children and household work is demeaning women which is wrong.

Sarah Oct 14, 2015 11:09pm

These admakers are bound to portray this so-called stressed picture of the women because this is what society appreciates! Well written

Muhammad Umair Shahid Oct 15, 2015 12:13am

Great job! You spoke my heart out. I am also allergic to these pakistani/indian ashiqi mashoki walay dramay