‘Keep her where she belongs’ says the copy of the Weyenberg Massagic shoes ad, showing a woman lying seductively (of course) next to a man’s shoe. In the 1970s, a plethora of ads such as these promoted sexist representations of the female figure in advertisements in the West.
Overtly domesticated wives were seen selling washing machines, house appliances, hair removing creams – all with the reminder that these products would increase their value in the eyes of their husbands. Meanwhile, Pakistan was focusing on Olivia Bleach Cream and Black Cat Telcam Powder – because you know it is all about priorities.
Fast forward a couple of decades and advertising has had a feminist makeover and audiences love the new look.
International brands such as Always with their #LikeAGirl campaign, the UN with Auto Complete or Dove’s Evolution, highlight the impossible beauty standards and stereotypes women had to fight on a daily basis. Pakistani ads, on the other hand, despite continuing to promote Subcontinental attitudes have also joined the femvertising bandwagon – using feminism to soft sell their brand message. Advertising mirrors society, good marketing capitalises on change.
Irrespective of whether Pakistani ads are mirroring society or capitalising on change, every femvertisement brings happy tidings for the women of Pakistan. Brands like Dawlance, Gul Ahmed, CAC1000, the UN, and Do Your Own Thing have taken the initiative and shown women out of domestic settings. Although there are ads that still focus on themes such as larki-larka who decided to grow old together because the chai was karak or the bahu winning her mother-in-law's approval after cooking finger-licking qorma, new feminist attitudes are going home with a medal of participation if not a trophy.
However, is femvertising something worth celebrating?
It is no secret that agencies constantly strive to understand and address consumer motivations and triggers. The answer is yes! Keeping in mind that the advertisers are always on a look-out for societal change and trends, it is safe to say that feminism has officially arrived in Pakistan. To quote David Ogilvy: “advertising reflects the mores of society but it does not influence them.”
From Dawlance showing women working in male-dominated fields, to Gul Ahmed’s #MeinPerfectHoon ad encouraging women to embrace their flaws – Pakistani advertising gets points for trying to institutionalise the growing strength of desi feminism. A notable mention here is the #BeatMe campaign by the UN, which ups the ante of advocacy on women’s rights by showing powerful female figures asking to be beaten at what they do best. The ad can be seen as a rebuttal to the Protection of Women against Violence Bill, which sparked a debate on (among other things) whether husbands can beat their wives ‘lightly’. #BeatMe was a whip smart response to that question.
Ads like these only reflect the dent feminism is making in Subcontinental mindsets which always shows women where they belong – apparently in the kitchen.
It’s refreshing if nothing else to see brands selling an attitude with their products. CAC1000 also took the road less travelled when the brand opted to educate women about the risk of calcium deficiency among women.
All these ads are spanners in the wheel of change and a reaffirmation for the self-aware woman of today. In fact, they are normalising the discussions around feminism and women empowerment in Pakistan.
As long as the topic is under discussion it is alive in the minds of people besides ‘Let’s not talk about feminism’ said no woman ever!