When I first saw the 'Bata Womaniser' ad photo via social media, I thought it was a practical joke. I sat on it for a few minutes then posted it on social media for comment. It struck a sensitive nerve with my contacts. Within minutes, angry comments started pouring in and then the sharing began. I followed it for a couple of hours, then went to bed. This morning I read Bata’s apology. Misogyny is rampant in Pakistan, and for a brand that sells product to women, men and children, the picture of a man with the message “Womaniser, and comfortable with it” boldly printed was definitely many steps too far. It is sexist and in poor taste. Women are up in arms, and I am sure many men must have been offended too.
I am not sure how advertising agencies are selected by their clients, but I sense a gap in the market for someone whose head is screwed on right.
It’s not just the nuances of a language that matter, and I will be the first to admit English is not our primary language – a fact that explains the frequent mix up of genders in the English daily newspapers. Just last week we had Mr Jinnah (no less) referred to as a 'her' in The News!
But I digress. There are other worrying issues that keep popping up with frightening regularity. Yes, we are a patriarchal society, but why must we continue to push the stern mother-in-law stereotype. Young couple sneak biryani from the market, eat it after the in laws are asleep, only to realise the frying pan is now burnt and carries tell tale marks of the rice. Worried girl, (memories of an inquisitive mother-in-law) and then husband to the rescue! He hands her a bar of soap! I ask you! Wouldn't it have been better to leave the old lady out of the story and have the husband wash the pan? But NO, ram gender stereotypes down our throat, mothers-in-law are tough old crows, and a woman's place is in the kitchen. Sad and no marks for originality. Then we have the Mawra Hocane/Azfar Rehman Brooke Bond Supreme tea adverts that condone/hint at first cousin relationships.
In a country where the majority of citizens marry first cousins, and pay the medical price of inheriting genes that carry a host of medical issues, would it not make sense to steer clear of this practise? The mind boggles. TV ads convey strong messages, some overt and some not so. Responsible ads carrying socially-relevant messages go a long way in influencing audience mindsets; about the product and frequently about social norms portrayed in the clip.
Let’s look at the 'coolness' factor, real or imagined. In a country where the majority of motorcycle riders have no qualms riding sans helmet, we see TV ads pushing products like motorcycles, tyres and shampoos, all showing dashing boys and girls – invariably minus helmet! Check out the Servis tyres ad. The fact that Shaan shows us how to evade capture from the bad guys on a super bike, minus head protection, reinforces the irresponsible attitude of ad agencies. If you look closely, the bikers chasing him are ALL wearing helmets. What is the message here?
There is more. I cannot remember the brand, but some of you may recall the recent ad showing a couple of broken walnuts, with the copy, we can (or let us) crack your nuts, or words to that effect. Am I seeing double and thinking half? Or is there something seriously wrong with our copywriters and the marketing heads they report to?
Romano Karim is a former copywriter.