We hear a lot about how women are stereotypically projected in our ads and it is a discussion that needs to be had. However, there is less talk about how men are portrayed in our advertising. For example, in the recent Cadbury ad (which has won praise), the mother tells her daughter that she will miss her father’s shouting after she marries. I wonder if this is the sort of bond we want to present before our audiences? The one dimensional portrayal of the father in a negative way is troubling. Is he so set in his ways that he believes screaming is the best way to get things done? Not the best image to be sending, even if to make a point.
However, it is not only this ad. In many of our ads, men are portrayed as superficial. The latest Shan ad was an exaggerated example of machismo (even if the message was good), in the form of the Punjabi male, harkening back to Lollywood and Sultan Rahi. If we need to be aware and careful about the images of women we send to our young, it is of equal concern to ensure that the men we portray are shown as having substance.
Before anyone thinks this is some sort of revenge piece for the articles and blog posts about stereotyping women, let me assuage any such fears. I firmly believe that the way women are shown in our ads is artificial and unrealistic and needs to be changed. There is no doubt about the dangers of restricting women in their roles and behaviour in ads and the media – and everyone seems to be aware of this. However, the equally detrimental danger of presenting men in undesirable roles and behaviour is not recognised.
It is like, to put it bluntly, breast cancer and prostate cancer. Breast cancer is a cause many people, organisations and brands are working on and rightly so. Yet, as I discovered when working on a piece about internet games and breast cancer awareness, prostate cancer is just as dangerous; it is in fact a silent killer. Yet, prostate cancer does not attract as much media attention as breast cancer.
Let’s look at the Kenwood ads with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Ayesha Khan, an ad series that has won applause. We all have laughed at the humour; they were a welcome change from the seen-one-seen-them-all commercials we are bombarded with. The relationship between the husband and wife creates a backdrop against which Kenwood smartly market their products. This is very good but the husband is actually portrayed as a bit of a buffoon. The wife is sophisticated and poised, while her spouse is always putting his foot in his mouth. Yet, if you examine the ads from another angle, the husband is not putting up any pretences, it is the wife who is busy trying to keep up appearances. Yet, we laugh at him and are immune to a subtle but wrong portrayal of a woman.
All is not lost, and there is hope for the future as long as we produce more balanced ads. One of the best examples is the Telenor ad released a few years ago about a driver and his family. A beautiful series that was a treat to watch and showed men in a better light than what we normally see. The same goes for the Tapal ads showing the husband making tea, the National Foods one with men and women pitching in; both are good steps in the right direction. The latest Zameen.com ad too was a change from the run-of-the-mill stuff our industry churns out.
The key to better ads is to focus more on inspiration rather than on aspiration. We need to embrace our less privileged classes and culture in a more nuanced way and create more realistic and effective ads. Better evaluation is needed among agency and brand teams to make sure that the characters are not stereotypical and shallow. The way to a better society is through a more realistic portrayal of both men and women.
Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. firstname.lastname@example.org