From instant noodles and cooking oil to washing powder and bed linen, if the advertisement involved someone doing housework, it was almost always the mom/wife. Recently, advertisements started showing men doing housework, but again it was more about ‘helping their wives’ and not exactly something that men do. On the flip side, when it comes to ads about cars, insurance, technology, and adventure, more often than not, the ad features men and boys. It’s always the same and nerds are incapable of looking good, fat girls lack confidence, and the dark-skinned girl can’t be attractive.
This was Indian advertising in the 80s, it was still the case in the 90s, and not much has changed in 2020. While some of these depictions are tolerable clichés, others need to be done away with altogether. It’s important for brands to remember that they are not only getting lost in the crowd and looking like every other soap brand or men’s vest commercial, but they are quickly losing relevance. The profound lack of creativity in reusing the same trope over and over again is causing brands to be forgettable. The world has changed and it is time to sit up and take notice. The time is ripe for reinvention, and a new thought process is in order.
Creativity at its best
When it comes to reinvention, it’s not just ad films but entire ad campaigns that have to get it right. Brands like Nike, Gillette, and Dove have been experimenting with a new formula and here are a few lessons we can learn from them:
Mixing things up: Nike’s Dream Crazier ad narrated by Serena Williams and featuring several female sports stars broke the internet when it was released. The ad's success was based on the fact that they not only did something different, but they highlighted a much bigger problem; the struggles that women face every day just trying to prove themselves. The ad struck a chord across the board and while it did attract some haters, that can actually be seen as a positive. When you make people uncomfortable because their own prejudices are brought to the surface, you know that you are on the path to something revolutionary.
Creating a new normal: We have normalised the idea that housework and cooking are a woman’s job. Even women who work full-time jobs are expected to come home and cook, while men who work the same number of hours come home and relax. Many ads have the idea of being progressive when they depict the husband cooking for his wife. But here’s where they miss the mark – they make it look like something special. Like it’s a big deal for a man to cook. The simple truth is that knowing how to cook is a survival skill and everyone should know it. Caring for the home and family is the responsibility of every family member regardless of age or gender. This is what should be normalised in advertising because this is what is normal.
Adding a good cause: It’s good for brands to have a heart. Almost every commercial and marketing campaign out there aims to increase sales and profits. But what if a brand decided to put some of those profits towards a good cause? If the audience knew that Rs. 100/- from their purchase was going towards education of underprivileged children or rebuilding flood-affected villages, they too could feel like they were making a difference. Branding is not just about shining a light on your product or services; it is about creating an emotional connection with your audience and what better way than to actually involve them in a charitable cause? It’s okay for a rice commercial to veer away from the ‘mom making delicious pulao’ trope and showcase the feeding of the poor instead.
Just being funny: Brands don’t always have to take themselves too seriously. It’s okay to try something new and funny to help stand out in a crowd. Fevicol and Sprite have a history of quirky advertising which has actually been received very well by the audience. People remember the egg that wouldn’t crack open because the hen was feeding out of an empty Fevicol container. And the generation that witnessed the ‘Sprite, bujhaye pyaas, baki sab bakwas’ with its silly parodying of other ads, still remember it twenty years later. And who can forget Amul Butter’s witty billboards that have even made headlines?
Brands can no longer stick with old and overdone ideas. It is time to try something different, experiment with new ideas, engage the audience, and make a real connection. Life is too multifaceted to keep playing the same stories over and over again. Shake it up, highlight a pressing issue, work towards a good cause, and don’t forget to make yourself laugh every now and then.