Stereotypes in advertisements: Right or wrong?
2 Jun 2010
For decades advertising has pushed the envelope and has prodded at the precincts of what is acceptable and what is not, all in an attempt to get
noticed. And sometimes in the advertising melee there is no time for niceties. Ad jolts come in all forms, be it Calvin Klein’s sexually explicit billboards or shocking public service advertising calling for action against human trafficking or gruesome anti-tobacco warnings on cigarette packets or campaigns like the one for Sony Playstation titled ‘White Is Coming’ . Remember FCUK?
Now commercials currently running on television depicting a simpleton tribal chief in awe of a cold drink or the Kalahari Bushmen frantically searching for water in drought stricken lands might not be that brand of extreme. Nevertheless, they have attracted a fair amount of attention, for a medley of reasons. Some question whether the ads are offensive and dealing in negative stereotypes or are they attempts to break clutter by depicting a funny situation? Ad land seems to be split on their opinion with some condemning and equal numbers defending the ads.
Mahesh Chauhan, CEO, Redifussion YR says, “At times, one takes refuge in stereotypes, but then they become blind spots. In my opinion, quirkiness would have helped and would have had a far greater impact.” Others, however, have a different take and suggest the story of the commercial must be put in context. As Josy Paul, chairman, BBDO puts it, “Sprite has a strong differentiated platform — which is ‘seedhi baat’ ... Or cut the crap! It’s been built over a long time. It’s part of consumer lingo. So Sprite can afford to experiment and make the occasional mistake or hiccup!” he says. But, “I am not sure about LMN’s differentiation ? Only time will tell. Right now, the rationale looks like they just want to stand out of the clutter and have some fun.”
However, some believe the industry’s creative minds are stuck in a quagmire of stereotypes . Agnello Dias, cofounder , TapRoot, says, “Stereotypes are tools developed by the creative community to overcome hurdles or due to laziness.” Here’s an example , “If I have 45 seconds I can use three shots to build a man’s character as bad or jovial. If I have no time or production money I will simply have to plant a man with a scar on his face or show a happy sardar,” he says. However, people like Paul think Indian advertising has moved on a long time ago and the success of campaigns like SBI, Asian Paints, Idea, Vodafone and Tata Tea clearly reveals a nation that’s not stuck or dependent on stereotypes. Perhaps Ajay Gehlaut, group creative head, Oglivy Delhi, Sprite’s ad agency, put it best. He says, “There will always be a few who like the work and a few who don’t .
As long as people, the consumers, are engaged, entertained and not offended, there’s nothing wrong.” The makers of commercials, particularly the one that’s got people talking, say edgy work is often not appreciated and is labeled inaccurately . Creative LandAsia’s (makers of the LMN Bushmen series) Raj Kurup, says people who think using Bushmen in a TVC is a stereotype or shocking are ridiculously narrow-minded . “There’s nothing wrong in using a sardar, a blonde, an African Bushman, a mallu, if it is relevant. Let’s enjoy the joke, learn to laugh and celebrate edgy work.” Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer, DDB Mudra too is of the view that stereotypes are not all bad: “A lot of comedy is based on stereotypes. Most stand-up comedians use stereotypes as material. It all depends on whether it’s a lighthearted attempt or not.” Well, let’s hope the inhabitants of the Kalahari don’t find this watering hole.
(Sruthi Radhakrishnan & Delshad Irani,ET Bureau)
Mui Shan, Inez, Marvyn, Javier, Juz (10S08)