A couple of recent ads – Stayfree’s ‘Daughter’s Day ad and Dove’s ‘The Beauty Report Card have become topics of discussion on social media and ad industry portals. Ads being noticed and more importantly being discussed is a welcome sign – at least they weren’t ignored. Given the nature of social media one is to expect both positive and negative feedback to any content – so it’s not surprising that recent ads for Dove Indi and Stayfree have their share of bouquets and brickbats.
The Stayfree ad aims to remove the stigma around periods but urging men to normalise ‘period talk’. Watching it I could not help wonder about the timing. Years ago, sanitary pad brands would not even refer to periods as periods – it would be ‘suggested’ with phrases like ‘those days of the month’. Thankfully, ‘those days’ are gone. There is no qualm associated with mentioning periods in ads for sanitary pads. Public service ads too have contributed to awareness and the need for using sanitary pads among sections of society where the practice is not prevalent – for various reasons. Social entrepreneurs such as Arunachalam Muruganantham have made significant contributions – by creating awareness about dangers of unhygienic practices and providing solution by way of affordable sanitary pads: ‘his mini-machines, which can manufacture sanitary pads for less than a third of the cost of commercial pads, have been installed in 23 of the 29 states of India in rural areas‘. In this context, it was jarring to see the portrayal of a mindset among seemingly well-off (and educated) protagonists who’d consider even mention of the word ‘periods’ as taboo. Maybe there is research to indicate that it is an uncomfortable attitude still prevalent among boys – and hence the effort including a landing page.
Dove too was in the news. Corporates such as Unilever with multiple brands in their portfolio have faced criticism in the past – mainly that of double-speak and hypocrisy. The earlier avatars of Axe (called Lynx in the UK) had such blatantly sexist advertising that if created in today’s world they would not pass the marketing sniff test (no pun intended). The campaigns meant for UK were particularly risqué to the extent of objectifying women. And the same group had messages of women empowerment and self worth through Dove. In India, it manifested by way of product & the messaging with huge investments on fairness creams suggesting that dark skin was uncool and has to be ‘fixed’ in order to get ahead in life. The name change to Glow & Lovely followed in 2020 and resulted in a debate.
To me the new ad felt out of step with changing aspirations of India. Yes there is a section in society which may consider education to be unimportant for daughters. But all around us we see parents dream a better future for their children with education being an integral part of their identity. Even those who belong to lower SECs place a premium on schooling, even if it means stretching themselves to earn extra income. EdTech brands have anchored communication on ideas where girls show a hunger to learn, ‘come what may’ thanks to their smart phones and affordable data plans. In this context, the demographics of the protagonists in the ad, and their mindset left me puzzled.
This is NOT to suggest that societal taboos anchored on what people consider to be ‘good looks’ do not exist in India. They do. In fact that’s the reason why fairness creams find takers (can’t blame advertising alone for it). Even in popular culture such as movies, ‘fair skin’ and good looks are glorified. Will such a deep-rooted psyche be sought to be overcome with an ad and a hashtag? It’s a start, one might argue. But for that to happen the communication must be really through provoking, compelling and triggering a change in mindset & more importantly, behaviour. As an aside, there was no drama or twist in the tale in the story and the melancholic build up did not lead to a majorly positive or surprising denouement. Moreover, the ad industry has been saying that merely making a claim will not do – brands need to follow up with action.
Brands seeking causes to hang on to (remember the fizzy drink and the exam pressure ’cause’?) need to ensure relevance to the category and the brand. Both Stayfree and Dove’s ads have them. But the context of the communication, the setting (apart from being just ads) makes me wonder if there is serious intent to make a change on the ground or is it just another ad?