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Women Have Gone Further Than The Ad World Knows

The Indian Air Force ad, ALT Balaji’s show ‘The Test Case’ are making a strong case for women equality, but these messages are behind time, and merely reflecting the on-ground change

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Many brands and marketers are contributing towards the women at work issue. P&G’s very famous, and widely awarded, ‘Share the Load’ campaign addressed concerns around sharing chores at home with working women. Several ads, before and after, have spread similar messages for some time now. If you ask whether these ads have driven any change. Well, there is no easy, or one, answer.

But that does not mean the issue should not be voiced. It must be, especially in light of the census and World Bank data last year that show, despite economic growth, India has the worst record of women in workforce among BRIC markets. A large part of this is attributed to rural India, but a closer look at statistics shows that urban India isn’t much better.

It is hence not very surprising to see ads and other content that not only advocate women equality but also encourage them to work in jobs conventionally atypical of women.

Creative veterans have said time and again that creativity can drive human progress. While, it would appear that professionals in India are taking their roles in this context very seriously, these recent examples are only reflecting the changes already happening in India.

The Indian Air Force ad ‘Ladki Hoon Main’ is an interesting example. For people like me, it will bring out mixed feelings. Stop generalising, is one of them. If you have read about women in the Indian armed forces, some stories are nothing short of extraordinary. Even though India started recruiting women in the armed forces back in 1992, only 3 per cent of the military comprises women today. India took a step forward and in 2016, joined a handful of countries that employ women in all roles, including combat.

Inspired by that perhaps, is the ALT Balaji show, ‘The Test Case’. The premise: female protagonist in a workplace that makes “men out of boys”. In one of the promos, she is asked what she wants to be, and she says ‘Commando, Sir’. In that one line, the role has become genderless.

This is a powerful call. If ads and shows like these can encourage even one girl in any city or village to pursue a dream of the skies or of defending her nation, the message has served its purpose. But let’s not forget, India already has women fighter pilots today. Our ads are only highlighting, and hopefully spreading, the change that has begun.

In many ways, in India, and on this issue, creativity has played catch up. The change is already taking place, and brands have to be foolish to not participate in it. If a brand is not asking itself what is its female quotient, it is missing a very significant wave.

Much is happening in global advertising on this front. At Cannes Lions 2017, festival organisers have gone all out for a gender-balanced ad world. Encouraging young women creatives to be at the festival, ensuring women representation in juries and instructing all jurors to be not kind to ads that objectify women, are just some of the steps.

Agencies that have reached higher women quotas are celebrating it full throttle. Digital companies such as Facebook are going the extra mile for women entrepreneurs and women in workforce. Global chief marketing officers (CMO) are sharing stories of what women face and how they have fought it. Case in point, SC & Johnson Global CMO Ann Mukherjee, who had overwhelmed 300-odd people at a recent forum in Mumbai with her story of overcoming challenges.

The male-dominated advertising world in India has to gear up and take notice, because change is steadily coming.