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Case Analysis: It’s Your Battle To Choose

Indian society is changing in a big way. Ours is a society where movies like Pink get to reach a mainstream audience

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The diverse view points from the women that Lata and Tara interviewed in the Kora Online case uncovered just how nuanced it is. It talks about marketing inner wear, where showing the product itself cannot be avoided, and yet demands a certain amount of sensitivity. It focuses on a target group, women, whose identity and role is evolving in a country with a skewed gender ratio and strict patriarchal norms. It also explores marketing in a paradoxical market like India, where there is a constant tussle between tradition and modernity and to my mind, this aspect is particularly interesting.

Kora responds to a female customer’s criticism of objectification of women and inappropriate ad placement to sell their brand of expensive, western inner wear. As a company, they were right to treat the complaint with the attention it deserved and arrive at a position to understand and re-define their audience -the modern, thinking Indian woman – and include a more balanced (read female) perspective in their marketing campaign.

Protesting against an offensive ad has its place, but women have bigger issues to deal with than ad portrayals. India is still a male-dominated society and the ads are a mere reflection of how mainstream society perceives women. The larger issue is the deep-rooted patriarchy in every aspect of our social fabric. Female foeticide, domestic violence, sexual crimes and restricted liberties for women are far greater issues facing women in India today. Pointing out what is wrong with an ad, its inappropriate placement or the size of a hoarding, does not mean that society’s thinking is going to change in any way. The Middle East would undoubtedly not allow such ads, but it doesn’t mean that women have a better status there.

It is an unfortunate truth that sex sells just about anything these days. We may not be able to prevent every kind of exposure every time we feel it is misplaced. Maybe we can stop one company from putting out such ads, but will we do so every time we take offence? How will we decide how much is too much exposure? Where do we draw the boundaries? If we allow ourselves to be so hung up on cultural sensitivities for everything, there is sure to be someone who will be offended by what we say and how we say it. We cannot cover all the sculptures in Khajuraho, and we certainly cannot keep our children away from the internet forever.

In a sense, the US society is far more progressive when it comes to respect for a woman’s own individuality/ sexuality than India. Victoria’s Secret is an aspirational brand, where the company is leveraging a woman’s wish of wanting to feel “sexy.” In fact, I would even go so far as to say that men who grow up in the West are exposed to ads of women in lingerie for marketing early on, so much so, that they hardly notice after a while. Women’s bodies then, are just women’s bodies, and not objects to sell or titillate. On the other hand, Indian men are brought up in a comparatively repressed society and so, turn out to be more aggressive and frustrated.

What we all ultimately want is a mindset change. It is more difficult to bring about, but one with more effective long-term outcomes. It must start early as we try to teach our children the right values. We must encourage them to have a healthy respect for both genders and look at each other as wholesome individuals with hearts and minds. We must bring them up to value health over physical appearance, kindness and mutual respect over objectification, and give them the courage to speak up when faced with injustice. We must push for a culture where they are held accountable for their language and actions and they are given the security to express their emotions and be empathetic towards those around them.

Thankfully, Indian society is changing in a big way. Ours is a society where movies like Pink get to reach a mainstream audience. The core message of the movie is that women have every right to live how they wish, wear what they want and still expect to be respected. It is representative of the fact that today, the modern, thinking Indian woman is consciously redefining what society expects from her.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Anu Parthasarathy

The writer is CEO of AnuPartha, a global executive search firm focused on transformational leaders

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