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Who Is Your Target Audience?

“Our culture often does portray women especially like objects. My mom would always point out everytime the cheerleaders would come on, [and say] “OK, so look, here's the story that gets told: the men get to be these heroic, skilled athletes. And the women just get to be pretty.” Just the concept of that, she wanted my brother and I to be aware of it. Because we see these images on TV, in movies and in the magazines, all the time and if we don’t just stop and think about it, it sort of seeps into your brain and becomes the way you perceive reality.” — Joseph Gordon-Levitt on ‘Ellen’ Jan 2014 (adapted)

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“Our culture often does portray women especially like objects. My mom would always point out everytime the cheerleaders would come on, [and say] “OK, so look, here's the story that gets told: the men get to be these heroic, skilled athletes. And the women just get to be pretty.” Just the concept of that, she wanted my brother and I to be aware of it. Because we see these images on TV, in movies and in the magazines, all the time and if we don’t just stop and think about it, it sort of seeps into your brain and becomes the way you perceive reality.” — Joseph Gordon-Levitt on ‘Ellen’ Jan 2014 (adapted)

Varun Kshatriya was taken aback. His 18-year-old daughter Isha’s neckline was alarming. He looked at his wife sharply and she deftly looked away, unwilling to support his hidden protest.

Varun owned Kora, a successful online store that specialised in apparel, fashionwear, shoes, costume jewellery and innerwear. In fact, Isha and her friends shopped a lot on Kora online and the t-shirt she was wearing was a product of Kora.

Deciding that right can only be right and must be administered where it belongs, he sombrely ate through breakfast and at the end of it, asked Isha to see him in his study. There he told her in no uncertain terms that college is where we go to study and she needed to dress up decently, like a student. “As a rule, I will not have you wear clothes that reveal. Understand this is not easy for me to be saying this.” Isha apologised and went to her room where she changed and returned to the study in a manner of confirming to him that she had done as he had asked her to.

Varun looked at her and said, “You are my daughter and that means a lot to me.”

Isha: How come then Kora Online has huge ads on my mail page with women in revealing lingerie?

Varun (swallowing hard): That is lingerie, which has its place under clothes! Besides, that ad is for a product I sell and you are my daughter —there is a huge difference!

Isha: But Dad, that ad is out there in public glare. It is actually inviting people to examine the looks of a person who wears the products you sell. If it was meant for wearing inside, why would that lady be pouting?

Unless Dad, you have not been shown the ads.

Varun: Selling expensive western style innerwear is not easy; but you must study and make your life.

Isha: Dad, I am trying to find honesty in my life. I am seeking to build a career where I will not have to say one thing, mean another and preach yet another. I am tired, Dad. You had asked me once why I left the hostel and came back home. Here is the truth. The hostel had dress codes. You could not wear leggings. But the person implementing this was the security guard! He told Aparna that her palazzos needed to be longer as he could see her ankles! Dad, the very idea that the man was examining us made me sick. My college, for all its pursuit of pure, clean and decent, had messed up big time.

Why do you educate me if you will not hear my point of view? Education makes me think, makes me aware, makes me see the world from the standpoint of women, because education did not do that before!

A thick silence spread between father and daughter. In a moment, Isha went up and gave her dad a hug. “Hey, Dad, sorry yaar! I know this is not easy for either of us. Anyway, um… ok, tell you what, I will ask my friends to put down their points to you in a mail. Yes? Or if that is also weird then how about I ask them to write to Abhishek Dara in Customer Care? Let him squirm.

Varun (suppressing a smile): Go ahead (Pause) …and I am sorry about your hostel. I am going to take it up with the dean. Animal…!

Back at college, she met her friend Aparna, and both went into a huddle in the corridor. This is why. The previous day, Aparna had shared with Isha that Kora’s ads had become ultra bold. “Bhai’s mail had come and we all sat on our family PC to read it and whoa! Suddenly these lingerie ads began to come on the mail page. And these girls were bursting out of the screen with Dad there! Oh, God… Mom would keep clicking to remove the ads, but it would come right back with new colours and poses.” (And the girls went into fits of laughter.)

(This, in fact, had been the genesis for Isha’s morning outburst.)

This morning, Aparna showed her mother’s mail to Kora’s Customer Care:

“I have held Kora online store in the highest regard for their excellence in service and precisely getting their act right in all situations. I had recently commented thus on a survey.

Since a week I am seeing next to my mailbox your ads carrying ladies in innerwear. Some months ago, this very spot was occupied by a call girl service that had ladies in similar provocative apparel making provocative gestures and the only copy line was a phone number. We are living in tenuous times in India where the safety of women is in ruins. Why, even a 4-year-old girl has become meat for lust. One would expect better men to be sensitive.

You also have a significant number of women working for you. Hence you automatically owe it to them to be respectful. Just as a father will not use bad language in his daughter's presence, or walk around in underwear. There is a certain respect that we automatically have for women, no matter who they are.

Then again, inner wear can be marketed without filling it with a real body. You have taken care to use bodies that are desirable for men, thereby what you have unwittingly done is marketed the body than the product.

Women who wish to buy innerwear can go to your store page for innerwear and look at what they wish to buy, just like your shoes. But by putting it out there in a provocative ad, you have shown you lack creative strength to market a challenging product, without resorting to the predictable — provocative appeal.

It is hence very painful to watch when good people like Kora go the way of the ordinary and the disrespectful.

I urge you to look at the ad from the standpoint of a father and ask yourself, is this what you want your daughter’s world to be about? And as a marketer, do you want people to flock to ‘see’ or flock to buy?

Thank you for reading my mail and knowing my utter disappointment.”

Isha went silent. It was a powerful mail. Then, she continued reading the reply from Kora’s Abhishek Dara:

I understand that your experience with us has not been a very pleasant one. However, we are always there to make it better for you. I apologise for the inconvenience caused to you in this regard.

Please be informed that your feedback will certainly be counted and worked upon for further improvement of our services.

I look forward to continue our relationship with you for a long time and assure you that it is my constant endeavour to improve our service so that we can serve you better, the next time you shop at Kora.

Aparna’s mother Arundhati had responded: Sadly, you have not read my mail at all. You have simply sent me a template!
Isha slapped her head.

Next day at work, Varun, disturbed by Isha’s ire, called in marketing and customer care heads Duleep Vasisht and Abhishek Dara. He also called in Tara Baig from MR and Lata Vishesh from Customer Care. To them, he said, “We have a complaint from a young lady about some of our advertising. It struck me then that empowering women was not just about educating them but also listening to that education speak.

“So what I want to do is set up a four-member panel that will examine our ads for modernity and respect. Be modern by all means but stay respectful. Hence, the four of you.”

Tara: I am glad this came up. I have been meaning to talk to you… Yesterday I had taken my sons for lunch to GB Mall and what I see are naked women posters everywhere. Immediately it struck me my boys are going to be messed up. Five brands with huge stores selling lingerie, provocative window displays, alarming posture of hands, and leering passers-by.

Varun, this is not about modernity. What modernity? Women in bras are the imagination of the male, not the female. I have never bought a bra because some model or mannequin wore it. Oh, God, I don’t like talking like this.

Lata: Well, I don’t deal with young people in my life, so… but it can be disturbing for some people.

Varun: I see two diverse personal positions on the same product. Let us think how to make this more comfortable for all consumers. Come up with some thoughts, please.

Over lunch, Tara and Lata saw how different they each were. “Is it the upbringing? Number of girls in the family? Mother’s attitude? I wonder,” said Tara.

Lata: Sociology is the stuff of life. It is all over the place. I think, it is also how we are wired. You heard Abhishek read out her mail. My question, Tara, is this: Is Arundhati in a minority or echoing the majority sentiment. In a country where Bollywood does enough nangapan for box office, am not sure why bras would be seen as a big issue by the CEO!

Tara: You know there is a whole part of the country that holds on to its beliefs despite Bollywood’s doings and undoings. It’s a lot like the ‘Sona sona, naya Rexona….’ or other jingles and tag lines we memorise. If something is played out for too long, it becomes part of the inner landscape and yet does not change your choice of soap, for instance. So, I identify with these jingles having heard them so many times as I grew up, but it does not define who I am or my ideas of golden tvacha. They are just things that happen around me, in my environment. And I delete them from my life.

Lata: So, Arundhati sounds like mid-40s, with young children, educated, well-read — likely watches Bollywood films and even enjoys much of them, except the exposure. She has her opinions. Hmm… but I think she was NOT saying good looking innerwear is bad. She was saying I don’t like your advertising. Or the placement of your advertisements.

Tara: She feels offended.

Lata: She feels offended…. Come let us go to a few malls and look at some stores there.

So, they walked into a nearby mall. There, on the ground level, was a huge ‘Opening Soon’ banner covering a store. It was a 40x40 ft. visual of a non-Indian lady in transparent innerwear, pouting, thrusting and so on. Lata cursed under her breath. “Is this targeting women? ” There was a tall mirror outside the café next door through which she caught sight of a few boys taking pictures.

Next door another brand, Exx, displayed wall-to-wall innerwear of every colour, sequinned, non-sequinned, lacy, and what not. The store walls were a collage of pictures of girls in lingerie and a variety of expressions stared out from the walls. “I don’t see customers,” said Tara.

Lata: It can be inhibiting walking into an explicit panty store.

Two shops away was an international branded store. This one had several mannequins inside the store in lingerie, and four at the door against a backdrop of another huge POP banner of a woman in lingerie. In fact, when you even looked at the store, you could not avoid seeing posters of girls in innerwear, each one posing in the classical hip-jutting, chest-thrusting poses at every stage in the store.

Lata: I see your point. The question that comes to my mind is, who is the target audience? See, I am not attracted by the store. I am alarmed.

Around the vicinity of shops, the posters got richer. Bigger, larger than life, so that the entire window of a shop was just one lady in inner wear. A 20x20 ft. monstrosity.

In one shop, a male staffer was adjusting the garment on a mannequin. Needless to add there were a bunch of males outside cheering him.

Lata and Tara walked to the coffee shop that stood perpendicular to the lingerie shop. Two collegian girls were giggling uncontrollably. One was asking the other, “Do you have the guts to go inside Exx?”

Lata smiled at her and said, “Can I talk to you? Thanks! Why would you hesitate to enter that store?”

Girl 1: How odd it would feel to enter such a store! And if you have their bag, everyone will know what we bought!

Tara: Would that be wrong or something?

Girl 1: Everyone will think we are like those girls! I am not one of those girls.

Lata: “I do not identify with the consumer set...” That is what she is saying.

Tara: So, are we saying Exx and Lieb’s visuals are defining the consumer through their portrayal at the purchasing point?

Lata: Are they not? Think. When, in the 1970s, Surf showed this lady with a look of ‘I know what’s good for my family’, carrying a huge pile of white clothes claiming her brand delivered the whitest washes, my mother identified with her. In the 1980s Lalitaji with her ‘no nonsense, don’t talk nonsense’ demeanour wagged her finger and talked about ‘samazdaari’, every woman identified with her homespun appeal. Today four decades later, a young capri clad mother says, ‘Dirt is good’ and shows you how her Surf delivers that same whitest wash. We continue to identify with her as the brand’s representative. Do you get my point?

Are these girls identifying with the imagery of a lingerie pout-and-sizzle persona? Nope. Wearing a lacy bra is one thing — you do it for your own feel-good-ness. But baring that lacy bra? Naah... So, there is something there which I am unable to figure.

Tara: Ok, hang on, and damn the lacy bra. So, you are saying the evolution of the 70s Surf mother to the 2000s has been consistent with the brand values…
Lata: …and the consumer’s values, importantly. That is why the brand continues to make sense to people. I would say the consumer’s demand for quality has been consistent all these years. And when times changed, the quality-demand did not change, but the brand evolved to deliver that same demand — quality.

Tara: And these pout and pose ads are not consistent with consumer values. They cater to a limited segment, if at all. But in doing so, they cause great damage to the values of other segments of the product category.

Lata: You can say that?

Tara: That’s my point. There is a lingerie retailer in Australia, Bras N Things. There were several complaints to the Advertising Standards Bureau against their in-store advertising, which then forced them to pull down the ads. The Bureau claimed, ‘The in-store screens were so large, seeing it was “unavoidable”.’

I invoke that same clause for online and offline advertising. When the ad material is ‘in the face’ so that I cannot even choose not to look at them, then I am also faced with corruption of the mind. For example, there is a street fight and much blood. I choose not to look at it because it causes trauma to my mind. I have a right to protect my mind and I exercise that by choosing what I will see and what I will not see. Marketers need to bear this in mind, and their visuals must always be pleasing.

So, I find it disturbing to look at explicit content. It’s a choice I make. And I am troubled that someone can ride roughshod on my choice uncaring of my feelings. When your in-store or point of purchase advertising is in my face, you are oppressing me, you are preventing me from protecting myself, protecting my family, and my growing children. I ask, how dare you.

Both went silent…

Tara: And is it only me who thinks these kind of visuals are not healthy for growing children? Where is our Advertising Standards Bureau? Where are our sensitive marketeers?

Lata: Do you think these ads and POP and window displays are by men for men of men? Could it be that there are no women involved in these jobs?

Tara: I am thinking. How would women business heads advertise and sell innerwear? To be specific, are these pouts and poses a function of the male gaze? A world as men would like to see it look? As against as women think and ideate?

Do women need life-size hoardings to make a decision to buy or make a choice? I remember driving down a flyover in Bangalore and there was this huge 60x60 ft. hoarding of a bust in a bra from an international brand. Why?

Lata: Hoarding site for a bra? When do you use a hoarding site? (searching on her phone) Wikipedia says, “Billboard advertisements are designed to catch a person’s attention and create a memorable impression very quickly, leaving the reader thinking about the advertisement after they have driven past it. Thus there are usually only a few words, and an arresting image.”

Tara: But why would a lingerie item need a hoarding site? Why does it need to arrest a driver? A new biscuit from Britannia, yes. A new flavour from Paper Boat? Yes. George Calombaris visiting the city? Yes. These are specifics, which by a glance you glean. But a purple lacy bra on a hoarding site? What did that communicate? And you think women would jam on their brakes to examine a 60x60 bra?

Lata: Not women….

Tara: Ok, so are you selling cleavage or are you selling bra?

Lata (laughing): And you think you can say this to Varun?

Tara: He needs to face his ads.

Lata: In that case, we must talk to other women. We need views other than yours and mine.
elsewhere, Dara fought valiantly to assure consumer Arundhati Dayal who declared he had used template replies. “Please understand that I have personally gone through your e-mail and would like to inform you that I have arranged a call for you in this regard and you would soon be contacted by one of my team.”

Arundhati: What I had to, I wrote in my mail. The rest is up to your own corporate view/vision/mission. Hence do not try to call. Thank you.

Meanwhile as Tara and Lata got ready to speak to a dozen women about their views, Lata said, “It will be nice to see how women think for women!”

Tara: As product heads? Then, you must examine Pampered Chef! If not, you get males who coin tag lines like ‘Have a fun period exclamation mark’!
To be continued...

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