Poor choice Life & Style

Ad-tagonism: the ugly side of billboards

HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, 10-04-2017: Bantia furnitures for Metro plus .Photo: K.V.S. Giri

HYDERABAD, TELANGANA, 10-04-2017: Bantia furnitures for Metro plus .Photo: K.V.S. Giri

Television and online advertisements have become a favourite punching bag of the public, but what about the billboards that perpetuate negative stigmas? With India’s heightened sensitivity towards advertising attitudes, there is a considerable margin of error for marketing companies, especially when it comes to feminism.

Big cities like Delhi have a stringent hold on outdoor advertising policy, but Hyderabad’s version of the policy merely has restrictions on structural issues of the billboard itself. Furniture companies, tech corporations and fashion businesses have a habit of featuring women in ads without thinking twice of the repercussions.

Feminism in India Content Editor Asmita Ghosh explains, “Every advertisement that chooses to treat women as mere props to sell items deserves to be called out and criticised. These advertisements are a starter kit in understanding the objectification of women. Women are treated as commodities that glam up the item in question — whether it be cars, chocolates, or houses. Women are depicted as hyper-sexualised bodies draped over the item of advertisement — mere objects that are airbrushed, Photoshopped, and sold as part of the glamour of the advertisement.” Asmita adds that advertisers also have a strong part to play in the cultural sexism, “One cannot brush off the responsibility that they carry by saying ‘they play the devil's advocate.’ Advertisers have a strong responsibility towards creating socially sensitive content, given that their influence extends so widely. However, the fact that they exploit this influence by conforming to sexist and objectifying imagery is regrettable, and they deserve to be called out and criticised for it.”

Women’s Web Founder and CEO Aparna Vedapuri Singh agrees with Asmita in that bigger brands get flak for misappropriation of women. Aparna explains the blame is widespread for this disparaging ideology, believing it is not about pitting multinational companies against local companies, but rather, “There is much more awareness today on sexism in India, but this is largely around overt sexism, such as women being portrayed as dumb or incapable. In fact, the idea that ‘beautiful women are accessories’ continues to hold ground, and not just in India but around the world — as you would see if you visited any leading global automotive show.”

How brands market their treatment of women and minority groups is rarely forgotten. In 2016, Ranveer Singh issued a public apology for a controversial Jack and Jones ad, which featured the actor with a woman over his shoulder along with a tagline ‘Take your work home with you.’ The consequent uproar on social media platforms propelled a discourse surrounding advertising ethics and objectification of women in the workplace. Many multinational companies get censored for this reason, but numerous signs across Hyderabad get the proverbial ‘free-left’ for their laid-back attitude towards women’s issues.

On the other hand, it is worth noting and remembering that many people featured in campaigns often miss the fine print and do not oversee how the matter is finally used.

What must be noted is that there are plenty of advertising companies which work within a more progressive and socially-sensitive landscape. Aparna explains, “Advertisers are of all kinds, and it would be difficult to lump them all into one category. There are companies where the directive for progressive advertising comes right from the top; there are companies which are climbing onto the gender equality bandwagon simply because it is the 'in' thing to do, and there are others which are nowhere close to even understanding what sexism means.”

It is worth noting what we mediate into our consciousness, and not just on a digital level. As Aparna and Asmita point out, engagement with these platforms is needed, given advertising is the lifeblood of consumerism in cities like Hyderabad.

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Printable version | Jul 7, 2022 7:13:30 am | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/hyderabad-billboards-and-signs/article17951295.ece