Unilever’s Quality Walls: regressive AF

Just came across these ads from one of HUL’s brands – Quality walls ice creams.

Unilever has gone regressive AF.

I can’t believe Unilever can do such work. I mean, it is one of those companies famous for their rigorous approach towards marketing effectiveness, their many checks and balances. I can’t believe that at none of these stages did anyone find the sexism in the ads problematic? How did this pass through?

For the ones who can’t understand what’s wrong with the ad, let me help you.

Firstly, understand that no frame in advertising is by mistake. Every frame, every act, every pronunciation is deliberate. The copy gets tested, visuals are first story-boarded and then PPMed the shit out of them. Models are chosen carefully. Settings are chosen deliberately.

Everything you see in advertising is deliberate.

So, what deliberate story do you see in the ad?

The second is your daily sexual harassment on the streets that the powers-that-be want to normalise desperately. The second ad is obviously in bad taste, i don’t think it needs explanation. The first one, to the patriarchs, might seem alright though. So let me try and help you understand why it is problematic.

In the first film, the young son is sitting at the table while the little girl is cooking chapatis. The family validates her role as a cook with their fake claps. It is almost an initiation ritual into maidhood of the girl.

It wouldn’t have been problematic with the first ad, if both the children were shown to taught to cook. The purposeful setting reinforces the patriarchal norm – cooking is for women, sitting idly on the asses is for men.

Labour by itself is not wrong, far from it. None of us can escape the need to eat, need to clean house, need to wash clothes. We need these things. Hence we need to be able to do the labour to live our lives. and here by ‘we’ I mean both men and women – the entirety of family. Work multiplies with number of people, so shouldn’t the hands that clean up too?

At our home, my wife cooks, but I also do the chopping of vegetables and cleaning of the dishes. Or vice versa. We don’t resent our labours. We do what is needed to be done and get on with our lives.

Beyond the utility of chores, I find household chores as a good opportunity to converse with my wife. It is an easier and more sustainable way to bond with your partner than by dedicating holidays or dates for that purpose. Typically, we both are in the kitchen doing our respective chores and talking about things – all sorts of things. (mostly our personal art projects, but more frequently trump and modi these days. Today it would be this shitty quality walls commercial most probably, if donny doesn’t egg rocket man anymore.)

It is a welcome break from my addiction to screens too. It is almost therapeutic.

So I look forward to the simple acts of making tea, doing the dishes, making breakfast, putting the clothes out to dry… all these things are essential breaks for me from my media addiction and welcome engagements with real life and real relations.

My problem with Indian mindset is that that it views household labour poorly. And since it is viewed as an undesirable part of life, it is relegated to the second rate citizen of the family – women. Men would rather get fat, rot their minds with mindless TV but partner their wives in household chores. This mindset is visible amply in TV ads too.

P&G has famously decided to be a ‘force for the good’ with its women empowerment pledge. So while P&G is progressing ahead, being a voice of sanity, Unilever is regressive with its terribly sexist ads.

What is more worrisome is, Unilever is one of the biggest advertising spenders in India. It sets the standard and trends of advertising for a lot of other brands and agencies. And if it itself indulges in casual sexist ads, it does not bode well for Indian advertising. It is a leader and it should act as one.

 

 

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Rebels without a cause

Saw ‘Tanu weds Manu returns’ yesterday.
Excellent movie after a long time. 🙂 (apart from one dimensional Manu and the Haryanvi family as prop.)

I – Restless = humans
It made me think about the trend of lead characters in bollywood movies – men/ women. (Raj in countless SRK films or Kangana in most of her films). They are all spontaneous, restless, rebels (often without a cause). They are also someone who people graciously put up with for the sake of movie’s plot.
This is in contrast to lead characters from earlier days. (80s – macho, 70s – angry against system, 60s – stoic silent, graceful). The grace is gone from modern world and modern cinema.

With rise of corporate careers and desk-bound audiences, the lead characters are increasingly ‘bubbly’ (females leads), ‘spunky’ (male lead) and are infantile and narcissistic. The more inconsequential and replaceable lives become (of white collar audience), the more spunky and bubbly the characters become in films.

The office goer audience has no real purpose, have no real challenges and benefit a lot from status-quo. That reflects in the content they consume – self help books, identity anxiety soaps, mindless comedies as blockbusters (to avoid critical analysis of their own lives), support to the powerful bhai (“We can be irresponsible and successful too.”) and so on.
These office going drones face tremendous existential angst as a result of their digital and desk bound existence.
And when such drones are ripe for pairing, they desire life through their mates. They want life partners who ‘do things’, who ‘are fun’, who ‘travel’, who are ‘foodies’ and so on.

The reason a drone (Manu) chooses a rebel without a cause (Tanu) in the movie, is to ensure that he is marrying a human being. It doesn’t matter that she has some serious psychological issues. Her incongruence to societal expectations prove that at least she is a human being, not a drone like him.

People get married in search of life.

II Rebel without a cause
It is essential that there be no cause. A cause will make things too real too quick. The audience of white collar drones ‘can’t handle the truth.’
All lead characters try to show the middle finger to their immediate environment, but they are always lacking in ambition.
Indians are so scared to identify the elephants in the room that there can be no revolutionary cinema in India. Existential angst is profitable and it doesn’t point fingers. The angst is impotent. Speaking of which…

III – Threat to Masculinity 
The film subverts masculinity in a way not seen in hindi movies before.  All male characters in the film are impotent. All they can do is – ‘manage’. (Manu is a loser who never acts or reacts. His sardar friend is literally impotent. Jimmy Shergill has no agency of his own – he flexes his muscles, but all he does is to obey Kangana. The advocate who falls for Kangana, tries to make a scene but is ineffectual.)
When the traditional actors in the theatre of society (patriarchy) stops answering to new realities, new actors (anarchy) will rise to shape the new society.
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Originally published at Rebels without a cause.