Advertising doesn’t exist in vacuum. There is always a cultural context. And the recent Airtel ad has blissfully ignored it.
And it doesn’t matter whether the agency who made the ad wanted to use the context or not. One can’t wish it away or turn a blind eye towards it. The canvas remains, and it brings its own meaning to the story.
Though the ad is a work of fiction and it doesn’t mean to propagate any stereotype, viewers quickly connected the dots to two larger truths:
1. Women are doing well in their careers
2. Women still have to balance work with home
The first one is a clear positive. And it even pushes the boundaries by showing a woman who is doing better than her husband. Nice touch.
The second one touched a raw nerve. It’s something that millions of Indian women can relate to. Not the ones who move about in uber-urban advertising / media circles but a much larger market that Airtel addresses. The truth is that women are pushing boundaries. They have negotiated their way into the work space. They have careers beyond managing homes. But this license to work comes with the expectation of multi-tasking duties at home. That’s how the SuperMom archetype has come about. She can do it all. Ideally, she doesn’t want to do it all. But she’s settled for it.
The problem with the ad is not with fictional situation it depicts. It’s not with the casting or how the director has captured the finer nuances of the story. The problem is that when this ad is beamed to a few hundred million screens, there will be idiots who will say ‘Biwi ho to aisi – kaam pe jaati hai par pyaar se husband ke liye khana bhi banati hai.’
The dots are connected quickly to an everyday reality, not to nuances or to rare dynamics between two fictional characters. It’s the India we live in. And one cannot ignore this truth.
The reason why there is a controversy is because there are two kinds of viewers watching this ad – a tiny minority who are happy looking at an interesting dynamic between a husband and wife, and the rest of India, who has to deal with a larger truth – that the woman may be the boss at the work place, but at home, she belongs to the kitchen. Ask Indra Nooyi if you disagree.