India: Dark is beautiful in 'historic' advert

By News from Elsewhere... found by BBC Monitoring


Advertising can reinforce unrealistic ideals of beauty and other stereotypes. But a new batch of adverts on Indian television seeks to challenge those stereotypes, says BBC Monitoring's Upasana Bhat.

A dark-skinned woman with a young daughter prepares for her second wedding. A single mother practises long-distance running with her son. An upper-class professional with a malfunctioning phone is helped by a housewife. An elderly man competes against boys in an online game.

These are some of the adverts now screening on Indian TV that reflect changing times on the subcontinent.

To depict the remarriage of a woman with a darker complexion can be regarded as ground-breaking in a country where fair skin is considered beautiful, owing to the deep-rooted caste system. Adverts more typically feature Bollywood stars promoting skin-whitening creams.

And second marriages are relatively uncommon in India, particularly for women, although attitudes are changing slowly.

The Pioneer newspaper praises ads such as Tanishq jewellery's remarriage commercial for "breaking the mould and pushing progressive social values" as well as "redefining traditional representations" of women.

Author Swapan Seth describes 2013 as "unarguably Indian advertising's finest year" in the First Post. "Great brands do not belong to companies and consumers. They belong to society. They are the tears of the troubled. They are the smiles of the satisfied. They show the broken. And the mended. For that really is what life is all about. They are meticulously planted fillings in the cavities of every culture. And they have a duty to perform. They must be the bugles that announce the change."

But can adverts nudge along social change? Yes, says Piyush Pandey, creative director of the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather India. Market leaders such as Tanishq "must take little chances of taking the society forward".

"I don't think we should be at all critical about this ad. Then we will stay in the past," he tells the Economic Times. And actress Nandita Das, who supports the Dark is Beautiful campaign, tells the Times she hopes the remarriage ad "might motivate others to follow suit".

Social activist Ranjana Kumari doesn't think adverts bring about social change, but tells the Hindu Business Line that it's "good when they focus on the progressive portrayal of women rather than resort to cliches and stereotypes".

As for the mother-and-son-running advert, Seth says it takes "the trials and tribulation of single parenting and made a triumph out of it". He also regards the remarriage advert as "purely historic".

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