Guest Article: Is Fem-vertising really working to sell products

Using an empowering tone of voice, these ads are breaking the norm, displaying a gender-free world

Mumbai: It’s an established fact that advertising has a larger role than simply selling products. Advertising mirrors society and also encourages people to embrace change. But this change is only visible in recent times. Observe how women were portrayed in advertising a few years ago. Mostly as housewives, doing chores at home, cooking for their families and finding happiness in being appreciated for the same. Or objectified as sex symbols to gain instant attention. It’s only in recent times that advertising has taken it upon itself to change the narrative and show women in a different light. Building an inclusive world is the responsibility of everyone, and advertising plays a clear role in encouraging society to look at the world through a better set of eyes.

Femvertising is the kind of advertising strategy that employs women in a different light. Using an empowering tone of voice, these ads are breaking the norm and displaying a more progressive and gender-free world. In India specifically, these campaigns are breaking conventional ideas around gender equality, patriarchal mindsets, and other commonly held notions. A lot of these campaigns have won awards and been applauded on social media. “BreaktheBias” by Titan, “#ShareTheLoad” by Ariel, and “#MyChoice” by Vogue are just a few of the notable efforts made by advertisers. These advertisements are pitched like beacons. They fuel the conversation about how women should really be portrayed. The current wave of femvertising is riding on a woke generation’s mindset to call out societal fallacies. It is also built on the premise of wanting to promote a more authentic and real image of women and their lives.

And while these campaigns definitely get their fair share of attention, I wonder if they have a larger impact than the buzz that they create. Is this simply a brand-building tactic that creates a positive aura around the brand, or is there a real intent to change society? How do these campaigns impact the primary objective of advertising? Do they really lead to short-term and long-term sales? Or is the message too far removed from the product?

Research has shown that a lot of people who see these advertisements find them engaging and interesting. They appreciate the message being conveyed but do not necessarily support or purchase the product being advertised. Which takes one back to the basic theory of advertising. Advertising is meant to inspire and cultivate a certain kind of lifestyle. It is meant to reflect an ideal. One that everyone secretly wants. At a subconscious level, advertising generates desire. It fulfils a need or a pain that people have. In its bid to be hyper realistic, does femvertising lose out on the appeal and aspiration that advertising has traditionally been hinged on? Watching a curvaceous real body instead of an airbrushed and photoshopped one is surely endearing, but is it aspirational? Does it make me want to buy the brand to fulfil a deeper desire to become something other than myself?

Also, what about sales? I was recently caught by surprise when I saw a steel brand advertising the concept of "Nari Shakti." While the ad was interesting and engaging, I wonder if it had any relevance to the target audience of the category? The ad was successful in building credibility for the brand, but I doubt it led to any jump in sales at all.

A lot of brands have jumped onto the bandwagon of femvertising without understanding the basics. It has become a fad that wins awards and gets viral on social media. Today it is femvertising, and tomorrow it may be another trend that advertisers will pick up on to create a buzz. However, this cannot be said for all brands. There are some noteworthy campaigns that have cleverly woven together the product and brand characteristics with the narrative of the ad. Vim’s "Nazariya Badlo, Dekho Bartano se Aage" has cleverly used the product in its storyline when a man tries to ‘help’ his prospective bride in the kitchen, while she offers to ‘help’ him back with cleaning the dishes. It’s a clear message of a balance of roles and responsibilities while also incorporating the product into the story.

Views on femvertising are mixed. A lot of critics reprimand advertising agencies for promoting this kind of advertising to win awards and to increase visibility on special days like Women’s Day or Mother’s Day. While there are several brands that use femvertising in interesting ways. I wonder if femvertising is here to stay, or is it a passing wave? Is it truly having an impact on society and changing how women are perceived, or is it simply a shallow tactic to generate more likes, shares, and buzz in the media? I’m hoping that there are more brands that create relatable and inspiring content that reflects society and also encourages change in more authentic ways.

The author of this article is Jigsaw Brand Consultants founder Rutu Mody Kamdar.

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