10 ads that broke stereotypes

MUMBAI: Even as Gen Z with its short attention span skips through advertisements, jumping from channel to channel between breaks, there are some ads that are hard to ignore -- be it for their peppy jingles, catchy tag lines or cool visuals.

And then there are those, which not only touch us but leave us rattled and questioning. The recently released campaign by Anouk starring Radhika Apte is of the latter kind. Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather, the TVC talks about an issue we hardly hear ourselves addressing, even though it affects us pretty much uniformly throughout the country. That being the discrimination in workplace against expecting women.

The ad showcases Radhika Apte as an independent woman working as a senior architect who misses her chance of being promoted in a well known architectural firm, by virtue of her pregnancy. In spite of being reassured that her performance isn’t being questioned, Apte is met with strong views on how pregnancy can be a disadvantage at the workplace. The ad concludes with Apte raising a voice against the discrimination and moving on to start her own thing.

Anouk’s third chapter in ‘Bold Is Beautiful’ definitely treads away from the convention, into uncharted territories.

This isn't the first time that advertising fraternity has tried its hand at a non cliche plot line for a campaign concept and broken stereotypes. Off late there has been a  steep raise in campaigns with embedded social messages. Be it edgy and progressive storytelling that talk of non binary relationships, modern take on marriages and womanhood, or openly discussing Taboo subjects like sexual health and freedom.

Needless to mention, every time an unconventional ad is released, it not only sparks conversations over the internet, it also leaves a viral trail of debates. Something Sideways co-founder Abhijit Avasthi finds smart but easy way of advertising.

Though courting controversy for the sake of it doesn’t fit well with BBH India CEO Subhash Kamath either, he is all in for talking about issues that take us out of comfort zone if  “the content of the ad should be strategically relevant to the brand it is talking about. If it’s relevant and connects with people, even though it may piss off a few, it’s totally worth it to take up the challenge,” he shares.

Given the buzz around the latest Anouk ad, compiled a list of ten advertisements that broke stereotypes in recent times after speaking to several creatives in the industry. Here’s the list, though not in any particular order:

Anouk: Bold is Beautiful : Radhika Apte

The latest Anouk ad is simple and handles the issue directly instead of going for the ‘hinted’ approach. Not going deeper into the dos and don’ts of handling an issue like pregnant working women, and if the advertisement has done justice to it, it definitely starts a conversation on a topic we seldom shed light upon, even though there are many who are directly or indirectly affected by it,

Airtel, Boss

This Airtel ad that came out in 2014 sparked quite a controversy and left a trail of subsequent online debates amongst netizen. The advertisement showcased a modern day couple who work in the same company, with the wife being the husband’s boss. In office she asks him to work late and finish his pending work, while at home she reaches early to cook up a storm for her husband in the kitchen. While breaking a stereotype of work pay imbalance in India, the advertisement no doubt sent a confusing message. Going beyond the debate of the ‘right kind of message,’ this ad is still remembered for being different and addressing a non ‘black and white’ situation on gender equality.

Remarriage: Tanishq

Perhaps the most celebrated of them all when it comes to path breaking ideas, is the Tanishq jewellery advertisement that came out in 2013.

While the setting of a wedding with the bride donning shiny jewellery doesn’t seem anything original for a jewellery brand, the narrative throws viewers a googly as we see the would be bride addressed as ‘mama’ by a little girl. Captioning it as ‘a wedding to remember’ this ad film conceived by Lowe Lintas and Partners not only opened up conversation on remarriage. It also changed its perception from being a social stigma to a glamorous affair.

The Seatbelt Crew:

Sometimes a simple message needs to be delivered with a powerful impact, and that’s exactly what Ogilvy and Mather did for VithU’s public service initiative on road safety norms. This two-minute video shot at a traffic light in Mumbai went viral, garnering more than 3.4 million views on YouTube.

What makes the advertisement even more unique is that unlike most advertisements featuring transgenders, this one doesn’t ridicule them or weep over their pathos of everyday survival. Here, the transgender women we see on camera are means to an end, just like several celebrities or good looking models who are cast in advertisements to draw attention from a relevant target group.

Do The Rex:

At a time when condom ads are heavily layered with sexual innuendos, and cryptic ways of depicting sexual tension, Durex’s ‘Do the Rex’ campaign came as a breath of fresh air. It’s in your face and honest. And starts  a much needed conversation amongst the youth, which directly affects their sexual health. And who better to spearhead the youth campaign than Bollywood actor and youth icon Ranvir Singh, known for his unapologetic attitude.

Add some catchy music and groovy visuals to the mix and you have the perfect concoction to sell condoms to the youth and 40 plus alike. Directed by Karan Kapadia, no sooner did the video release than it went viral across multiple digital platform, and giving rise to a long sustaining campaign.

Meglow: Fairness cream for men

If you are one of those who are tired of watching advertisements that put being fair as an essential for succeeding in life, be it women or men, you probably cheered Emraan Hashmi for delivering the punch line in this ad film. Shot like any other typical male fairness cream ad, the story follows your typical underdog, trying for a job and losing his ‘glow’ as he stresses over it.

Enter Emraan Hashmi with the solution to all his troubles: a fairness cream that will return his lost glow and lead him at the path of success... or not. The ad film ends with the anti-climatic disclaimer that fairness creams don’t land you job, but credentials do, even if you are dark.

Sofy #Iamnotdown

Sometimes we fail to realise that age old customs and habits that come to us naturally, might actually be a projection of social stigma. Such is the case with using phrases like ‘I am down,’ ‘I have got my chums’ etc, instead of directly addressing the topic of menstrual period. Sanitary napkin brand Sofy almost waged a war with their #SofyConversations campaign that went viral earlier this year. The campaign showcased young women from different walks of life urging women to start using the word ‘Periods’ instead of cryptic aliases, and accept what is natural to them with dignity.

FastTrack: Come Out Of The Closet

Recently the advertising world has made a huge progress when it comes to addressing non-binary relationships and same sex couples. While some approach it in a hilarious or heavier tone, Fast Track’s ‘Come Out Of The Closet’ campaign gave it a witty and humourous touch. Without being loud mouth about it, the ad showcases two young women with edgy fashion sense come out a closet, literally! It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out what the metaphorical reference is made with the closet. My Conditions Apply

When it comes to breaking stereotypes there is an endless scope to deliver in the wedding scene in India, which, though went digital ages ago with matrimonial sites like and BharatMatromony, it hardly shed away the conservative notions attached to it. Naturally it falls behind the rapidly progressing lifestyle of millennials who respects a woman’s choice and preferences when it comes to marriage.’s latest ad campaign shows its attempt to transition from being just a marriage consultancy portal to reflection of the wants and aspirations of the country’s youth.

Whisper: Touch The Pickle

Yet another campaign about breaking taboos surrounding women's menstrual cycle, this one deals with the dozens of Dos and Don'ts that are imposed upon women by society restricting them during periods. Starting from restrictions on what to wear, to superstitions on touching pickle, there are a whole stack of baseless superstitions and restrictions that make the experience harder for women in our society. Whisper's #TouchThePickle campaign shouts out to all women who are fed up of these taboos, to break away and break taboos. Developed by P&G India and BBDO India this campaign was not only struck a chord with millions of women within the country, was also lauded internationally by winning the Glass Lion Grand Prix at Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

While these advertisements grabbed our attention, there are plenty others that have strayed from the tried and tested formula and attempted something out of the box. The list goes on…

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