Does The Mujhe Sab Nahi Pata Ad Around Dengue Really Empower Mothers?

Posted: April 19, 2019

A new mosquito repellant ad appears to agree that mothers should not be expected to know everything about bringing up a child – but then goes on to subtly guilt her for failing her child, says Seema Taneja. 

A woman appears on the screen, caressing her newborn in her arms. The next shot shows her speaking to viewers about her journey of motherhood, the joys coupled with the societal expectations from a mother to know everything about bringing up a child, how a mother is judged for not knowing why a child is crying, why s/he is so thin, why the shape of his/her head is not perfectly round and so on. She confesses how she had gradually internalised that as a mother it was her responsibility for everything concerning her child and that she had started striving to protect her child just like the goddesses Durga and Kali.

So far so good.

Then suddenly she becomes emotional and almost breaks down, “No, I didn’t know everything!” And then goes on to sob how one mistake sent her child to hospital fighting for his life. And just when I was tearing up and sympathising for her loss, she blurts out that she didn’t know mosquitoes could breed even in the clean utensils in her home and kill her child with dengue.

My heart almost stopped beating.

How could they? Just how could they do it?

No, there’s no typo in my using ‘they’ because I am not questioning or blaming the mother in the ad. ‘They’ are the great All Out marketers and the creative team behind the ad.

I am actually amazed at their audacity. Is this how they create a ‘powerful’ ad and ’empower women’? By latching on to female viewers’ maternal instincts with a mushy visual, sentimental prose and then exploiting their emotions by insinuating that the child has died and how the mother is broken, blaming herself for her lack of knowledge about the dengue mosquito, repenting and crying?

Could any Bollywood tear-jerker be more cringeworthy than this #MujheSabNahiPata ad? Even their own 2018 #SupportAToughMom campaign?

Many people are lauding the (supposedly) noble premise of the ad – women shouldn’t be put on a pedestal for motherhood because they cannot know possibly everything; they shouldn’t be accused and judged because they are also human and can make mistakes. Also, that it takes a tough woman to admit she doesn’t know everything. I also agree with every single point the advertisement makes on this issue.

But is that all it is about?

How do the ‘noble intentions’ behind ‘I don’t know everything’ justify the crass emotional exploitation of female viewers for selling a mosquito repellent? And how does it justify putting back the onus of knowing everything about childcare on women? And isn’t it amazing how you just blink and miss the father in this advertisement? Where is he actually in this whole melodrama, you wonder. You look closer…and there he is, just standing with the woman like a sidekick. What the heck! Doesn’t a father owe any responsibility towards their child? How can the ad makers absolve the father of all responsibility if the child falls sick?

That’s the reason a lot of women find the entire advertisement highly regressive and manipulative despite the glossy facade of women empowerment. They call it out for being unethical, insensitive and misleading.

Kiranjeet Chaturvedi, writer and editor of Escape Velocity and founder of the Write & Beyond Group feels that it is a diabolical plot which preys on women consumers. She says, ”The ad manipulates and exploits the vulnerability of the mother and resorts to mom shaming in the same breath. It is so wrong in its premise as to who should know what and who is responsible for what in a family”.

Vijayalakshmi Harish, a blogger, writer and poet says, ”The ad camouflages the same old ideas under a shiny new packaging. It pretends to be a positive message about how women, for whom motherhood is supposed to come “naturally” actually don’t know everything. What it actually does is manipulate women into feeling the exact opposite –that a woman and a mother should know everything”. And she adds that the ad left her feeling very weird and disturbed.

For Kalpana Manivannan, an organic farmer, blogger and former teacher it was ”agonizingly heart-wrenching to see the mom’s plight”. She says, ”It was traumatising. It was purposely targeted at moms, taking a stab at their emotions to sell a product. When we were all wondering what went wrong, pop comes the ugly side of manipulative advertising for All Out. I hated how it was a sly way of targeting moms in the guise of ‘mujhe sab nahi pata’.”

In fact there are many women whose children have suffered from dengue in the past – one mother who lost her child to dengue ten years ago and bears the guilt till today – found the advertisement highly triggering and traumatising. I am one of those who suffered from dengue in 1996 when it first made a widespread appearance in Delhi. There was hardly any information available about it at that time so even doctors failed to diagnose it correctly.

Subsequently my husband and two children were also caught up in its vicious grip. But nobody blamed me or my husband for not being aware. Because in our families childcare is a shared responsibility. If I didn’t know something, then so did he not. Both are to be blamed equally, right? And it’s this way in many other families I know; unlike this ad where the father exists only in the background…there only to help in procreation and play with the toddler but not share the duties towards his day-to-day needs.

That said, does All Out promise a perfect solution to mosquito breeding and bites inside homes?

Kalpana Manivannan is bang on when she questions, ”Is All Out claiming to provide 100 percent protection against dengue? I would like to see them prove it.” Besides, can a mosquito not breed, exist and bite outside the home? In parks, schools, market places; basically wherever the child goes? This makes me wonder if the marketers, in this case, advise the mothers to fix the All Out machine on the body of the child?

Does the supposedly revolutionary storyline of this new ad help form a connect between the consumer and the product – a mosquito repellent?

When the media marketers of All Out came up with the #SupportAToughMom campaign last year, many industry insiders and even viewers had complained that the rather subtle packaging of the product into the ad failed to form a connection with the story. This may be the reason why the creative team chose to incorporate it into the story more aggressively this time. But does it serve the purpose?

Anupama Dalmia, a reputed blogger, creative writing coach and founder of Beyond The Box and Rhythms and Beats asserts, ”Mujhe sab nahi pata” was such a wonderful concept. They could have actually made a powerful ad to depict this. A golden opportunity wasted totally!” And I completely agree with her. A different premise would have liberated women from the gigantic burden of expectations but then the repellent wouldn’t have been sold, right?

I had expressed my disappointment and angst with the #SupportAToughMom which was launched last year and now this new ad also leaves me scratching my head as to why is it that these ads, in the garb of social reform and women empowerment, go on to only reinforce the traditional mindsets and social conditioning around gender roles. Despite the large number of women lapping them up, for many of us both #MujheSabNahiPata and #SupportAToughMom advertisements are highly insensitive and offensive in their approach.

What’s your opinion?

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Curious about anything and everything. Proud to be born a woman. Spiritual, not religious. Blogger,

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