Objectification Of Women: When Will Brands Grow Up?

Portraying women as an object of consumption has been a hit formula of marketers for decades. When will this objectification stop?

A few days ago, I read an online interview of the marketing head of a well-known men’s underwear brand. This brand faced criticism for the lewd portrayal of women in their latest TV commercial.

In his response to the controversy, the marketing head said the conflict was blown out of proportion. He justified the ad as one that showed a woman expressing her ‘desire’ to the half-naked macho man. In his opinion, the ad was liberating and upheld the woman’s choice to express her sexual feelings (but in a men’s underwear ad).

His claims triggered my curiosity to watch the TV commercial. But I did not find anything liberating in it. Instead, I found the ad highly problematic and bizarre. 

The ad goes like this. Women are busy with their household chores. A guy appears in a towel looking for his love interest. All women start staring at him, some with lusty expressions and some in anger. While he is showing off his toned body, his towel falls. As this happens, his supposed love interest gives him a look of ‘indication’, and he accepts the wish bade aramse (with great ease). The brand’s version of liberty and freedom blew my mind. 

Objectifying women = Eyeballs

Portraying women as an object of consumption has been a hit formula of marketers for decades. Explicitly depicting women is the easiest way to gain traction and pull traffic towards the brand. These ads have played a vital role in normalizing casual sexism, objectification and misogyny in society.

When faced with objections, the flag bearers of freedom of expression jump in the defence. These flagbearers have now moved one step ahead by calling it an exploration of the sexuality of women. Needless to say that this is a reflection of the decades-old colonial hangover. Brands still think that what is validated in the west will get accepted in India. 

Porn (now rebranded as erotica) grabs widespread attention and marketers know its influence on the audience very well. Women shown in these ads are either dumb Barbie dolls or nymphomaniacs. Take the example of male underwear and perfume ads. A semi-nude man shows up, and a woman gets horny. How disassociated these ads are from reality, how obscene is the presentation of women in it! When women are clinching gold medals in the Olympics and heading space missions, some brands limit them to picture-perfect sex objects. 

From sex symbolization to pseudo feminism, Indian TV commercials depict women in the wrong way. The depiction continues with some scattered outrage over social media. Soon the controversy dies down, and a new obscene ad pops up in our social media feeds. 

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Not all brands apply this funda for publicity, but they owe a responsibility of what examples they set for their millions of consumers. The audience awareness is rising, and we have seen it in boycott calls and social media bashing. However, there is still a long way to go to break the stereotypes about women in the advertisement and branding industry. 

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