Feminism sells and women’s empowerment seems to be a catch phrase amongst today’s advertisers. However, while trying to sell products using empowering messages, advertisers often end up going horribly wrong.

Here are some ads whose empowerment messages have completely backfired:

1. Bata India’s recent ad starts off with the question ‘aren’t you glad you are a woman?’. It then lists all the reasons why we should be glad to be women. Apparently, some of the benefits of being a woman are that we can wear makeup, are allowed to cry in public, and can get free entry into clubs. Also, according to the ad, we are lucky that our strength doesn’t lie in our muscles, and that therapy is just a shopping mall away.

And, according to the ad, Bata shoes ‘don’t make you a feminist, a non-feminist, a pessimist, an activist. No, they make you ‘what a man can never be’ — a woman’. How enlightening!

2. Wrangler Jeans Europe released a video which wanted to show women that they are more than their bums. But what it ended up doing was zooming in on various women’s asses, while saying things like ‘one piece of you doesn’t define you, and ‘ain’t about what’s behind me’. Words like activist, journalist, and Olympian had been superimposed on these women’s behinds. The ad ends with the hashtag “morethanbum” written across the screen. What makes matters worse is that there is no diversity in the body types of the women that are portrayed. The journalist, Olympian and activist may be more than their bums, but their bums sure are skinny.

3. Dove took its femvertising campaign a bit too far when it released its latest body wash bottles, which come in a variety of shapes. “From curvaceous to slender, tall to petite, and whatever your skin colour, shoe size or hair type, beauty comes in a million different shapes and sizes. Our six exclusive bottle designs represent this diversity: just like women, we wanted to show that our iconic bottle can come in all shapes and sizes, too,” said Dove.

But the campaign backfired with women speaking about how Dove had oversimplified women’s bodies and treated them as objects.

4. For Women’s Day, Birla White came up with a #WomenCare4All hashtag. In the campaign, Birla White shows how a woman cares for her home and her career, perfectly juggling baby, house, kitchen and office.

What is the man’s role in this whole scenario? Only work and no household duties?

5.  And of course, there is the famous Airtel ad, where a woman is her own husband’s senior at work. She asks him to work late in order to complete a project, and leaves to go home. Once home, she cooks her husband a gourmet meal, thereby reaffirming a stereotype — the wife cooks a good meal for her husband and waits for him to come home.

So are companies overusing the concept of feminism? Has feminism become a misappropriated pop culture fetish?

Publisher of feminist publishing house, Urvashi Butalia, told SheThePeople.TV that ads on women’s empowerment are merely lip service.

“We have not sorted feminism out? We have seen it (the concept of Women’s Day) moving out of the streets, where women would be demonstrating for rights into the corporate space, the ad space, into the govt space. I think all of that is really lip service. But it also marks the beginning of some change,” she said at the Women Writers’ Fest organised by SheThePeople.TV.

Preeta Sukhtankar, founder of online lifestyle store The Label Life, said companies should focus on promoting equalism. “By calling out the need to empower women at every step and through every medium, especially today, companies, independent bloggers, celebrities big and small tend to ingrain in little girls that they NEED to be empowered through feminism and that they’re not intrinsically empowered already,” she pointed out.

With the feminism wave riding high, especially with the rise of social media, companies are consciously or unconscionably cashing in on the phenomenon and with an apparent cause being so ubiquitous, it tends to lose its polish and initial purpose,” Sukhtankar told SheThePeople.TV

Studies show that women are the deciders of product purchases in a household. So is it a coincidence that ads tread the line between trying to empower women, and also take care to not completely do away with portraying roles that are traditionally specific to gender? What do you think? Is Indian advertising cashing in on women’s issues for the better or for worse?

Also Read: Are Indian ads reinforcing unrealistic expectations from women?