Exploring Indian Advertising Landscape And Role Of The Indian Mother

History of Indian Advertising
A History of Indian Advertising by Ritu Singh showcases case studies and unbusiness-like stories from Indian advertising through the ages.

Not so long ago, popular media talked about women the way people talked about ghee – full of shuddh desi goodness. Today, they seem to be talking about women the way people now perceive ghee – a source of energy and rumoured to be a superfood. Women are the superheroines email forwards are forever saluting. Why, you ask? For holding down a job, cooking and running errands while taking care of the kids, the husband, the in- laws and their own good looks.

As some queen or the other observed in Alice in Wonderland, it takes all the running you can do just to remain in the same place.

Indian women have made their way to the top in corporate jobs, in international sports, in the political arena, as hot-shot lawyers and top-notch scientists. A woman of Indian origin has even made her way to outer space. But, somehow, our ads show very few women who have made their way too far from the home. (In ads, women often only seem to be able to reach a stretch of a highway, all dressed to disco, waiting helplessly for a biker dude to roar to a stop and offer them a lift.) Ads are sometimes guilty of depicting women as commodities, pin-up girls, idols on a pedestal – whatever fits.

Many of these ads are addressing another target group – men. But while these depictions continue, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore today’s women, who have to be advertised to as well. So sometimes, you  also catch a glimpse of that aspirational figure – the free- ranging, forthright Indian woman. She talks about her periods, finds liberation through her microwave, scooter, sneakers, her cellular network, or her watch, finds sachcha pyaar with the perfect brand of lipstick and keeps away snotty, noisy babies with the help of over-the-counter pills. She has a job and therefore money to spend, not just on essentials but also on her lifestyle and on herself.

Spender, homemaker, persuader, decision-maker – it is becoming increasingly important for marketers to now talk to every kind of woman. But there is one particular kind who deserves a special mention –The Mummy.

Imagine you are a marketer. You have that magic-milk formula that transforms a bunch of runny-nosed toddlers into superheroes. Or maybe you have that pressure cooker that transforms laukiwala dal into a gourmet dish. The question is, have you managed to get that one person – that all-important person who can guarantee your product will knock all other products off shop shelves – on your side? Have you converted her, turned her into a loyal buyer of your product? Can you say, mere paas maa hai?

Yes, Mom Power is real.

Maa is a very strong character in our daily lives, homes and movies. She is shown to be of impeccable moral fibre, a tigress where her children are concerned and the pivot of the family. And if things don’t go to plan, she starts crying.

For ages, moms in Bollywood movies wielded power by weeping. They wept through the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1980s.

To a casual observer, moms must have seemed incapable of taking charge. Yet, every movie buff understood that, weeping aside, the whole story centred on the sway she held over her son, the hero, who at some defining moment, in a voice rough with emotion said, ‘Mat ro, Maaaaaaaaaaa!’ (At that point, the audience also started weeping.)

Likewise, the mother in ads often stayed a bit in the background, coming forward to serve nourishing milk-drinks, buy smarter detergents or cook healthy pooris in that healthier oil. But it was clear that she mattered. The marketer needed to catch her ear.

So it would be safe to go with the old saying that –‘Maa ka haath sar par hai toh all is well.’ But maa ke haath mein aisa kya hai?

Maa ke haath mein laydeez-purse hai. In fact, it is argued that the collective Indian-mommy spending power could equal a small nation’s GDP.

Maa ke haath mein network bhi hai. Moms influence and look for advice from each other. The online world has opened up many avenues for communication. There are recommendations on Facebook and Twitter, bloggers referring to other bloggers, influencer moms as brand ambassadresses and buzzing comments sections below posts. It is obvious that moms like being talked with, not talked to. Opinions and reassurances are given on almost everything from the colour of their baby’s poo to the state of the nation. And on many of these online platforms are ads. And product recommendations along with links to product pages.

For the marketer, it is a captivating gathering of the mummies– both as a character to be depicted and as an audience to tap.

Excerpted with permission from A History of Indian Advertising in India in Ten-and-a-Half Chapters by Ritu Singh, published by Hachette India.

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