A popular food delivery app Zomato is painting the metro cities red (literally), with eye-catching blood-red billboards. Most of these ads are cheeky and in good spirits. However, others are downright sexist. Especially the one with the bold shorthand of popular slangs referring to incest with mothers and sisters.

Now we know what these acronyms are referring to. No matter what the company has used them for. They could have done it in a tasteful way though. But where is the fun in that?

Before we could even finish this article, Twitter outrage made sure that the company apologised for the said ads. We hope that they will take the offensive billboards down before we order Mac n Cheese and Butter Chicken from their rival app.

Using sexism to catch the eyeballs of commuters is a popular advertisement strategy. And in India, the best way to catch our attention is to add a dollop of sexism to it.

Billboards repeatedly feature demeaning ads, where women are treated as mere sex objects or as a prize in a manhood contest. Last year, a clothing brand put one of India’s leading stars today, on a billboard in one such ad. He was carrying a woman on his shoulder. The catch line was “Don’t hold back. Take your work home.” Just the kind of incentive the office Romeos need.

Trivialising sexism at workplace, and making it sound cool are two offences rolled out on one billboard. Naturally the company and the star faced a lot of flak on twitter. The company apologised, as did the star, and pulled down the offensive ads. This is just one example from the recent past.

There are billboards which tell women to look fit and fresh before the husbands come home. Print ads which assure women that it’s okay if you don’t get to choose your husband. You can always have a say in buying your wedding jewellery. All these apart from those unspeakable deodorant advertisements, which reduce us to perfume sniffing nymphomaniacs.

It is agreeable that print ads rely mainly on their visual appeal to catch the attention of onlookers. Also, with stiff competition in the market, the pressure to do something different is huge. So creating a controversial billboard, which will give free publicity to the brand, especially on social media, is always tempting. Maybe controversies are a part of advertising strategies. But trying to pass sexism in the name of wit is not only distasteful, it is plain lazy.

One thing is for sure – shock value and eye-catching punchlines leave a lasting effect on the spectator’s mind.

When global corporations and governments around the world are standing up for equal rights for women, the least advertisers can do is to refrain from putting locker room style phrases on billboards. Unless, they do not want to be in the good books of nearly 50 percent of the population.

Also read: Keeping Your Maiden Name Post Marriage Is a Matter of Choice

Dr Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are author’s own.

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