Here's the thing about a promotional campaign. It speaks to an audience that will empathize, approbate and subsequently buy into an idea that promises to make life simpler and a product popular. However, often companies forget that half their target audience is women -- you know, humans who think, feel and have the power of deduction. When you talk down at them, they understand and respond in kind.
There are ads that put pressure on women to aspire to unrealistic standards, demean the gender as a whole and encourage men to promote those same expectations through content catered for quick social sharing -- memes, gifs and videos. Content that stay on for eternity on the Internet, even proliferating, as befuddled mansplainers struggle to understand the implication of its degrading reach.
Taxi service Ola Cabs put up a YouTube ad titled 'Micro Stories: Too expensive to take GF out on a date?' this week, of a man walking through a market with a girlfriend in tow, being forced to stop every now and then as the woman -- a ditzy caricature of what pre-pubescent men must think of what a date is -- picks out things for him to buy for her.
The exasperated man, finally looks at the camera and mouths the words: "Meri girlfriend chalti hai Rs 525 per km, but Ola Micro chalti hai sirf Rs 6 per km," the amount she rings up as her "bill" on a day out.
I can safely risk the assumption here that the team that conceptualised the Internet ad for a cab service working women often use, either have no idea what modern women stand for, or are deliberately targeting a group of men who would chuckle at the blatant sexism of a campaign that compares women to cars. The first is easier to forgive -- after all stupidity needs help, not sarcasm -- but if it is the second, then we have a problem here.
The ad feeds off a stereotype that women, when out with men, talk in a ridiculously nasal tone and manipulate them into buying things for them using their cloying charm. The men, magnanimous gift of god they are, like good sports (and implied hint of sexual gratification later) put up with the wiliness with the air of a long-suffering martyr.
In the world the writers of such trash inhabit, that's how women are perceived -- glamorous dolls cut off from reality and heavily dependent on the mercies of men to fulfil their ambition.
In the real world of course women make a living, run the boardroom, vacation, manage a home, and nurture a new generation. Often in their daily rush to fulfil the many roles they play, millions of women require the service of cabs to give them a safe transport to their destination. They will remember this ad when they make the choice next time.
UPDATE: Ola Cabs took off the ad on Saturday after an Internet backlash.
It also tweeted out this message:
We understand one of our TVCs has ended up hurting some sentiments. We've pulled it down. However, #OlaMicro continues to run at Rs.6/km.
— Ola (@Olacabs) April 23, 2016
And this oblique acknowledgement that the ad, perhaps, wasn't in good taste.
@sonali_pinki we hope to give good service as well as make decent ads about it.
— Ola (@Olacabs) April 23, 2016
But this was after the cab company faced a storm of protests from users.
— shilpi tewari (@shilpitewari) April 23, 2016
Better ad: "Hamari ad agency chalti hai sexist stereotypes par, lekin ola cabs chalti hai vc money par isiliye so cheap!"
— dorku (@Dorkstar) April 23, 2016
— Feminism in India (@FeminismInIndia) April 22, 2016
— Sreenivasan Jain (@SreenivasanJain) April 23, 2016
— Sowmya (@sowmyarao_) April 23, 2016
— Sanjukta Basu (SWBT) (@sanjukta) April 23, 2016
If @olacabs doesn't apologise for their ad by the end of the day, they're likely to lose a truckload of business from women. Justifiably.
— Madhu Menon (@madmanweb) April 23, 2016
— Sunil Pai (@threepointone) April 23, 2016
Disclosure: HuffPost India is published in association with the Times Group, which has a commercial relationship with Ola's rival Uber.
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