"Don't objectify women to sell products" is the stand-up comic-turned Bollywood actor's message. But did he have to get into a bath tub to convey it?
Skimpily-clad women with husky voices and unnatural pouts have sold us almost everything, from bikes and phones to holidays and cement. Though deo brands are guiltier of this than others, nearly every product segment out there has tried catering to the male gaze to move products off the shelf, at some point or the other. Stand-up comedian-turned Bollywood actor Vir Das has had enough.
In a digital ad film for He Respect, a new variant for the He range of deodorants from Emami, Das challenges ads that, in his book, objectify women. To this end, he parodies several ads, including the famous 'Aamsutra' commercial in which Katrina Kaif romances a mango and the popular 'Even angels will fall' (international) commercial for Axe Deodorant. He also takes a dig at the oft-seen bath tub-cum-rose petals routine, most recently spotted in an ad for Lux, featuring Kareena Kapoor.
Empathising with the female models in these ads, Das says he feels "awkward, pointless and objectified" when asked to spread out, for example, on a motorcycle with his legs in the air. The video ends with Das saying, "You don't have to objectify women to sell a product..." going on to make a case for He Deo, a brand that respects women, a brand that "real men" use.
While the ad has been appreciated for its bold, refreshing stance and humour, it has also rubbed a few netizens the wrong way. These consumers have been so vocal about their views on social media, that the actor had to offer an explanation on Twitter.
The campaign has been crafted by Orchard Advertising, a creative agency from the Leo Burnett group. The digital execution and amplification has been done by WATConsult, a digital agency from Dentsu Aegis Network.
In the next phase of the campaign, the brand's celebrity ambassador, actor Hrithik Roshan, will promote the new 'Scent of respect' thought; his last message on behalf of He Deo was 'Be Interesting'.
The present phase of the campaign is supported by below-the-line and digital efforts - men were given 'Respect' t-shirts through the brand's online partner 'Wear your Opinion', and were asked to wear them, click a selfie and share it on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #HeRespect.
According to Harsha V Agarwal, director, Emami, men today need a "a positive role model" one who is "able to give due respect to women..." Sharmine Panthaky, vice president and branch head, Mumbai, Orchard Advertising, says, "...there is no merit in falling prey to any of the usual tactics brands and categories employ to sell more stock. We are not interested in helping men attract more women. This may seem counter-intuitive in the deo category, but we are sure our effort will buck the trend and find support."
While some think brands, in general, have overplayed their 'feminist card', others are glad a deo brand has taken up respect for women as its core thought. Still others think casting Vir Das is the brand's way of driving home a serious message without sounding preachy.
Spandan Mishra, head, strategic planning, Rediffusion-Y&R, believes a conversation on the subject (namely, objectification of women in advertising) is long overdue. "If you want to make people re-think these clichés, you have to keep at it. While the references in the film are somewhat dated, it is the most obvious execution for such an ad," he says, appreciating the idea.
However, he rues about the way the ad does not sell the newly launched product at all. "He Deo has recently done a full-fledged launch of the icy deo range. There is no product sell in this ad. Those who watch the film may end up buying a bottle of He, but not He Respect," he predicts.
Anusheela Saha, group creative director, Cheil India, feels the execution could have been better. She says, "...the agency and production guys must have had fun writing and making this ad, but they were unable to pass on the humour to us. Also, the mash-up of spoofs has been done before."
Overall, she's of the view that too many brands piggyback on causes, these days. "Brands should quit behaving like they are Gloria Steinem. Whatever happened to good old product hard-selling? I think we are overdoing it. Taking up a cause to make your communication stand out is a feeble attempt at product selling. It might create some initial fervour and chatter," but won't really help in the long run, she insists, rewinding as far as 2006 to cite Tata Tea's 'Jaago Re' campaign an example of a brand that did justice to both, the product and the cause it chose to associate itself with.
Noting how the brand focuses on an "issue" rather than on an "insight", Divya Sharma, executive planning director, Hakuhodo Percept, believes the ad mocks, rather than challenges, the archaic, stereotypical objectification of women (and men) in advertising. "It's young, fun, simple and refreshing, and should be appreciated for just that," she shrugs, though.
About brands and their newfound need to be socially relevant, she adds, "We are nowhere near being done with 'socially active' advertising. In fact, we are just getting started."
The problem, to her, is brands taking up social causes just to grab the limelight. But there is hope, as the audience, Sharma is confident, can easily weed out a "greedy brand," just looking to make noise for a few days, from a pool of genuine brands looking to back a set of real causes.