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Remember the days when ad folks weren’t sensitive enough? The days when fairness was shoved as a virtue down every brown girl’s throat. The days when the worth of a bottle of cola would be defined by how sultry the female ambassador’s swimming costume is. When people used to be relegated as clichés depending on their caste, creed, and colour. And the days when humour used be placed above sensitivity. This school of advertising is now non-existent and let’s thank goodness for that. From the time when the ‘intolerant and unfair but lovely’campaigns used to dominate the advertising narrative to the times of today that capture lovely ads with lovely emotions and fair representation – advertising has matured, slowly but surely.

Ad agencies are pushing the envelope, breaking barriers and thinking from the heart and thereby promoting the brand by positioning a larger purpose. Are consumers buying this proposition? Most probably. At least statistics say so - as per a survey conducted by Lowe Lintas with MSN India and Cross Tab (2011), 57% of Indian respondents trust brands that do CSR more than brands that do not and 69% of the respondents prefer buying a brand involved in CSR work, compared to a brand that isn’t, all other factors remaining equal.

Clearly, changing societal behaviour for good is the new way to influence consumer behaviour.

Take a look at the Super Bowl ads for 2017 alone, and you’ll observe the major shift in the narratives embraced by most brands. The focus has now moved from ‘titillation’ to ‘sensitisation’ with brands taking a stand on subjects like immigration, the climate, eco-friendly products, equal pay for women, racism, sexism, and so much more. Closer home, in India, too, the mood of the madmen is changing with a plethora of storyboards breaking the stereotypes.

The Coke-Pepsi-Thumsup’s stronger, sweeter, bubblier battle is long over – why? We are now interested in knowing who’s spreading more happiness. Take Tanishq ads as a case in point, compare the brand’s current set of ads with the ones produced before a decade and we know that audience is now no more attracted by objects of desire but they are interested in subjects that matters. Social marketing in India has fast become the way to promote products in a responsible manner. What’s new? The neologism ‘Femvertising’ which means the use of feminism in advertising is picking up pace.

Ariel was quick to ride on the new wave in 2015 with its out-of-the-box #ShareTheLoad campaign finding nation-wide resonance amidst men and women alike. The campaign won a Glass Lion at Cannes in 2015, a Gold Spike and a prize at the Spikes Asia 2015 in Singapore. The video became so popular that Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg called it one of the most powerful ads she’d ever seen.

Gender equality stood out as one of the key themes in advertising in 2017 as well. Tata Tea, under its Jaago Re 2.0 campaign, pushed the gender sensitization agenda. The Dalda spot featuring Bollywood actor Tisca Chopra encouraged the sons to try their hand at cooking. Vicks VapoRub took a revolutionary step by creating an advertisement that showed a transgender woman adopting a little girl and giving her a beautiful life. The list is limitless.

Another message that come out loud and proud among the very many brands was Swachh Bharat with brands such as Astral Pipe sensitising the cause of sanitation for women in its ads and Hindustan Unilever Ltd.’s detergent brand Surf Excel running an anti-littering campaign.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to state that, over the years, the parameters of storytelling in advertising have evolved significantly. There has been a positive influx of commercials that manage to sell the products while still delivering strong social messages.

So, is it finally safe to say that our ads have attained the self-actualisation stage? We are on our way, I say, with some tumbles, some hiccups and some fumbles. It’s easier to join the marketing bandwagon, but words must be backed up with action. Because responsibility begins at home.

Let us channelize our creativity for a cause, and add responsibility to the rebellion. But let’s also draw the line between ‘Femvertising’ and ‘Pinkwashing’.

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