Ethnic, not demure: Ad films & the modern woman

Ethnic, not demure: Ad films & the modern woman

By ROHAN TANDON | | 20 June, 2015

For the longest time now, ethnic wear for women has been associated with meek, demure womanhood: the traditional idea of femininity. We saw it in advertisements, we saw it represented in movies and we saw it on the streets. The women who adorned the ethnic garb — lehengas or kurtis with chunnis draped around the neck — would be seen as safe, the "good" girls, as opposed to those westoxicated products of globalisation, the "bad" girls dressed in jeans and dresses who liked to party and drink and have sex outside of wedlock. But that was a dichotomy that broke down with the millennial generation, the erstwhile "bad" girls dressed in jeans came to be seen as "modern", as they still are. That libertine, independent lifestyle, which was once criticised, came to be seen as "empowered" and "edgy". However, this edgy and modern lifestyle embodied by the empowered woman was still purely associated with western clothing. Women wanting to inhabit the modern world of free and independent living, it seemed, would need to ditch ethnic wear which, in comparison, seemed passive, unchanging, a relic from a previous era.

But Myntra has now launched a campaign titled "Bold is Beautiful" for its ethnic wear brand Anouk, and with it, they readily challenge that inherent assumption. Conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather, the campaign features three separate videos dealing with three different aspects of modern lifestyles. "The Visit" features two women in a casual live-in relationship, with one of them being anxious about meeting the parents of her partner. "The Whispers" deals with a single mother who's recently moved into a new neighborhood and has to deal with the web of whispers and judgment surrounding the great scandal of her raising a daughter on her own. "The Wait" deals with an independent woman who is happy to be single, sitting alone at a bar, and turning down the unwanted advances of a man with ready wit, charm and sarcasm. Together, these three ads embody a very strong social message — women can be in relationships with other women, women can raise children without a patriarchal figure, women can be perfectly happy being single — in short, women don't need men in their lives. It's a strong feminist message, but the advertisement is not particularly novel in that regard. There have been advertisements in recent times which take the aspects-of-the modern-living route in order to appeal to the youth. Tanishq and Fastrack have driven the same-sex message across in their own ways. Titan's ad featuring Katrina Kaif showed how marriage need not be the most important thing in a woman's life. There are several other examples. What does make this ad novel is the subtlety with which it sells its product, the ethnic garb that all the women in the videos are seen to adorn effortlessly.

Together, these three ads embody a very strong social message — women can be in relationships with other women, women can raise children without a patriarchal figure, women can be perfectly happy being single — in short, women don’t need men in their lives. 

Manish Aggarwal, VP (Marketing), Myntra Fashion Brands commented on the strategy, describing Anouk as "an ethnic wear [brand] that is bold, vibrant and stylish and even edgy at times. Our intention was to highlight that wearing Anouk is not a compromise, but a choice." What's interesting here is the subtlety with which the product is being marketed. The social message overpowers the product in question. In fact, someone viewing the videos for the first time might actually believe them to be short films rather than ads for a product. "The Visit", in particular, has gone viral on social media because of its frank and beautifully understated portrayal of the LGBT lifestyle, but all the discussions around it seem to analyse the social message rather than their ethnic wear which is, after all, the sole purpose of the advertisement.Image 2nd

That is not to say that the ad fails in any way; if anything, I think it is rather successful in its attempt to change the way ethnic clothes are seen. The ad addresses the subconscious rather than the conscious mind; it works by means of subtext, threading ethnic wear into the fabric of modern lifestyles, so that it is no longer associated solely with domesticated womanhood and continues to maintain its relevance.

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