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Does the ‘father’ in advertising need to be unstereotyped?

Evolving portrayal of the 'father'

As the dust settles around Father’s Day, The Drum does a status check around the depiction of the ‘father’ by brands. How has it evolved and how much has it kept pace with the changing gender role of the father from the days of the yore?

Over the last few days, brands and their agencies were kept super busy, as they burnt the midnight oil to come up with warm-fuzzy ads filled with reminder messages about how fathers are very important, and that they need to be wished on this special day earmarked for them.

It also brought forth a discussion around how portrayals of gender – of men this time – can fall into the trap of stereotyping. Is that a trap that marketers are getting into, in their pursuit to balance out the overall narrative? Or is the portrayal mirroring the evolution of the new-age man who is caring, sensitive and a responsible dad as well? We spoke to a cross-section of men on what they think of this changing paradigm of the ‘father' role in society and its portrayal in advertising. What we got were some mixed but sharp points of view.

“Brands should rescript the cultural narrative of a ‘father’,” Suraja Kishore, CEO, BBDO India

The Indian father is increasingly becoming a fuzzy figure in advertising. Stripped of his patriarchal underpinnings of ‘machismo’ he is in desperate need of a new narrative. A tsunami of women-focused narrative smashing patriarchy has pushed fathers in the background. Instead of actively participating in creating a new idea of masculinity, men are on mute, and brands are playing safe.

We are creating an unequal world by leaving men out of an ongoing gender narrative. There is a need for a new idea of masculinity. Brands should rescript the cultural narrative of a ‘father’. Ariel ‘Dads #ShareTheLoad’ is a case in point in and the work Gillette has been doing in the US is also good. Be it their ‘We believe’ campaign or the ‘unconventional role models’ campaign they did during Father’s Day. Back home too. we need to rescript cultural idea of what it means in an equal world to be #LikeAMan or #FatherBeLike!

“Advertising is extremely sensitive and reactive to general trends in society,” Vinil Mathew, ad film-maker turned feature film director

We have had centuries of borderline misogynistic approach towards women, and even if there is over-indexing in the depiction, it is fine as attitudes need to change. This change is happening not just in advertising but is happening in cinema as well.

Advertising is extremely sensitive and reactive to general trends in society. It is the earliest medium to reflect the changes in society. Clients and agencies are sensitive to the trends in society, and I do not think there is over-indexing on any one gender. As the market matures overall, it starts to penetrate deeper into areas that were unexplored earlier and advertising reflects that maturing of the market. Creatively it may or may not always be as nuanced, but it mirrors society for sure.

“Portrayal of men in advertising for women tends to be limited, making them a part of the woodwork”, Ganapathy Balagopalan, head of strategic planning (Mumbai), Ogilvy

There is advertising portrayal of men in general and advertising to men (products that men buy), which are different things. Advertising to men is where much of the stuff used to be toxic. It assumed all men thought about was sex or at least it appeared that way. Or it was all about heroism and the grand gestures of the hero. Men were always good-looking, clean-cut, he-man types or the successful corporate executive or the Adonis who made women swoon.

Advertising portrayal of men in advertising for women tends to be limited in the way that they are usually part of the woodwork. They populate the advertising in a pleasing wallpaper-ish way or as self-centred to seem like they (the brand) empathized with women. Nothing memorable about them that made them stand out. They lack emotional depth.

“The gender balance conversation is so important that even tokenism is helping it and making the right noise”, says Ramanuj Shastry, co-founder, Infectious

‘Gender balance’ is an important conversation and it gladdens my heart that more and more brands realise this and are taking it up - it is so important that even tokenism is the right noise. If women are finally taking centre stage after thousands of years of systematic suppression and oppression, it’s no cause for any educated males to grumble. Patriarchy is a deep-rooted malaise in our extremely judgemental society. I do not think fathers are represented badly in Indian advertising.

The more we depict partners as equals in advertising, the more we normalise it. That is a good thing - because toxic masculinity and gender stereotyping is still the standard fare of popular entertainment. Take a back seat, Dads, and enjoy the new reality!

“Care is being added to give a more sensible picture of the modern man,” Sajith Narayanan, associate dean, School of Communication, Flame University

Ads usually try to portray aspirations. The aspirations of men were captured in ads earlier too and continue to be, and I do not think there is much need for change there. For women, however, identity and independence are still not a given in many societies and remain aspirational. It's refreshing to see that women are being portrayed as confident, independent and modern, playing multiple roles in home and office, as is truly the case in society. Men were mostly shown in that way, earlier too, so not much to correct there.

Interestingly, there is an aspect of care that is slowly being added to the characteristic of a man in ads, which is a welcome change as it gives a more sensible picture of the modern man. While it comes to the fore during the Father’s Day campaigns, advertisers could continue it throughout the year. For sure there is an underlying desire in the 'family man' to be acknowledged for that.

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