Pakistani women in the Pakistani advertisements world

Published: August 24, 2012

The Pakistani woman’s ultimate hathyaar (weapon) is a toilet bowl cleaner, and I’m just telling it like it is (on TV). DESIGN: IMAAN SHEIKH

Main iske elaava kisi aur pe kabhi aitemaad nahi karsakti. Bhalay aap koi bhi aur lay ayein, main isko nahi chhor sakti. Ye mera partner hai.”

(I cannot trust anyone but him. Bring whatever you can, I would never leave him. He is my partner.)

A woman saying this must really like the person she’s talking about. The statement shows that she trusts him immensely and loves him enough to find him irreplaceable. It seems like they have a strong emotional bond; maybe it’s her husband or a friend she confides in?

Isn’t this what you would ask yourself if you heard a woman speaking of a man with such endearing enthusiasm?

Well, if you did suspect it to be a beloved, you are sorely mistaken. This lucky, irreplaceable entity is actually not a person at all. It’s a detergent. Hah! Doing better than men, isn’t it? By making such a colossal, largely-documented impact on women all over Pakistan, this detergent has certainly defined the everyday milestones of Pakistani women. Whether it’s about saving face at a social gathering, polishing a dull marital relationship, or ensuring a healthy family life, this detergent does it all!

Oh, and it cleans your clothes, too.

I hope by now you all can guess what I’m talking about; Pakistani television commercials. I have never been crazy about them, to be honest. I’ve always found that we try to sell ‘everything’ through song and dance. Be it achaar (pickle) or real estate, there has to be naach gaana (singing and dancing) and halla gulla (hullabaloo).

Proper conceptualising can go fly a kite.

However, recently, I have noticed a certain pattern in these commercials; projecting all little everyday commodities to be the Pakistani woman’s ultimate achievements. This trend hasn’t emerged recently. It has been in advertisements for a long time ago but it went unnoticed, at least from my eyes. Of course, too much of the same can make people numb.

Now that we are talking about this detergent, might I add that the Pakistani woman’s biggest problem is not being able to get that saalan ka daagh (curry stain) out of her husband’s dress shirt? When her husband’s honour is stained along with his shirt and he raises that you-are-so-dead eyebrow, she will be reminded of her place! Her son’s academic report card can wait; but the ‘minus five’ on his cleanliness report have the ability to quake the earth under her feet.

The Pakistani woman’s ultimate hathyaar (weapon) is a toilet bowl cleaner, and I’m just telling it like it is (on TV). They are shown to be very zealous about something as ordinary as cleaning the pooper. Never have I seen a man in a Pakistani ad worrying about why the surface of his toilet bowl isn’t spotless.

Let’s not forget how important it is to cook. Now I understand that cooking is an undeniably routine part of the Pakistani woman’s life but is cooking perfectly the epitome of her goals? Will adding a little bit of chicken-flavoured masala to her daal really please her mother-in-law to heights so high, she gives her the house keys or promote her to ‘kitchen in-charge’? More importantly, who wants to be in charge of the kitchen, anyway? Silly goose, your mother-in-law is tricking you into hard labour!

Forgive me for not comprehending what choice of milk brands has to do with the empowerment of women and their liberty to choose. I’ve recently noticed a certain milk commercial frequenting television channels. Until the woman in the ad actually stated that it was about a milk brand, I had no clue as to what it was about. It started off as a message about independence of women and their right to make choices and this so-called ‘choice’ was merely picking a brand of milk.

What hogwash! Pakistani women know better than sweating the small stuff. Woman empowerment lies in education. Their freedom of choice is being able to choose a career or a life partner. Their goals and promotions do not involve being in charge of the kitchen. They are mothers, daughters and wives, whose worries include raising good children, doing well in school and helping their husbands run a home.

I don’t understand why Pakistani advertisement makers prefer woman- and susraal (in-laws)-centricity over good, non-sexist ideas. I won’t even begin on skin lightening creams as I feel they are jeering South Asian women’s insecurities at the highest order.

It is really the triumph of misogyny in a society when products start selling on the basis of mocking what we assume to be the inabilities of the socially declared ‘weaker sex’.

Do you think Pakistani ads accurately depict women?

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Read more by Imaan here or follow her on Twitter @SheikhImaan

Imaan Sheikh

Imaan Sheikh

An graduate with a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Karachi, she enjoys reading, writing and listening to classical psychedelic rock. She blogs at and tweets as @SheikhImaan (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • SKJ

    well observed :) amazing piece ..Recommend

  • Ali Ahmed

    so you want them to appear in Gillette’s ads now?Recommend

  • Atiya

    Well-said Imaan! And I hate that ad where she gives the keys, what honor! what prestige..NOTRecommend

  • Ayesha Ahmad

    Hilarious :DRecommend

  • ali muhammad

    They cant put men in such advertisements even if they wanted to… Take for example pepsi add. Afridi and some other cricketer have been found missing from other adds are they are lost in an island fighting over one pepsi since decades. Atleast i am watching afridi battling over one pepsi since decades. Then there is another add, service cheeta, hes just running in it. The day his pepsi issue is resolved and running days are over, he will report in soap advertisements too, and hopefully if hes not retired by then, he will start performing better in cricket too.

    Advertisement is undoubtedly very focused in every country. Different genders, age groups, classes are targeted differently but in the end they are focused on selling their product. However due to lack of creativity and lack of trusting advertisement money into the hands of young generation, a Pakistani Seth businessman’s typical risk averse nature, we are still producing advertisements based on the mentality of population that existed 30 years ago i.e. Men – soul gender responsible for bringing food on to the tables in homes and Women – a typical stain fighting, zulm bearing, not so jail jaying and chukki peesing gender. Many present day facts are conveniently ignored, like, women running their own businesses, handling latest technology, driving huge cars with an unmatched skill and confidence, and even driving men mad, joining front lines with men in every industry, occasionally getting groped as well in lawyer’s rallies, scoring more in every academic field and also being comfortably ok with their darker skin tones as long as its flawless and smooth. Ignoring such details make us look not only dumb but also comfortably sexists…

    I am not saying that foreign countries’ media are sponsored via better commercials. Their theory of female sovereignty and social status is pretty much distorted as well. Take AXE effect for example. Its all about laying a woman or women depending upon the amount of spray applied. However they do keep up with the current requirements and trends of women and at the same time even when they are being sexists, they do it creatively…

    anyways… Lifeboy hai jahan tandrusti hai wahan…Recommend

  • Kashif Jamal

    You must also not overlook the fact that these ads are almost ALWAYS aimed at the certain lower and lower to middle class of society. And like it or not, for people who come from this certain demographic of society, these issues are actually the bane of their existences. Make the crux of the whole idea about the issues of the lower class while portraying the scene in a middle class setting – brand Management 101 at it’s best, yes. Also read as grossly misrepresented; but it’s fine you see, as long as it sells heh.

    I’ve sort of felt that Pakistani dramas ajkal are more of the same. Ads can be dealt with – they’re short and don’t really have a very emphatic punchline but dramas nowadays are much of the same and they press upon certain needless archaic concepts with alot of force and at length.

    On a much lighter note though, this proves yet again that the best ad to be created in the history of Pakistan were perhaps the adverts for Dentonic and “saabunon mai toap” – Gai Soap haha!

    P.S I hate how Harpic is a way nowadays for any pseudo-celeb to get back in the spotlight after, how to put it, a barren patch in front of the camera maybe?

    Cheers btw! I look forward to reading your pieces. Always a joy, they are.Recommend

  • ali muhammad

    Awesome article. Very well said. I hope people who make commercials understand the message.Recommend

  • Nandita.

    Oh man! the design is mindblowing…. can’t stop laughing at “super freaking awesome detergent” and “best day ever” ROFL … HehehahaRecommend

  • Sane


    Good observations. I also wanted to say the same as you said. Ad agencies in Pakistan are also immature and need to learn much more and same with electronic media. Most of the ads are watched cause there is a beautiful women and sometimes with less covered. The ‘hulla gulla’, dance and song shown as ad does not match with the product.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Advertisement is based on two things: exaggeration and target demographic.

    If you want “accurate depiction”, watch a documentary. Everybody knows that a certain refrigerator won’t turn your kitchen into an ice rink if a kid accidentally leaves its door open. And a cough-drop won’t clear up your throat so well that your bellows can be heard throughout the city. That’s ‘exaggeration’.

    It is also known that women are not the only ones who buy cooking oil and detergent. But they’re the ones who use them the most in our society, and the ad companies know it. So they aim directly for the housewife demographic because that’s high-yield stuff.Recommend

  • Bilal

    hey they got jobs at least as actresses for commercials, be happy with what you getRecommend

  • sara

    you forgot those woman who are shown to get turned on by eating a freakin magnum. have never come across such sexually suggestive ads anywhere else in the world…Recommend

  • Turbo Lover

    @ Faraz Talat: And that sums up to a similar point of view like mine! ;)Recommend

  • Sarfaraz

    The ads are based on the target market. It generally during its run targets a certain GRP ie a rating point which is achieved by a certain frequency of viewership. Most consumer companies, who have mass products and advertise the most, target 4/75 against a total universe…ie they want 4 views by about 75% of the universe. Since our reach is now well over 80% in Pakistan, then it means it is reaching well into the SEC C to E groups…ie Socio Economic Class C to E. not necessarily targetting A and B. also let me add the average earning of SEC A is maybe around 30 k or so. So you can see the advert reaches way down the rural sector. It is reaching some 150 mn people approx. Now that clarifies female empowerment bit. Showing an office working female would be targeting SEC A-B…there might be premium brands targeted at them but few and far between. So the ads are simply showing what will register with larger populace. Might not like it, but then that is the way it is….milk, tea whiteners, cheap rate calls, detergents, tea all tale that positioning. and yes the gora cream maybe also. :)Recommend

  • Nobody

    @ali muhammad:
    You’re sort of right in saying other countries have distorted views of women (and men as well) depicted in their media. For example, the [cheesy] axe body spray commercials: cheap taste and not even effective considering the average persons refers to axe as cologne for d*bags such is it’s reputation thanks to those stupid, sexist commercials. (As if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s one for women now, depicting it much the same way: wear axe body spray for women, get guys drooling all over you)! Same with men; countless commercials on American TV depict men as helpless, single digit IQ morons who do everything wrong (like the handyman who does more harm than good or puts a hole in his roof-ridiculous and exaggerated).
    BUT, there’s also a growing trend in changing that; so many commercials nowadays show women as more than just a pretty housekeeper or an over emo ball of emotions and nothing else (getting overexcited over laundry detergent, really?). Also many ads that depict men taking care of babies (diaper ads,children’s medicine) and cleaning around the house (cleaning products, laundry detergent, etc). In recent years, the concept of men partaking in household duties has become socially accepted (and by the younger demographic around my age, almost a requirement of sorts) and changing the depiction in advertisements is, in part, responsible for this change.
    While I understand this concept is still far from being the norm in Pakistan, slowly changing certain elements in commercials (and other forms of media) can be the seed necessary for a change. Instead of always only showing women doing things around the house, show a man doing it. Change won’t be overnight, but this is a small start. Cheers!Recommend

  • Kanwal

    You brought a very different perspective and its appreciative ! Women’ life is much more than masalas and detergents. Out of fifty ads like this, i think only a few will truly attract the target market , otherwise its the same story in all….Recommend

  • san

    As matter of fact companies making the masses emotional and the best weapon is to hire some hot and attractive model to attract both women and men and convey their message. Women will be interesting what she is wearing and we all know about men what they are upto in ad. Advertising companies are not the one to worry about the women role it’s the duty of government to empower women. Recommend

  • fasiha

    i also want to point out the increasing rate of nudity in Pakistani commercials. Recently Q mobile NOIR ad featuring iman ali wearing an off shoulder dress. a pathetic and stupid try by Qmobile to show their liberalism. I wonder that what Q mobile (low cost mobile targeting lower and middle class) was thinking before making this ad. But in the end they realized that they have done something over the top and edit the ad and now iman ali is wearing something acceptable for Pakistani market. The same followed by capri and pamolive ads leaving behind veet and lux ad. the idea that half naked women sells more than a covered one is not old but is now frequently followed by Pakistani adsRecommend


    @Iman Sheikh author

    you from elite and tried to defaming elite its not fair :(

    you from print media tried to defaming electronic media also not good :(

    you a free woman/girl and pointing at freedom of other women not good move :(

    well you pointing out technical mistakes or say blunders but i myself a fundamentalist , biased , rightist so me totally against this crap . . . .

    women have equal rights of freedom like men but aspects and conditions are different in different environments ! i think you must got what i said Recommend

  • Samar

    Hey U missed Dalda oil advert……….P.s nice pieceRecommend

  • J.K

    Good piece. Well done:)Recommend

  • Syme

    Anyone noticed, I have seen all the ads again till the last when I thought to myself what I am doing. Recommend

  • Baba Ji

    and all those ads with “k”s dancing in them from Tea to milk to telecommunication !!!
    low IQed qoum kay liyay same type of ads ?Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    Confused burger bachee who thinks shes understood feminism, do u even understand the dynamics of marketing communication and consumer behavior? Go take a class in Marketing 101 before passing such judgments. Heck, do u evb understand broader Urban Pakistani culture beyond your little upper middle class westernised bubble?Recommend

  • Hana

    Adverts are not creating reality, they are following reality. Our house wives have only these issues on their plate “all the time”. I am a working woman and I feel myself suffocated when I sit amongst them because this is what they talk about! So Pakistani adverts are highlighting typical Pakistan women and I don’t think they deserve to be criticised. We women have to change ourselves first.Recommend

  • Tyrone Tellis (@Tyrex31)

    I would tend to agree that ads stereotype but if you’re empowered or free to write a less than average piece and have it published in the ET blog ( really not much of an achievement there) doesn’t mean others have the same freedom or rather free time.

    You accuse the ad people of being stereotypical but so are you in you’re ideas of what an empowered woman is. See those who agree with the author nowhere did she say that women are equal to men , no mention of women valuing a career or work related achievement ( summin which the detergent ads do target interestingly)

    Also answer this if Pakistani women are soo intelligent and are really smart why do a large number of them watch those rubbish Indian dramas? Women like men can’t be summed up all in one its the diversity that makes people special but in order to get the message across advertisers usually use an image that resonates with their audience. Also they have research to back them up you only have your raw assumptionsRecommend

  • Bilal

    Make me a sandwich, woman!Recommend

  • Qasim Ahsan

    A lot has been said about the content in this article but not much has been said about the utterly adorbs illustration at the beginning. ^_^Recommend

  • I LOL’d

    “When her husband’s honour is stained along with his shirt and he raises that you-are-so-dead eyebrow, she will be reminded of her place!” THIS. This so much! And let’s not forget about the hair removing cream ads. shudder Hilariously accurate article, I loved it to pieces. Recommend

  • AQ

    OOOH and lets not forget those basmati rise commericals. The commericals would seem like the liberation of the modern pakistani women as she tackles the challenges of the workforce, her home chores and maintains her dignified looks. She finds the secret to the perfection of a happy family as her kids play in the backyard and her husband reads the newspaper as she curtsys her way around the kitchen cooking up a storm.
    In the end, all she makes is boiled rice, white as snow, with steam arising which will infact make you drool. That rice, in all its perfection, is the secret, in fact to the success of the perfect Pakistani household.

    Go on, use this knowledge to your advantage, because who wouldent want to take advantage of the secret to success!Recommend

  • random1

    haha , had a good time reading it. Yes, you say rightRecommend

  • doll girl

    i am no fan of these ads either but you fail to establish a clear reason why you dislike them and do not establish alternatives.
    is a housewife not empowered?
    just because you dont like something doesnt mean its stupid
    there must be a reason these ads are produced.
    did you try and find out why?
    did you compare local ads to international ones?
    did analyze the change in the way women are portrayed over time?
    next time consider doing a little research before you start ranting.A snarky ill informed piece is mocking housewives is not feminist.Recommend


    @doll girl:

    thumbs up :) Recommend

  • Asim

    Thumbs up for you………..Recommend