Dark is beautiful in India but fair is lovely in Pakistan?

Published: November 5, 2013
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Pakistani advertisements lack this kind of bravado and are clearly clueless about how to raise the bar when it comes to audience intelligence.

Switch on your telly.

A tall beautiful girl is running through the field; or a sea of flowers, or walking through a bright mansion.

A fashionable gown hugs her slim waist and her hair flows in the air flawlessly.

She turns around. Looks at you with all the sexual appeal she can muster and bells tinkle as she speaks the three most important words in the world right now,

“Buy these biscuits.”

Biscuits can be used interchangeably with an insurance policy, shaving foam, ice cream, juice and even the down payment on a new garden estate near the city.

The Pakistani audiences are mesmerised.

Or are we?

When Nandita Das launched her ‘Dark is Beautiful’ campaign and it suddenly dawned on the world that Das never really attempted to wipe out her dark complexion in any of her movies – whereas many other mainstream actresses proceed to bleach themselves down to their very tippy toes – a new wave of debate came forth.

A great, silent, majority began voicing their opinion on how they have been ostracised for being ‘dark’ or ‘ugly’.

Indian advertising, known for breaking through stereotypes and taking risks that Pakistani advertisers never really think of (or attempt), then proceeded to bring this advertisement that didn’t sell the perfect dream, exactly, but made it beautiful anyway.

The new advertisement by Jewellery brand Tanishq shows the wedding of a single mother, who also happens to have dark skin. Whether or not the idea of a glamorised wedding or finding peace in the arms of a man is next on the Indian advertising agenda, this ad certainly broke a mould.

In a market that is obsessed with fairness and virginity, here comes something that shies away from both these requirements.

Screengrab from the Tanishq ad.

Perhaps it is happiness that sells, more than anything else. Advertisers, dream merchants of sorts, want to sell you something even if you are not fitting in to the criteria of what is considered ‘high in demand’.

Perhaps the divorcees are an untapped market, perhaps being politically correct floods you into the news media. Whatever they did, worked. Everyone’s talking about it and it will continue to be a turning point in advertisement history.

Does this mean the Indian audiences are smarter or does this mean that the Pakistani advertisement companies are dumb? Neither. As the great Don Draper says,

“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.”

Masses are masses, apart from a few general trends that they may or may not share, all audiences would like to believe that once they buy what you’re selling them, things will be better if not great.

The fact that this advertisement chose to sell happiness through breaking barriers of social stigma is definitely admirable. It could have chosen the easy way of using a high powered celebrity with fair skin dancing in the rain with her gold plumage and it would have probably made more millions than the current ad. But the dialogue that this ad has generated is worth more money than this company might ever make.

The Indian media, even with its faults, takes its social issues seriously, as any media should. After the Delhi gang rape, the Times of India ran a “Respect for Women” campaign that inspired on every possible intellectual level.

times of india

(Photo courtesy of Johnny Chatterton, who posted a shot of the ad on Our Mobile World.)

You didn’t have to be a philosophy professor to understand the simple message that those straightforward lines delivered:

 “If you cannot respect a woman, you are nothing.”

Twitter picture: @sharmeenochinoy

Pakistani advertisements lack this kind of bravado and are clueless about how to raise the bar when it comes to audience intelligence. It is not for the lack of social messages that need to be spread, clearly, but still most products are sold either by using the faces of cricketers or slapstick comedy which, let’s face it, no one finds funny after it runs for the 300th time during your favourite television show. If not celebrities, then elaborate dance or wedding sequences; which helps a foreign observer believe that the Pakistani audiences simply eat, watch cricket, dance at weddings and laugh at lame jokes.

While our newspaper pages are filled with “Mubarakbaat!” of your favourite politician winning in the local elections or the latest radio station launching a new face, there are no social awareness campaigns.

There are no ‘respect for women marches or campaigns’.

There are no ‘tolerance-building messages’.

There are no attempts at ‘breaking moulds’.

There are simply old stereotypes finding stronger grounds.

Someone needs to send a message that counts.

Mahwash.Badar.

Mahwash Badar

The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)

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