Pakistan’s ‘ad-woman’ stuck in a time warp

Published: February 28, 2011
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A perfect ad-wife spends her day cooking and washing.

Most ads in Pakistan show women as maids. Their major worries seem to be their family’s health, their complexion, hair and aging skin. All they do is cook, wash and their whole lives revolve around their family. But is this a true reflection of Pakistani women today?

Gone are the days when men were capricious and women servile. Today, Pakistani women are empowered and active in every arena including government, military and sports. The concept of a joint family is fading in our society and women are (or aspire to be) as independent as men.

But our ads continue to remain stuck in another century. In ads, if a woman is successful she belongs to showbiz or is a doctor. There is no concept of a third successful profession in the world of advertisements. An ad showing a corporate environment will rarely feature a woman.

Advertisers have not broken free from ads which sell the idea of the perfect bahu rather than the brand. Most cooking oil, soap and washing powder brands  show women as the sole givers of love and care for the family -they simultaneously do house hold chores and care for their family’s well being. A woman’s role today is so much more than this.

These ads mar the image of Pakistani women. While there are some ads that deserve to be praised for portraying a positive image of the Pakistani woman, they are few in number. A Mobilink ad with Pakistani athlete Naseem Ahmed is one good example. Tapal has also done good work in this regard with their recent ad in which a daughter convinces her reluctant father to allow her to work in a company.

The target market for many of these brands is educated women between the ages of 20-40 years. These women are least likely to relate to the women shown in the ads.

To me, the primary reason that ads are stuck in a time warp is that advertising professionals are reluctant to depict the new Pakistani woman. They still cannot relate to her. Secondly, the male dominated ad industry has resulted in chauvinistic ads. Perhaps, advertisers don’t want to break this stereotype at all.

afia.jamal

Afia Jamal

A business school graduate who enjoys analysing marketing trends.

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

  • http://www.ctl360.com Sarah J.K

    BRAVO Afia!!! I have been hitting my head against the wall for YEARS!

    I’m still an ad baby but oh my god it is SO frustrating as every client has this cliche depiction of a woman.

    and I just hate it!!! thank you for shedding some light on itRecommend

  • http://www.backspacetab.com nauman

    Mostly ads target the urban lower middle class and middle class women who are still stuck in the ‘bahu’ mindset and there is no doubt about that. The women that you mention are in minority and can not be taken as a representative of the entire society. Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    Women and their petty issues!!Recommend

  • hammad

    I beg to differ ,i guess targeted advertisement can only be successful when it encompasses the most prevalent cultural attributes.In Pakistan still majority of women are not independent regardless of the reasons, more than 65% live in semi urban or rural areas and more are entitled to stick to there cultural norms. You can show up a gutsy women to an educated urban middle class to sell your product but such advertisement will be bound to counterproductive due to hugely diverse populace residing in the semi urban or rural areas.Plus the education disparity, few available choices add up to the argument of not showing independent women in an advertisement which is targeted at huge populace.
    For an advertisement to be perfect , it should address the well established cultural norms and should also carry some Moral message coupled with corporate agenda.
    Now how many men would have wanted there wives to be independent and not be submissive , its surely is a question of the time ;). If such a survey is conducted to generate figures of such men, i am sure advertising agencies would be forced to show innocent ,humble and loyal house wives aka tameez dar bahus regardless of there liking it or not…!!!Recommend

  • Humayun

    I see no concrete argument here.Its not about the image of our women, its just the organization making profit by targeting the end of the society’s pyramid where there are millions of consumers.

    As far as the image issue is concerned i think the soap operas are doing their work in thos regard. Recommend

  • http://www.ctl360.com Sarah J.K

    Even the lower and middle class women deserve some better advertising, the ads are depicted of what they OUGHT to be doing. Wrong kind of role model

    what about the talented lower and middle class women? many middle class women are working in organizations, many lower class women can sew, do embroidery, weave among other talents.

    why not empower the women???? Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmad

    Interesting article… not that it was very well written but how feminist & myopic your thoughts as a writer are for the article you’ve chosen to write about. The women you’re depicting is what social circle you belong to… and that too in bigger cities i.e., [minority if you still can’t get it]

    Advertisers have to look at the demographics & societal norms of their target market. Please do your homework before writing such articles… And yeah, I’m not an anti-feminist.Recommend

  • Tabinda kaz

    I will realy congratulate the writer for writing on this social potrayal of women in our marketing world. The Pakistani women is always depicted as an obedient ‘Bahu’ or a helpless girl with no confinence. The fairness creams can make her confident by improving her colour of the skin and her looks. She is always busy to impress her husband or the groom-to-be. These type of ads maybe mental torture for some girls, but for others its a key to their dream life. The media and ads play an important role in shaping the mindset of society. As the writer mentioned above the ad agencies should come up with ads depicting the modern Pakistani women with power n liberty, who stand by her male counterparts and work for the betterment of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Adnan S. Khan

    Women look best in the kitchen making sandwichesRecommend

  • Waleed khan

    No way .. Now you expect to show men cooking and washing clothes in advets rather than let women do their natural jobs ?

    Cant let this happen . This would be too much freedom the for women kindRecommend

  • Old News

    I remember this topic discussed in my first year A-levels, that’s 2003. over the last decade i’ve seen the same thing discussed over and over again in newspapers, magazines, etc. The writer should come up with new ideas to write about. i do agree that our ad industry has to grow and develop a lot, but the educated working woman demographic is growing but still pretty small.Recommend

  • Hira

    This is the only thing that actually shows what our women exactly do ! I disagree Afia.Recommend

  • Wake-up Caller

    It’s a very shallow observation I’m afraid. The writer seems to have forgotten that more than half of the population of Pakistan lives in rural areas where the prime job of women is cooking, washing and looking after the animals like buffalo, cow and goats etc. Even in the cities like Lahore majority of women are concerned about the home and related things. May be the writer has never come out of her house !Recommend

  • Marium

    It all depends on the product. if ur product is targeted towards rular areas than definitely u cant show modern women in the add otherwise the brand would be wrongly positioned. plus for eg if u r making an add for eg on ‘ghee’ then u have to show family and stuff becoz its the brand itself. its nt like pakistani adds r stuck in that era but becoz its in our tradition really that women life revolves around her family no matter how modern is she. if product is targeted towards upper class then only one wud show high profile women in the add otherwise not. in addition to this, though many have still move forward but that population is still small. many even leave their job once they are married. so how can u not show in advertisement what is actually there.Recommend

  • RaG

    i have always believed that if u keep showing ppl what they want to see rather than what they should see, their mindset will never change.
    well-written and hats off to u Afia!Recommend

  • MKB

    The ads are designed to generate sales, and they are doing that, so I guess women must be relating them to and not feeling insulted. So I guess they are not from another time or era. if you personally, feel you can’t relate to these ads, doesn’t mean the masses can’t either. Did the writer even do any research before writing this? I have a simple question, if the ads are so derogatory to women, that they can’t relate to them, then then the ads must be failing miserably. That means the corporates that are hoping to sell their products through these ads are happy to run a loss but have some ulterior and secret agenda in refusing to portray the Pakistani woman in a different light?Recommend

  • MKB

    Is caring about one’s family such a bad thing? And sorry Afia, but no maid is this responsible or sincere. I think you are the one being derogatory and insulting to women here by equating them with maids if they want to take care of their families and their health.Recommend

  • http://jawadsumra.blogspot.com Jawad Haider Sumra

    I agree with Marium’s comments, its all depends on the product. Domestic or household products can be advertised through women as they are mostly in our domestic life. I really don’t see male chauvinism in advertising industry. It is just a matter of gaining commercial benefit out of advertisement while influencing the real customer of the that particular product, moreover there are many women running advertising companies. Recommend

  • http://www.tanzeel.wordpress.com Tanzeel

    True, next time I would request brand managers and ad agency people to focus men in cooking oil and sanitary napkin ads.Recommend

  • Sarah K.

    Yaaaaawwwn!!!Recommend

  • Atif

    WOW! Awesome article- I so agree with you- I mean I hate the ads showing women in kitchen and talkng about omega levels of oil. The world has moved on, so should pakistan- This is what our typical add is (http://tinyurl.com/5rtw7pn) and THIS is what I call women in ad :) ( http://tinyurl.com/6dqutvd) I mean women should become more like an object of desire to create attraction towards the brand as well – hell with adds showing them as mothers, wives, students. Women should be expressed. Heres another one from India (http://tinyurl.com/6xymvpv) Men are happy with her dressing and expression and you be happy with the fact that she is beating a man and that too in a race. ahhahah no im no pervert i am just trying to prove you that our advertisements go perfectly with our society, infact, ads in west also involve mothers and wives whos concern are their children and skin. But you want them to become a mere object- suits you i am happy either way :) btw people of most major brands do huge research to come with waht we see on tvRecommend

  • hammad

    The Article suggest to shape traditional Culture of Pakistani women through advertisements so that they can be Empowered. Its not necessary that by doing some Job women will be Empowered. Empowerment has alot to do with Education Tolerance.I presume the writteres has no idea of how women are being harrased at work place.The issue of Empowering women should not be mixed up with Tradition and Culture.
    Further What about those women who are independent and need some maid to look over there infant baby.Will those childs be left at the care of a full time paid maid.The article severely damages the well established image of Pakistani women and fails to provide the alternatives to pursue the righteous and the justified paths to empower Pakistani women if Women Empowerment was the objectivity.By merely doing a professional job women of Pakistan can in noway be empowered. Recommend

  • hammad

    The Article suggest to shape traditional Culture of Pakistani women through advertisements so that they can be Empowered. Its not necessary that by doing some Job women will be Empowered. Empowerment has alot to do with Education Tolerance….I presume the writer has no idea of how women are being harrased at work place.The issue of Empowering women should not be mixed up with Tradition and Culture.
    Further What about those women who are independent and need some maid to look over there infant baby.Will those childs be left at the care of a full time paid maid.The article severely damages the well established image of Pakistani women and fails to provide the alternatives to pursue the righteous and the justified paths to empower Pakistani women if Women Empowerment was the objectivity.By merely doing a professional job women of Pakistan can in noway be empowered.Recommend

  • JS

    Two things:

    Majority of Pakistani women are still engaged in house chores.
    In Pakistani culture, it is generally accepted that men are responsible for financial matters and women are responsible for taking care of home.

    This said, for a cooking oil commercial, a caring housewife working in a kitchen and preparing healthy food for her family is the most appropriate depiction. What else do you want, women flying fighter planes in cooking oil commercials?

    And FYI, medical and healthcare are still considered to be the most noble professions in the world.Recommend

  • http://www.6la8.com Confused

    Do you think guys can get people interested in this ad? And do you think Pakistan is the only country that is stuck behind in this marketing perspective?

    Marketing works on present conditions. An ad campaign will not be successful if it is backward in terms of the current state of thought. Ad campaigns never attempt to risk loads of money on something people would turn off to. Its a business and consequentialism and feminism play a minor role and profit major, and in our case even less. That goes worldwide, and while other countries cannot have ads display stereotyping to such a level, the mood will still reflect it.

    But thats just my opinion :)Recommend

  • Dr.fatima

    Pakistani ads are no different from ads elsewhere.I live in Australia,and here too women are shown to be the caretakers of the familys health and house hold chores,which is exactly what they do.Taking care of a family is the toughest job and one which every Pakistani women does,at some level,wether shes a working lady or a house wife.(now mostly referred to as ‘home maker’ )Recommend

  • Tyrone

    This seems more like a rant then a logical argument.

    ‘Gone are the days when men were capricious and women servile.’ Really? that’s great so heh people Pakistan has achieved equality can all the NGOs and groups working for women’s rights etc please pack up their operations?

    I personally found the Mobilink ad lame -anyone with half a neuron of strategic sense would know the ad smacked of the cellular firm latching on to a ready celeb who would also be open to a not too hefty deal.

    Who won Naseem? Maybe Mobilink sure (so it appears) the public? Not at all!

    Haven’t seen the Tapal ad so can’t comment but you missed the tens of Tapal ads that show women just as you don’t want them to be shown! Like the recently aired Savera Nadeem one?

    When you try to break stereotypes you end up being stereotypical!

    Kudos for mentioning beauty creams most people miss them in their attacks!

    TyroneRecommend

  • AHR

    I agree with the basic premise that ads are stuck in time. However, the reason women are solely depcited as homemakers is because the majority of products advertised pertain to household care. Majority of women in the country take care of the household chores themselves and eventually they are the consumers so if an ad targets them there is nothing wrong its simply target marketing. Nonetheless, the execution of ads needs to change drastically.

    “The target market for many of these brands is educated women between the ages of 20-40 years” – What about the remaining women, shouldn’t they buy these products? Most of these educated women between 20-40 that you are referring to would prefer buying imported stuff so you cannot ignore a major chunk of your consumer base for a niche that may not even buy your product.

    “Secondly, the male dominated ad industry has resulted in chauvinistic ads”. – I would differ on this, ad industry in Pakistan consists of an equal number of women, infact most of the agencies are owned/ co-owned by women so this argument falls flat.

    It’s simply a case of following the rut and not having the guts to break out of the typical advertising mould. Recommend

  • http://www.RoznamaJawani.com/ Iftikhar Chowdhry

    JUST IN: Bahu burns mother-in-law by throwing boiling Meezan cooking oil on her. Says she did it, “Kion ke har cheez Meezan mein achi lagti hai”Recommend

  • Kiran

    Honey – this is what sells. The target are the masses, not the social elite. The masses are still in the time warp you speak of :)Recommend

  • Keen Observer

    Completely agree with Kiran!!

    And to add to that, it’s not the problem of the ad makers. Advertisements are merely a reflection of what the target market wishes to see; keeping in view the fact that a campaign’s brief is only developed after careful research and understanding of the target market.

    So your argument stands null and void, the reality really hasn’t changed the way you seem to think!!Recommend

  • Know Your Role

    I’d like the author to make me a sandwich now.

    No mayo, thanks.Recommend

  • Hina

    days are not gone yet..Men are still capricious n woman opresed..things are not changed as you are thinkng..!!Recommend

  • Lubna Khan

    well i am not surprised to see the ads! the ads do complete justice to our society! we cant deny the fact that more than 80% females still belong to this ‘Mindset’. some of the females have progressed; but selling the ‘product’ for companies is for masses not for the ‘Niche’ of pakistan! :)Recommend