Selling the idea of ‘family’

Published: July 29, 2010

Advertisements often feature large joint families that do not reflect our society

If we look around us, we see a lot more working women, some single parent families, many grandparents raising children, but advertising is still shying away from reality.

So why still this fascination with the stereotypical portrayal of family in advertising when the reality is that life is fast changing?

The big question is: does this fascination with old fashioned families in advertising really work?  Women in traditional domestic roles? Joint families? I raise this question in the context of the social break down of the traditional family values, structures and systems that are so visible all around us.  We see modernism creeping into  families all around us.  Even if they have not acquired a modern outlook, they have a modern mind and heart which challenges the old school thought.

This is the question that I want to raise and also try to answer in this piece with the intent to encourage advertising professionals to challenge the norm if a creative breakthrough is to be achieved in Pakistani advertising – even when they want to do their favorite family based ad!

Do ads with old fashioned families work?

I think the question here is who likes to see this stereotypical image of family?  I believe that a “man” (as husband) and his mother (or the mother in law) are the two people who like this image most as that is how they would like the family to be even if this isn’t reality. That’s their ideal outlook for a family.  So this portrayal of family should work best with these target audiences very well and brands that target them should continue with it.

But what about the young woman (18-35 years of age) or housewives – as it is commonly said they are the target audience for most advertising?  Does she find this portrayal fascinating?  I don’t think so.

Women are trying to break through this type cast image of theirs in their everyday life so why would they like it to be reinforced?  Women deep down in their heart are trying to break away from traditions, domestic roles and joint family system even if they persist in reality.  It’s not their ideal.  So in my opinion it should not work with this target audience which is key to brand marketing.

So why do agencies still persist?

Because 90 per cent of all Pakistani advertising is made and approved by men – just like the one whose psyche I have highlighted above. I also believe that most advertising gives women consumers a stamp of approval if they conform to socially correct behavior and attitudes despite the storms that may be hidden beneath her. I also believe that most of our advertising agencies want to think of what will easily be approved rather than bother fighting a case for something that will break the mould.

Why should this stereotypical family mould be broken?

Simply because the business of brands is all about creating a distinct position in the consumers mind and heart.  If every brand does the same…there goes the case for positioning in the dumps. Let me explain this further by taking a specific example.  Just look at  the ads for Olpers, National Foods and Habib Banaspati – 3 different brands with 3 different product categories. But they all look and feel the same.  The differences blur for me.  Simply because of this stereotypical portrayal of the family which does not allow the brand difference to come through.

Which brands are best poised to change this stereotype?

I believe brands are looking ahead and are not being held prisoners by the past.  Brands that are young and modern in their outlook can create change.  Brands that are looking to re-position themselves as they want to create a better future.  They can be in literally any product category.  These are the brands that are best poised to break the stereotypical family mould.


Shoaib Qureshy

Chief strategy officer for Bulls-Eye Communications

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

  • Umair Kazi

    “..most of our advertising agencies
    want to think of what will easily be
    approved rather than bother fighting a
    case for something that will break the

    Shoaib, I think this issue is just one manifestation of the real problem; the age old paradox of “advertising as art” vs “advertising as a business”.
    The drama repeats itself in the Pakistani context: brands want to play it safe (modern non-traditional portrayals of the family might step on a few toes), agencies want to retain brands and the business they bring.. the status quo gets reinforced.
    The mould can only be broken when agencies value their art over their business.Recommend

  • Tyrone Tellis

    Two points

    ‘But what about the woman (18-35 years of age) or housewives as it is commonly said are the target audience for most advertising? Does she find this portrayal fascinating? I don’t think so.’
    So why do agencies still persist?
    ‘Because 90 per cent of all Pakistani advertising is made and approved by men – just like the one whose psyche I have highlighted above. I also believe that most advertising gives women consumers a stamp of approval if they conform to socially correct behavior and attitudes despite the storms that may be hidden beneath her. I also believe that most of our advertising agencies want to think of what will easily be approved rather than bother fighting a case for something that will break the mould.’

    You’ve just made two assumptions which may be flawed based on what your degree in sociology? Your certified ability to read human minds like Superman?

    Just like you’ve assumed without research or statistics in the same way ad people and marketing people do. That’s why we get formulaic ads.

    Also the tendency to not rock the boat as well as the fear of failure and lack of the proper insight is the reason(s) we portray the perfect family in our TVCs.

    It’s all about stereotypes and biases -like some ad people I knew who didn’t think B and C class people could afford the Internet. That’s their assumptions and figures prove otherwise.

    ‘I also believe that most advertising gives women consumers a stamp of approval if they conform to socially correct behavior and attitudes despite the storms that may be hidden beneath her.’

    Norms are created by society and ad people/marketers unless they are imported goras or aliens from Mars have been conditioned by the very same society to think act believe in a certain way -I think with your degree in sociology you would know about it it’s called indoctrination?

    How can you expect them to go against the grain? If you still can’t understand go read The Little Prince. (Haven’t read it yet myself to be honest)


  • faryal

    very well written… most of these ads that portray the ‘perfect family’ actually do not manage to get the consumer attention it is made for in the first place… and more often than not, don’t really help to boost product sales! i can say this as i am a journalist with a lot of contacts and i talk to people to get their feedback not only in my related field, but even otherwise. Also being an independent female myself, these ads bore me….and i have many others who agree with me…

    well done Shoaib for point it out, but unfortunately, bringing about a change is a mammoth of a task…and usually people trying to take the first step are stepped upon and walked over…Recommend

  • SadafFayyaz

    no mention for single moms or households…in adsRecommend

  • Fahed Gill

    Very Well said Shoaib Sir, we really need something thing real as brand but no one here to see thing as they are .. i just want to quote here Edgar A. Shoaff’s quote that “Advertising is the art of making whole lies out of half truths.”
    Thanks to our advertising agencies and their sister agencies .. Employees converted into strategist then strategist into directors of sister agencies and then executive dir of their own companies .. may be its hard to understand like today’s advertising.

    Cheers Recommend

  • muhammad aslam

    Advertising reflects what we as a society wants to see.We want to see women inside the “chaar diwari” standing over stoves cooking food for us,cleaning the house,raising our children.Our society looks down on career women cus men feel threatened that women are equal to them,that they can do the same work men accomplish

    Why is it that whenever we see a working woman,we automatically go “PATA NAI KIS MAJBURI KI WAJA SE NAUKRI KAR RAHI HAI” .

    When will this diseased mentality of our countrymen change??
    A big food brand is running its ramdan ad,which nauseatingly shows all the “bahus” of the family slaving over food so that they can please the menfolk & gain their all important approval.Very disappointingly it includes a young femal vj who has also lowered herself to play the servile,docile,subservient housewife.Recommend

  • abid

    could you suggest an alternative to these family ads? Should they show single moms in ads and kids being brought up by grandparents? Recommend

  • tanvir ahmed

    @ abid, why not single moms???

    They are just as good if not better than the housewives moms.Career women face the harsh realities of the world as well as bring up their children.single moms teach their kids to be independent,self sufficient,not at the mercy of handouts from anyone.

    Housewives through their actions teach their daughters to be dependent on men to get anything in life,to keep the man happy so they can get “pocket money” for their everyday needs.

    It’s time our ads showed single parents,not the stereotypical sanitized version of what “good” families should be.Recommend

  • Afia jamal

    Well I don’t consent with you!
    I wonder if there is any woman who doesn’t cherish the family times. Asian cultures are collectivist and majority of women here relate with these ads. Even if they don’t, these ads certainly bring about an aspiration in them of bonding and shared happy moments. Values are still intact in Pakistan, woman holds an important position in the family and everyone looks up to her specially husband and children and she equally reciprocates this love through her care for the family health.
    Not to forget the above mentioned brands are market leaders and their ads have played an important role in making them gain this position. Their ads are the ones that attract consumers towards them. All these brands are positioned on a healthy and happy lifestyle and I think there is no other better way of portraying this. Kindly tell us about a perfect ad for these brands. Recommend

  • Afia jamal

    @ tanvir have you ever seen the olpers ad??? they have used the morning show hosts to show the working women whose life is moving at fast pace. i belive these ads are very close to reality.Recommend

  • whitewhale

    A level student essay;anecdotal; where’s the research??Recommend

  • Shoaib Qureshy

    The whole point here is about being different from others. Thats what branding amd communication is all about. Thats where the whole debate about breaking this stereotypical family portrayal stems.

    For me a great example is Surf Excel. Targetted to the same adult women (18-35) audience but you see a “grand parent/child” execution…which stands out unique from the clutter of family based ads. Recommend

  • Sahar

    A lot of ads use this technique. National, Coca Cola, Banaspati tvcs – but why do the families in these ads seem the same? The only way to seperate between one ad and the other is the color of the drink or the music – everything else is identical. great production quality, semi-famous celebrities, smiles all around – but oops where’s the product? where’s the idea of the product? All I see is an episode of saas bhi kabhi bahu thi in cheap shalwar qameez.
    I remember the Shaan mobilink ads – those sold the ‘idea of family’ but they did it well. I actually got misty eyed when his baby girl was born and the grandfather figure parho-ed azaan in the baby’s ear.

    The difference between the Olpers family and the Mobilik familiy is not that one is nuclear and teh other is joint – its that one is so busy being the ‘typical desi family’ that they have no soul. There is nothing relatable.
    The portrayal of women is just another element to this. No one thinks. We assume that people want typical desi homes to be like this. Subservient, overdressed women who slave away in the kitchen for capricious bread-winner males. But family is about mothers cooking – and she doesn’t look like a super model doing it! Inndian ads don’t look like this. Neither do American ads. They are perfectly fine wih showing a house wife in a ponytail and a tshirt chasing after her kids. Our ‘super-mom’/sex-goddess/working girl stereo types will translate in ads because they exist in society.

    Ads are supposed to sell hapiness – isn’t something wrong when the families that represent this hapiness are a joke? Recommend