Mumbai: Until recently, coyness ruled while advertising for products such as contraceptives, sanitary napkins or adult diapers. Not any longer.
In a trend that pushes the envelope on social taboos, advertisers are increasingly being bolder on products that are traditionally considered important but embarrassing.
For instance, after decades of delicate wording in ads, the female sanitary protection category has in the past year started getting more direct.
Candid campaigns: After decades of delicate wording in ads, marketeers are talking frankly about contraception, periods and adult diapers.
Procter and Gamble Hygiene and Health Care Ltd’s Whisper brand has been urging women to Have a happy period in its ads. Quite a contrast from a few years ago, when actor Renuka Shahane said hesitantly in Whisper ads: Mujhe apse kuch kehna hai…kaise kahoon? (I have to tell you something...how do I say it?).
In another example, Royal Hygiene Care Pvt. Ltd’s She brand ad-libs: Nothing can stop me. Period.
Sex and contraception is also now less about red triangles and happy, small families. The recent i-pill ads make it clear it’s the emergency contraceptive pill in print and TV ads. One of its TV spot ads show two women going to a clinic. The tag line: Abortion se accha hain pregnancy ko rokna (Better to prevent a pregnancy than go for an abortion).
The TV spot of rival morning-after pill, Unwanted-72, features real-life couple and actors Tanaz and Bakhtiyar Irani discussing the fallout of not using any protection. The solution is then flashed on the TV in their bedroom.
Even Kama Sutra Condoms, known for steamy ads starring actress Pooja Bedi at least a decade ago, had a tag line saying: Just ask for KS. These days though, its ads prefer a frank conversation.
Globally, marketeers are talking candidly about all this and more, including diapers for the elderly and children, and toilet paper. They are taking into account that the mindset of target audiences is changing significantly.
Dilen Gandhi, brand manager, feminine care, Procter and Gamble Hygiene and Health Care, says research showed that periods were viewed as something negative, ranging from socially awkward to a culturally taboo subject.
At the same time, research also showed that women are now seeking out the positive in everything—even periods. “The challenge, therefore, was to reinvigorate and grow a brand in a manner that it touches her heart and mind in a highly competitive category —one that consumers don’t really want to talk about or hear about and carries strong cultural taboos,” says Gandhi, explaining what led to the Have a happy period campaign.
“Look at the environment around us—TV, print, other forms of media, cinema, etc. Advertising is just mirroring society here—consumers have changed,” says Madhukar Kamath, chief executive of Mudra group, adding that advertising both follows and dictates trends.
Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist at Mumbai’s LH Hiranandani Hospital, says the i-pill ads are a symbol of societal change which was long overdue. “Health is a respectable entry into issues of stigma such as abortion,” he says.
Shetty mentions how earlier female contraceptive brands such as Today were extremely cautious in their advertising. He also recalls a time when there were avid debates among consumers whether the condom ads on air promoted sex. Consumers today are different and prefer direct advertising that says it straight.
Arvind Sharma, chairman of Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, the agency behind Whisper ads, believes there is a growing openness in the Indian society. “When we socially collude in not talking about an issue, we don’t hide it just from children. We also hide it from the less privileged millions.” Millions could derive immense benefits if these so-called sensitive issues were talked about, he says.
Elvis Sequiera, vice-president and executive creative director, JWT India, says coy ads appeared in the heyday of Doordarshan when it was the only television channel and there was heavy censorship.
The unshackling of media regulations has helped advertising get more candid. He believes the candid route is easier for new brands such as i-pill.
However, he also cautions that getting bolder overnight or using a communication tack that isn’t in sync with the brand’s values does not work.