Marketing and Masculinity - How Gillette is Shaving Stereotypes in India

Banwari Tola breaking gender stereotypes equalitee gillette gillette india sachin tendulkar shaving stereotypes the best a man can be

Brands Breaking Stereotypes

Advertising content reflects and shapes social values. Brands stay sharply tuned into the public mood, they are quick in picking signals of change and then amplifying them. Over the last few years there has been a definite shift in how gender roles get represented in ads with several brands also making a statement  and taking a stand on the theme of gender equality.

Image Source: The Representation Project

Starting this month, we will be looking at these brands who are trying to shift the narrative and break status quo.

We start with Gillette, a brand that’s been in news globally for its new campaign – The Best Men Can Be - a campaign that earned  it both praise and criticism.

Last month in India, Gillette launched its new ad campaign called Shaving Stereotypes. The ad features two young girls in a village running a barber shop, a traditionally male occupation. The story is based on a real life story of Jyoti and Neha from village of Banwari Tola in UP. Faced with the crisis of their father’s illness, the two sisters decided to run his barber shop and financially support their family.

 The narrator of the story is a young boy looking at how gender roles are demarcated around him with girls performing domestic chores and boys being inheritors of the family fortune and occupation. In the background plays sohar, a celebratory song sung at the birth of a boy. The boy accompanies his father to the barber shop and is surprised to see a woman barber. He questions how can a girl use a shaving knife and his father explains that the knife doesn’t care who wields it – a man or a woman and proceeds to get the shave done by her. The song shifts at this point to blessings for the babunia (the girl child) from the original score of blessings for the lalanwa (the boy child) and highlights the shift in a girl having inherited her father’s occupation. The ad starts and ends wistfully with the boy sharing – ‘Papa kehte hai, bachhe jo dekhte hai, ussi se sekhte hai’ (“Dad always says, kids learn from what they see”)

Often enough there is a question raised whether brands are interested in bringing genuine social change or is it just to find favour with millennial generation who are said to have an affinity for purpose-driven brands. In our mind, the two are not mutually exclusive. We are living in times when business growth cannot come only from communicating product benefits but by brands participating more meaningfully in the lives of their constituents. Unless the brand’s on-ground actions were found to be inconsistent with what they claim to support, social good advertising can be a win-win. It can help the brand build a stronger appeal with the customers and also play a role in exponentially expanding the reach and the appeal of the social message.

Gillette is a predominantly ‘male’ brand and is certainly acting on the signals of changing gender mores.  It’s not the first one globally to do (read here about the campaigns by Axe and Harry's in US) so but definitely in India it is among the first to challenge how masculinity is marketed.

Our work at EqualiTee is based on two beliefs that -

1. Images play a deep role in normalising how we understand the world

2. Gender norms are learnt in early childhood and parents can play a key role in helping challenge that.

The Shaving Stereotypes campaign by Gillette mirrors these beliefs and does a great job in showing that gender bias is a reality but by rejecting to be a party to such beliefs, a parent can be a great role-model and change agent in shaping attitudes and beliefs of the future generation. We would love to partner with brands like these that are changing the narrative.



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