Portrayal of Mothers in Indian Television Ads

Advertising as a discipline has been questioned from many grounds, one of them being gender roles and their portrayals. Many scholars believe that advertising reflects societal norms and cultural values but at times the question is larger and that of stereotypes. Therefore, the never ending debate as to whether the scope of advertising is just to reflect what is prevalent or should it act as a catalyst of change?

India is right now sitting on the peak of transition with more and more women getting educated, working and getting into non-traditional areas of work. What is shaking the foundation is the changing notion of marriage, sex and relationships; family as a construct; children and their role; and expectations from both genders. Thus, it is an interesting time to research on how are mothers being portrayed in ads? Are ads with mother-child interaction any different in portrayals then what they were a decade ago? With these questions, the research work started and 1600 ads were seen out of which around 200 from 2010-11 were shortlisted from categories which had an active presence and interaction between the mother and child. Ads of Bournvita, Horlicks, Knorr Soups, Philips, Maggi etc. were analyzed which dominantly showed significant interaction between mother-child. These ads were analyzed using content analysis using coding parameters like credibility, family size, number and gender of kids, dressing style and outer appearance of the mother, setting/ambience, voiceover, role structures and portrayal, arguments shown, role of the male member etc.

 The analysis showed that 73% of ads showed dominance of male children in the ads so it was quite evident of the male child preference getting reflected in ads. One important observation was that boys were seen mostly in ads which showed only the mother whereas in case of ads where joint families were shown, both girls and boys were present. In 53% of ads, only the mother was shown with the child. This is interesting because the product categories were food items, milk additives, school products, confectionaries, biscuits etc. which still remains the domain of the mother. Thus, the role definition and work allocation still remains the same as what it used to be a decade ago and it is the mother who is held responsible for caring and nurturing the child. As compared to previous studies the average age of the mother has gone up proving the fact that women with good educational backgrounds are getting married at a later age and therefore entering into motherhood only in their 30s. India as a country is very high on the masculinity and power distance index as per the cultural analysis of Hofstede. Most ads had male giving facts and opinions either by playing a character in the ad or through voiceovers. This was strangely pointing out to male being emphasized as the chief wage earners and most importantly decision maker in the family. Analysis of appearance revealed that 70% of women in the sample of ads was shown in Indian clothing and were fully covered. Around 55% ads had visible signs of marriage being adorned by the mother like sindoor, mangalsutra and red bangles. This is quite regressive as these signs are still shown as strong metaphors for their identity and existence. But it was positive a change to see quite a few ads where mothers were shown sans any signs of marriage in western clothes and casual hairstyles! Most ads showed women in child-care related activities and more than 90% mothers were portrayed as housewives busy in household chores and mostly in dependent roles.

Thus, the entire study points out to the fact that advertisements still go the popular way and it is more about confirming popular beliefs and traditions rather than challenging conventions and stereotypes. The role definitions are still very strong and driven by genders and societal expectations from the husband and the wife. Maybe the change we are seeing around us is either too small or it’s just at the tip of what seems like an entire volcano of cultural beliefs and traditions hidden inside!

CONCLUSION/COMMENT: advertising should ideally act as a weapon to set trends instead analysis revealed that portrayal of mothers is quite traditional and the domain remains the kitchen and household chores with very less involvement in intellectual and decision making activities.