Bhamini Lakshminarayan (M2015MC013)
Dr. Sunitha Chitrapu
6th August, 2015
#PlayItRight: Globalisation, Glocalisation, and the Evolution of Condom Advertising in India
Fernandes (2000) and Straubhaar (2003) argue that in the economic liberalisation of the developing world there occurs the creation of a cultural space, in which the products and cultural artefacts that are imported from the developed world seek to establish and situate themselves within the dominant Indian sociocultural context, while domestic equivalents attempt to reflect the middle-class aspirations of an internationally competitive and relevant India. Straubhaar particularly addresses television programming, while Fernandes addresses the advertising angles and tactics employed in the developing country’s market. In this response, I will be particularly addressing the advertisement and marketing surrounding the sale of condoms in India, tracing the evolution of the domestic advertisements, and contrasting them to those foreign brands that have attempted to establish themselves within India.
Prior to the liberalisation era, the government-sponsored and subsidised condom was a brand named Nirodh, a brand that is particularly known today because of an often-circulated advertisement, in which men in lungis and in banana suits dance on screen, while a song in the background touts the condom as “friendly” and “protective” against STDs and HIV. These particular advertisements were aired on Doordarshan, and were particularly situated in a context of a national policy of family planning and population control. There was nothing particularly “sexy” about the advertisements, but there was a great deal of information distributed through them and they were particularly suited to the perceived needs of the Indian society and the economy India wished to grow into.
Then, in October 1991, the advertising agency Lintas bought out the advertising space in the men’s magazine Debonair, and filled the spaces with print advertisements featuring nude or semi-nude women, notably Pooja Bedi, in an attempt to market the new private Indian condom brand – KamaSutra. Mazarella (2005) argues that the advent of the KamaSutra advertising campaign signalled the beginning of a new era of consumer choice, free of the imperatives of the economically-driven family planning methods prescribed by the Indira Gandhi government. If one looks at Fernandes’ argument that the concept of globalisation hinges on the role of the middle class Indian woman, it is of no surprise that this edition of Debonair sold out within days and is still preserved as a collectors’ copy. An early televised ad for Kama Sutra features Pooja Bedi bathing alone, when a man gets out of a boat and then joins her in the bathroom. The ad is shot in black and white, while seedy synthesised music and a saxaphone plays in the background, with a woman’s voice repeating the phrase “KamaSutra.” The ad goes on to end very symbollically with the woman being sprayed by the handshower, followed by the tagline about the “Pleasure of making love.”
Most previous advertisements undertaken by the national family planning initiative were advertisements targetted at the wives in a heteronormative, legalised relationship, in the light of the fact that several man vehemently opposed the use of condoms. What the KamaSutra ad campaign attempted to do was to rebrand the condom, and in fact, masculanise it. By placing the advertisement in a men’s magazine, and relating the product to sexually desirable women, they were locating condoms as globalised and yet inherently traditional products. While the women were sexually desirable, they were still upper caste and middle/upper class, and the traditional politics of the middle-class woman’s body in Indian society was maintained – one that was to be claimed, or taken, by the viril, masculine, “Indian” (here, middle-class and educated, for he was buying an English publication) man who was lusting after her. Hypermasculinity was rewarded and traditional gender roles were maintained.
What is particularly of note is the very name of the brand in itself – “KamaSutra,” drawing on the ancient Indian manual of sexual stimulation and pleasure written by Vyatsayana. While the brand seems to be “importing” a foreign concept of sex without the desire to procreate, it is still firmly rooted in Indian culture and traditional sensibility. It locates itself within a particular cultural proximity to its intended audience, selling them identities and ideas that it is already familiar with, even if the product is an unfamiliar – and to a majority of the Indian audience, unappealing – one.
If one moves forward to 2014 and examines the #PlayItRight ad from the Indian company Moods, one sees a changed space in which condoms are advertised. The ad features a group of young 20-somethings playing Spin the Bottle, and is shot with a non-commital, cheerful, whistling musical score and in filtered light. In the ad, the bottle points to a particular couple who lean in to kiss each other when, in the last moment, the man kisses the woman’s hand instead. The woman later texts the man to ask him out on a dinner date, to the hashtag of PlayItRight. The Moods ad seems to congratulate and validate the man’s behaviour, but somehow seems to suggest that being respectful and decent necessarily dictates that a woman must reciprocate his feelings. While, it does locate the woman as a sexual agent, who asks the man out on a date.
I argue that this recent ad reflects the particularly globalised space India occupies today, in which the Indian identity is all but genericised – one cannot tell which part of the country any one of the young men and women are from, they are all dressed in Western clothes, and picnicking in a park unlike any of the local parks in the neighbourhoods most of us occupy, genericising culture and thus creating a middle-class pan-Indian cultural proximity. The ad goes on to reassure the audience that it is still rooted within Indian cultural norms, in whiche unmarried men and women can play sexually mischievous games, but do not participate in sexual activity unless they occupy a monogomous space, while also locating themselves as international through the particular production techniques in which the ad is made – the musical score, and the ultimate use of technology, reflects the current middle-class aspirational trend towards being international, with clean jump cuts, a linear narrative, and the engagement of the audience in the storyline with the use of a hashtag.
I argue that the particular techniques used in the Moods ad are not just in line with the argument presented by Fernandes and Straubhaar, but also in line with those presented by McChesney and Schiller (2003) who argue that the dominant paradigms of cultural aesthetics and techniques of production are imported from developed countries to developing countries (which is, in turn, in line with the Fejes (1981) of media imperialism). However, this ad is also in direct contradiction with the theories of mass society as espoused by Adorno (1975), in which he assumes a passive audience. The Moods ad employs direct interaction with the consumer through a hashtag. Moreover, were passive audiences easily influenced, there would have been no need for a reinvention of the condom as a product in the first place – the highly informative but aesthetically unappealing Nirodh advertising would have cemented the product in the Indian market well before the liberalisation era.
In my final analysis, I look at the advertising of an international brand, Durex, one of whose controversial advertisements was banned recently. As an international brand, it is necessary for it to glocalise – something that it did not, apparently, manage to do with one ad, as it seeemed to offend the sentiments of the Indian censor board. In this adverstisement, a man enters a lift with a woman in a tight shirt and short skirt, with a very suggestive lollipop in her mouth. The woman proceeds to begin unbuttoning her shirt, hikes up her skirt, and the man gets more and more visibly agitated until the screen goes black. When the lights come on again, he is in his bed. He checks under his sheets, and then frantically looks through his drawer until he finds a condom – which he clutches to his chest as he falls back asleep with a smile on his face, the tagline reading “Durex: Even in Your Dreams.”
This ad seemed to violate some Indian aesthetic that I can only draw my own conclusions about – perhaps it was the sexual agency of the woman, the implication that the man was sexually aroused by a dream, or the idea that an unmarried pair of strangers could have sex in an elevator. Either way, the ad did not seem to meet the standards set by the censor board, the maintainers and protectors of “Indian” culture and tradition.
In stark contrast, the Durex ad #DoTheRex, released in 2014 and featuring Ranveer Singh, was not banned despite the fact that it featured no less than three couples kissing on screen, and, in fact, ends with the sillhoutes of couples through the windows of their apartment building, all having sex. This ad seemed to resonate very strongly with the Indian audience, and catapulted Ranveer Singh into instant popularity for a period afterwards. With the use of a popular Bollywood film star as their ambassador; the use of Hindi, English and Hinglish lyrics; and the use of an over-the-top group song-and dance sequence; this ad successfully located the international product within the cultural and linguistic proximity of Bollywood, drew on the cultural capital of a technologically savvy middle class audience, and thus appealed to India’s predominantly Bollywood-watching fan base – a model product of the form of glocalisation Straubhaar discusses. One questions, though, whether this same ad would have passed the current censor board’s restrictions in 2015.
A few years ago, Pritish Nandy, a publicist for the Shiv Sena commented, “Only a nation that lacks dignity and self-respect preaches swadeshi. Because swadeshi means acknowledging one’s inability to compete with the worlds.” In a world where consumerism is a testimony of national pride (Mazzarella, 2005), India’s domestic brands have responded to the needs of the globalised space, and morphed into brands that compete with international aesthetics and narratives, and successful international brands are glocalising and locating themselves within the dominant Indian cultural paradigm. In this response, I have located the arguments made by Straubhaar and Fernandes within the space of a particular type of commodity, but there is no denying that they apply across the board to all products and cultural artefacts in the Indian market, and are more relevant now than ever.
Fernandes, L. “Nationalizing `the global’: media images, cultural politics and the middle class in India.” Media, Culture & Society 22, 5. 2000. Sage Publications. Print.
Straubhaar, J. “Choosing National TV: Cultural Capital, Language, and Cultural Proximity in Brazil. World Television: From Gloval to Local. 2003. Print.
Mazzarella, William. Shoveling Smoke. 2003. Duke University Press. Print.
Adorno, T. W., & Rabinbach, A. G. “Culture Industry Reconsidered”. New German Critique, 6 (Autumn). 1975. Print.
McChesney, Robert W. and Schiller, Dan. The Political Economy of International Communcations. 2003. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. Print.
Fejes, Fred. “Media Imperialism: An Assessment”. Media, Culture, & Society, 3. 1981. Sage Publications. Print.