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Women Portrayed in "Chasing The Change" Commercials

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Two "Pretty Young Things" - PYTs in college jargon - are in a car when they see a hapless elderly couple being knocked down on the road, their provisions lying scattered. While one of the girls only pontificates about the plight of the elderly, her friend chooses to get out of the car and help the couple.

A pair of office-going girls go out for a cup of tea. They come across a huge rally which leaves the road littered with papers and other trash. While one girl merely deplores this fact, the other girl gets going by picking up the litter. The message in both instances: Actions speak louder than words.

In these "chasing the change" commercials on television, such women are being portrayed as the proactive face of Young India, standing out as symbols of social sensitivity and positive action.

The two commercials, put out by a well-known sanitary napkin brand, project today's young Indian woman in the role of a change enabler and, in a sense, they reflect the evolution of the social advertising storyboard.

It is against this background that the latest 'Women for Change' initiative has been unveiled - on television screens as well as in the newspapers. For this, Brand Stayfree has collaborated with UNICEF to articulate the voice of the village or small town Indian girl. Addressing hygiene and other health concerns of women in their growing-up years, the commercial shows how adolescent school-goers are unable to step out of their homes despite wanting to roam free and unfettered. Its jingle on TV 'Mujhe pankh de do' ('Give me wings') is projected as the catchphrase for building the confidence of young girls on the threshold of becoming women. The print version, on the other hand, raises the question: 'Why does 1 out of 3 girls in India have to drop out of school?' And ends with the line, 'A hygienic, healthy and happy life is every woman's right'.

Though essentially targeted at the Other India, it seeks to assimilate the rural-urban divide and strike a chord with metropolitan audiences as well by drawing upon brand ambassadors who appeal to women across all classes - yesteryear cine star Sharmila Tagore and the popular small screen faces of today, Sakshi Tanwar and Sneha.

These recent "women for change" scripts are a sample of how the social messaging storyboard has been evolving to articulate the angst of the 21st century woman and capture her evolution from a passive victim to proactive warrior of change. In that sense, such ads mark a step forward in the projection of the Indian woman in social responsibility roles and, in fact, consolidate on the legacy of trail-blazing campaigns like 'Soch Badlo' (Change your mindset).

Tata Tea's 'Soch Badlo' commercials celebrated this change-maker, the new-age woman of every Indian household, by projecting her as an epitome of positive thought and action; as the one who looks at the negativity that ails our society with a positive perspective. It was an extension of their earlier 'Jaago Re' (Wake up) campaign against corruption, its message being driven not by the common man but the supposed common woman.

The 'Soch Badlo' ads showed a pessimist husband discussing newspaper headlines with his wife, ranting on about how the nation suffers disgrace in the face of innumerable scams and scandals. The wife, however, responds with optimism, becoming the voice of hope in a climate of cynicism.

Of course, this new wave of social advertising also presents a shift in the projection of women in popular media - from being perceived as victims, they are now change makers. For years, the stereotyped social advertising space had drawn its content largely from familiar social ills with the woman being shown as the hapless victim of atrocities like sex selective abortions and domestic violence.

To this conventional public interest message-scape belonged the path-breaking Bell Bajao campaign. NGO Breakthrough's innovative initiative called upon men and women alike to become joint partners in ending the pandemic of violence against women and promote women's human rights. It aimed at channelising the citizens into becoming change agents by "ringing the bell" of any household where they noticed domestic violence.

And like the Bell Bajao commercials, there came many initiatives that addressed other conventional crimes against women - from the 'Save the Girl Child' campaigns to public interest messaging against eve teasing (that commercial brought out by Aaj Tak news channel showed an elderly gentleman coming to the rescue of a young woman being teased in a bus, where all the girl had to say to her violators was an indignant 'idiot!')

The biggest challenge for social messaging, today, is to address concerns that are increasingly becoming common in a cosmopolitan milieu. In the current climate of rape and sexual assault in public spaces - whether it is the recent molestation of a 16-year-old girl by a mob of men on a Guwahati street, the Noida rape case of a Class X girl by car-borne boys, or the manhandling on a Gurgaon highway of a mother who was made hostage in her own car when intimidated by men in a fit of road rage - social messaging now needs to mirror the mounting safety concerns of women.

In the clutter of celebrity endorsements and Corporate Social Responsibility ad scripts, there are hardly any voices articulating the angst of the women on the move, unsafe and unprotected in the country's towns and cities. It seems the time has come to speak up for the new concerns of the new woman.

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the www.wfsnews.org website.

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