‘When brands take a stand, it does more good than bad’

While not getting into the specifics of the execution of the Gillette ad, BBDO's Ritu Sharda believes people and brands need to speak up when the time is right

In the world we live in, any voice that says what needs to be said is good.

And when a man says, “men need to hold other men accountable”, it is something that needs to be said.

There has been a lot of chatter on the nuances of the Gillette ad and the way it has been done. I am staying away from getting into the specifics of the execution.

But I believe any start, any discussion is good. It is important for these conversations to begin. And to begin at the right time.

Years ago, just after the infamous ‘Nirbhaya’ case in Delhi, where a young woman was brutally gang-raped, provoking nationwide outrage in India, Gillette had done a film called ‘Soldier for Women’. It asked every man to stand up for a woman whether he knew her or not.

It moved me immensely. I was not a part of BBDO at the time. But I remember feeling so good that a brand for men was talking to men on what could be the start of a solution.

When brands decide to take a stand in the context of a situation, I believe it does more good than bad. The context is important.

Some people may believe a brand is trying to take advantage of a situation. But when a situation occurs, isn’t that the right time to talk about it? When else would you?

We are trying to change behaviour that has been considered okay for hundreds of years. Something like bullying and teasing have been a part of masculinity. It is almost considered unmanly to not tease, to not get into a fight.

Growing up, I have heard fathers and mothers brag about how their son is such a bully or how some girl has complained about how their son teased her. And it has all fallen under the chorus of “boys will be boys”.

But I have also seen it getting fixed.

My father was an extremely decorated Air Force officer. And a complete family man. I remember an uncle, my father’s best friend since they were two years old. Our families had known each other for generations. He was a year older than papa and I used to call him ‘tauji’ (dad’s older brother). He and my father adored each other.

After we moved to Delhi, we went to his house for dinner. I was about 11 years old. He held me tight and gave me a rather strong kiss on my cheeks.

Whether it was innocent or not, I couldn’t tell, then. But I did see my father take notice.

The next time we visited his house, I think it was his birthday, and there was a lot of family. My uncle was very respected and popular.

Uncle saw us and came forward to hug my father. He then held me tight and started going towards my cheek.

Suddenly a strong hand nudged him away. And I heard my father tell him firmly: “Meri beti ko aise mat pakda kar, I don’t like it.” (Don’t hold my daughter like that, I don’t like it)

I remember seeing my father look him straight in the eye for a second or two, after.

I remember seeing my uncle’s stunned face.

I remember the uncomfortable silence in the room.

And then I remember my father going to my uncle’s wife and saying: “Aur bhabi, aaj kya special banaya hai?” (So, what’s cooking? Have you made anything special?) He eased the uncomfortable silence. Slowly the room was filled with chatter. He talked with my uncle happily after that. But he had made his point.

My father and my uncle remained great friends, till uncle passed away. My uncle showed me a great deal of fondness and affection, but always from a distance, even when my father was not around.

It took a man to tell another man what was right and what was wrong. Men need to talk to men. And a brand for men definitely needs to.

No one can predict how effective a piece of communication will be. Who knows what strikes a chord and with whom?

We live in a very complex world where everything is connected. And there is enough space and need for different movements to take place. Brands need to do their bit. And we need to stay positive and hopeful that some message somewhere, will change someone. We need to be constant in our efforts.

And I hope every brand takes charge in its own way.

Ritu Sharda is senior executive creative director at BBDO India


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