It’s 2018. And yet, mosquito repellent brand All Out has just come up with one of the most retrograde brand campaigns I’ve seen in recent times. The campaign that, according to a company statement, will be the brand’s biggest campaign for 2018, kicks-off with a three-minute film directed by Shoojit Sircar.
There are just too many problems with this commercial that has been conceptualised by BBDO India (Gurgaon). Sircar, who’s known for directing and producing strong female-centric movies like Piku and Pink respectively, seems to have taken two steps back by directing this commercial.
The film shows an extended family having dinner silently at the dining table. All you can hear is the clink of the cutlery, which also shows it’s a well-to-do urban family having dinner with forks and spoons. There’s a fancy lamp and a big bookshelf full of books in the background. You can say they’re well off and educated. The old patriarch of the family sits at the head of the large table thereby (not so) subtly establishing the power play in the family. Directly opposite to him, on the other side of the table, sits a little boy with a grumpy face. Presumably it is his grandson. Two women silently scurry around serving food to this large family of at least ten members.
The little boy, perhaps five-years-old, pushes the plate angrily when his mother serves him. Clearly he’s angry. The mother, a little startled, pushes the plate towards him and he angrily pushes it back again. The mother-in-law intervenes and now we know why the boy is angry.
Apparently, he had stolen 10 rupees from his parents and his mother had scolded him for that. Every member of this apparently educated and urban family now starts defending the little boy’s action and starts taunting the mother. Including the father of the boy, the woman’s husband. He goes as far as to say, “Mere paise liye the isne, tere baap ke nahi” (He had taken my money, not your father’s). He says this in front of the entire family, especially his kid. Finally the patriarch speaks. He explains to everyone that the boy did not just ‘take’ the money, he ‘stole’ it. “Bahu, theek kiya hai tune” (Daughter-in- law, you did the right thing), is what he ends his speech with. All of a sudden, all the other women of the family shut up. The daughter-in-law smiles a little to have found some support in the family.
The super reads, “When you see a mother being tough, stand by her” and we finally see the product for the first time in the film. The mother smiles and switches on the All Out as the super continues, “Because when you stand by a tough mom, you help her protect the next generation.” My question is, how exactly? Throughout the film, the mother is a demure woman who listens to all the verbal abuse and gibes thrown at her by her in-laws without viewers hearing her voice even once. I’m not kidding. Like, in the entire film she has zero dialogue. The only time she gets to ‘protect’ the next generation is when the patriarch of the family intervenes. There’s a huge problem with this. At best, what’s appearing to me, as a viewer, is that her father-in-law is unintentionally patronising her. A woman can’t stand up for herself. She needs the help and intervention of a man in order to school her child. By trying to portray a positive message, the film conveys several negative messages to me. Watching such a commercial air on national television seems disconcerting.
The film has been made keeping All Out’s new tagline in mind that says – ‘It’s good to be tough’. First of all, it doesn’t really align with the product, which is a mosquito repellent. Second of all, the film apparently attempts to stress on the importance of families supporting mothers when making tough parenting decisions. But like I mentioned, here the mother in question is being subjected to extreme verbal and psychological abuse, and it’s apparent that it’s not a one time thing. Her silent face is proof enough that she’s a victim of domestic abuse on a daily basis. You cannot give me one positive message through a commercial when I can see even bigger issues in it that has been kept completely untouched.
There are so many questions. Why does the patriarch let this abuse continue on a daily basis and not say anything to his children or his wife? Why is his son such an abuser when the father is apparently a gentle and compassionate man? Why is he all decked up in a Nehru jacket and a crisp kurta while having dinner at home? Why is such a seemingly educated and urban family so sexist? Why are they speaking in accented Hindi? Is it to focus on a particular community of India that’s seemingly patriarchal? Is it a stereotype? There are just so many questions and zero answers. All I’m served with is, a father-in- law supporting his daughter-in-law’s decision to school her child when he was wrong. Who will address the other loopholes? Through this film you’re trying to show a family being confronted with a situation that raises questions about parenting. Fair enough. But it also raises questions about patriarchy, domestic abuse and male chauvinism. Don’t dilute those other major issues by solving one. That too, it’s not really solving it, if you ask me.
This campaign does nothing for All Out as a brand. It doesn’t talk about the product and its purpose. The tagline doesn’t align with the product and the campaign supporting the tagline has no meat. All Out in the past has come up with some entertaining commercials like that good old 90s advertisement where the All Out bottle jumps up and eats mosquitoes. Give me those days back. They were much more forward back then than now in 2018.