All Out’s new #StandByToughMoms ad campaign garnered over 15 million views on Facebook and over 88,000 views on YouTube since 22 February 2018. Clearly, a lot of people appreciated the film. At the same time, many criticized it furiously for being regressive and reinforcing patriarchy and familial roles.
I like the ad because it tells me more than what it shows. It is a good conflict story and it forces us to think. The ad is well-written and the characters are well-etched. 30 seconds into the ad and you know that this is set up against the backdrop of a pretty dysfunctional and abusive family. The ad opens in a joint family setup, where all the family members are gathered for dinner around a dining table, except for the two daughter-in-laws who are serving food. When the mother in the ad serves food to her 8 year old son, he pushes the plate away. The rest of the family members on the table start criticizing her for being too hard on the boy. It is established that the young mother has a tough relationship with most members in the family. Finally, the grandfather intervenes and tells everyone that the young boy has not just “taken” the note but he has “stolen” it. And he supports his daughter-in-law’s decision.
In just 3 minutes, the ad is able to set up at least 2-3 characters and their backstories. I can visualize what could have happened just a couple of hours before this dinner scene. I can literally picture the young boy stealing Rs 10 from his father’s wallet, the mother catching him and reprimanding him a lot. This ad film is more of an aftermath.
Contrary to popular belief, I do not think the mother comes across as meek or incapable of standing up for herself. Despite being harassed by her family members, the woman holds her own while disciplining her child. Yes, the mother does not utter a single word throughout this film but her stance remains pretty strong. It gives me the impression that a lot of drama must have taken place just before dinner where she must have said a lot, done a lot against the wishes of all other family members.
There is also a lot of confusion as to where these people are from. We are shown that they live in a rather modern house with fancy furniture, cutlery and bookshelves. Yet, their mindsets are incredibly backward. It appears to me that this is one of those rich families from a small town, who must have migrated to a big city, not too long back. This explains the strong Haryanvi accent and the whole joint family setup. But does this justify a mom in 2018 demurely serving food while other family members sitting around the dining table dissecting her authority? No. Does her husband have a right to insult her? Absolutely not. But are there families like that in India? Unfortunately, yes. What is depicted in this ad is not an unknown situation for many women in India. Let alone India. There are stories of Indian families based in Canada and US harassing their daughter-in-laws. It is unfortunate but it happens.
The grandfather is also not a completely redeemed character. In my view, he could have objected the moment the mother-in-law started snarling at the daughter-in-law. I am repelled by the family members in the film and this is perhaps, created intentionally.
To me, the ad is nearly trying to say ‘do not become like this family’. Let’s not forget that the film has established at the very beginning that this is not your regular, modern household. Yes, advertisers have a responsibility to avoid depiction of harmful gender stereotypes and the brand could have picked a progressive family where all elders are sitting together, supporting the mother and teaching the kid about respect. However, it also could be that the ad wants us to support mothers like her – from such households. Ultimately, the entire dynamic works in ways that adds extra layers to the film.
What I do not like much about the ad is that there is no relevance to the brand. It could have been any other brand and people would have still loved it (or hated it). There is also no display of the product till the very end. Yet, the film has a recall value and leaves an impact.