Addressing deep-rooted inclusivity gaps in Indian Automobile Advertising  

A POV by Sakina Pittalwala, Executive Director, Strategy3, Ipsos India, on challenging biases in the automotive sector and bringing in more inclusivity of gender and age into the conversation. 

By Sakina Pittalwala, ED, Strategy, Ipsos India calendar 03 Jun 2024 Views icon3534 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Addressing deep-rooted inclusivity gaps in Indian Automobile Advertising  

In the realm of advertising, the automotive industry holds a prominent position, often portraying sleek cars, adventurous journeys, and the embodiment of freedom. However, a discerning eye may notice a glaring absence: the representation of women and older citizens. Traditional portrayals often reinforce harmful stereotypes, excluding large segments of the population and perpetuating biases. This article delves into the lack of gender and age inclusivity, highlighting the need for a more transformative approach.

Gender Representation: Beyond the Passenger Seat and Objectification
Historically, women in Indian car advertisements have been relegated to the passenger seat, depicted in secondary roles, or used to add glamour. This focus on male drivers and their aspirations reinforces the stereotype that car ownership and driving are predominantly male domains since men are the main decision-makers for car purchases. While recent years have seen a shift towards showcasing women as independent drivers, decision-makers, and adventurers, a significant gap persists, often laced with problematic undertones.

Several factors contribute to this persistent disparity:
Sexualization and Objectification: Women are frequently portrayed in a sexualized manner, focusing on their appearance rather than their capabilities as drivers or decision-makers. Deep-rooted societal norms associating driving with masculinity also continue to exert influence on advertising narratives.

Purpose driven advertising from brands to attempt to break away from these familiar stereotypes but their mainstream advertising switches back to familiar tropes.  Most brands at best remain focused on superficial empowerment rather than genuine inclusivity.

Dumbing Down of Women and Their Abilities: Advertisements often depict women as less skilled or confident drivers, reinforcing the stereotype of women being inferior behind the wheel. This is further reflected in the products themselves, with "macho" bikes marketed towards men and "effeminate" scooters targeted towards women, limiting choices and perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Focus on Specific Car Segments: Marketing efforts often target specific auto segments such as bikes perceived as "masculine" or "feminine," further reinforcing gender stereotypes. For different car segments – SUVs are more rugged and masculine and therefore, more for men; smaller cars are more family, and by extension, women oriented.

Lower Cognisance of Changing Realities: According to published estimates and industry sources, women owners represent 12-15% of all cars sold and around 15% of all licenses issued. This represents a substantial opportunity that currently lies untapped.

Underrepresentation of Women in the Auto Industry: Boardrooms around auto manufacturing companies are dominated by men. The lack of women in key decision-making roles within the automotive industry can limit diverse perspectives in advertising strategies.

Age Inclusivity: Expanding the Target Audience Beyond the Standard “21-45 years”

Similar to gender bias, ageism is prevalent in car advertisements. The industry's focus on youthfulness, dynamism, or then success and achievement excludes older demographics, despite their growing purchasing power and active lifestyles. Advertisements rarely feature senior citizens, ignoring their evolving mobility needs and preferences.

Key areas for improvement include:
Representation in Advertising
: Featuring senior citizens in car ads, displaying their active lifestyles and enjoyment of driving.

Highlighting Accessibility Features: Emphasising features that enhance comfort and accessibility for older drivers, such as automatic transmissions, driver-assistance systems, and ergonomic designs.

Addressing Mobility Needs: Recognising the evolving mobility needs of senior citizens and offering solutions that cater to their requirements.  

The Road Ahead: Towards Inclusive Advertising
It can be argued that the perpetuation of traditional stereotypes in advertising no longer holds, given the changing demographics of drivers and car decision-makers today.  Left alone, this could further exacerbate the marginalisation of women and older citizens within the automotive industry. While some brands like Mahindra, Royal Enfield and especially, Tata Motors, have made commendable efforts to include women and the elderly in their advertising, portraying them as capable drivers and decision-makers, many others, including industry leaders, remain stagnant or even worsen stereotypes. The Indian automobile industry has the potential to drive more inclusive advertising, but it requires a conscious and sustained effort.

Here's a roadmap for the journey towards inclusivity:
Promoting Diverse Representation: Featuring individuals from various genders, age groups, and backgrounds in advertising campaigns.

Challenging Stereotypes: Creating narratives that defy traditional gender roles and age-related biases.

Sensitising Marketing Teams: Providing training and workshops to marketing teams on inclusivity and diversity.

Engaging with Diverse Communities: Collaborating with organizations representing women, senior citizens, and other marginalized groups to gain insights and ensure authentic representation.

By embracing inclusivity, the Indian automobile industry can drive positive social change, connect with a wider audience, and create a more equitable and representative advertising landscape. The road ahead requires a commitment to move beyond tokenism and embrace genuine diversity, ensuring that everyone feels seen, heard, and empowered on the journey.

Sakina Pittalwala is Executive Director, Strategy, Ipsos India. Views expressed are of the author.


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