Amul’s New Ad Isn’t Sexist, It’s Just Holding A Mirror To ‘Har Ghar Amul Ghar’

Amul's latest slice of life digital film has been slammed for being sexist, but the brand does not agree. Is the social-media-savvy Brand Amul in danger?

Social media activists are up in arms against Amul. The maker of milk and milk products has been accused of promoting ‘gender stereotype’ in its new digital film ‘Pyara Bandhan’ – the next in the video series of ‘Har Ghar Amul Ghar’.

The milk brand had introduced its new tagline ‘Har Ghar Amul Ghar’ last year with a slice of life corporate film made by daCunha Communications. The idea was to showcase how Amul is a part of every Indian home.

The latest in the series features a little girl, who is preparing for the arrival of the new baby into the family. In excited anticipation, she is seen jumping around, arranging and rearranging her doll’s clothes, keeping her doll and a stuffed Winnie the pooh ready for her ‘promised’ new sister to play with.

But in comes dad with news that shatters all her excitement. ‘Arre, tumhara bhai isse thodi na khelega,” he says while picking up the dolls, and bringing in just what a newborn boy would want to play with – a stuffed Spiderman!

While the elders in the family are getting acquainted with the baby boy (who is surrounded with more superhero toys), the sad little sister and her Winnie the pooh retreat into her new home – a temporary tent made by placing a bedsheet over the floor lamp. The alert dad is aware of her daughter’s disappointment.

He pours Amul Taaza milk into a glass, and playfully knocks at her home tent. She doesn’t talk to him at first, but then comes the glass of yummy milk, breaking away a layer off the anger. When asked why she’s angry, she tells him, “You wanted a baby girl”. “Baba, wahan ke saare girl child khatam ho gaye,” he reasons with her.

She expresses her disappointment at who will she play with, now that she has been informed that boys don’t play with dolls. The dad tells her that she will play with her baby brother. The duo are then seen playing cricket inside their home, preparing her for the game her brother would be interested in - cricket.

‘Pyara Bandhan’ is being accused and understandably so. Dolls are for girls and cricket is for boys, is sexist all the way through. However, the brand isn’t finding anything fundamentally wrong here. Amul is only holding a mirror to ‘what happens in every home.’

“It is basically a story about the relationship between a brother and a sister and we are not promoting any gender bias. This is a slice of life film which happens in every home. There are always some people who will like it and some who won’t,” RS Sodhi, managing director of Gujurat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) said.

Saving Brand Amul

Our definition to ‘what happens in every home” is again a perception. Blame it on mass media, movies, and the daily grind all over the globe, gender stereotypes can be seen everywhere, and begins early on. Pink is for baby girls and blue is for baby boys. It’s tough finding a blue dress for a baby girl, or a pink overall for your newborn boy.

The issue here is a brand that is not in sync with the pulse of the nation, which is in turn amplified in the age of social media. Consumers have a strong and often opposing opinion to a brand’s message, and are social-media-enabled to voice their opinions. And brands need to listen. Brands cannot afford to live in the past, they need to be forward-thinking, always on their toes to become a part of consumers’ conversations, and not the reason for their ire.

Ironically, it’s Amul that isn’t getting it!

The brand has been a social savvy one, much before the advent of social media. Amul is the same brand, much loved around the length and breadth of the country for its cheeky topicals. A political u-turn or a cricketing mishap, everything that makes the news of the day, always finds a place in a new Amul hoarding. The brand has always stood in support of social causes and mirrors the voice of the common man.

But, the common man has evolved, especially the one who is on social media. He/she is an individual with likes/dislikes and a strong opinion on the current affairs of the state. When India is already struggling to get rid of its skewed gender ratio, gender stereotyping and focusing on enabling gender equality at all levels, a brand cannot preach that ‘dolls are for girls, and superheroes are for boys”.

Besides, the brand’s statement in its defense is a weak one. In a latest statement to Exchange4Media, Sodhi has tried to again clarify the brand’s intent and stand on women’s empowerment. Appreciating the feedback received, he has informed that the brand’s creative agency will be ‘less nuanced’ in the forthcoming films (whatever that means!).

“With Har Ghar Amul Ghar- Pyara Bandhan, we see the story of a father learning a lesson in parenting from his daughter. The film shows how sometimes without meaning to, we make such small assumptions, that it takes a simple question by a young girl to make the father understand his mistake. The film is about one of the most important relationships of life- i.e between a sister and her brother.

“Our intent has never has been there to promote gender bias. In fact, Amul is a brand which has been built on women empowerment over the last 7 decades. We acknowledge and appreciate the feedback received on this film from the media and our esteemed audience and shall advise our creative agency to be less nuanced in the subsequent releases.”

It is not for a brand to speak on behalf of all Indian homes, but to listen to all of them. “What happens in every home” is something all Indians can help figure out by crowdsourcing theme-based family stories. Then we can all define what’s ‘less nuanced’.

It’s a massive PR fail, but like any other big brand, Amul isn’t ready to admit it. Amul can easily make amends by issuing an apology and relaunching a revised ‘Pyara Bandhan’, one in which the sister and brother are each seen playing with gender-neutral toys.

This year we saw many Indian brands stand for social causes and win accolades on social media. Amul could learn a thing or two from these consumer-aware brands.