Dyson vs. Kent – cordless, gendered

When the mega lockdown was announced in March 2020, it started an increased interest and demand for devices and gadgets that can help us do household work.

So, more interest and demand for dishwashers, automatic vacuum cleaners, washing machines, better mops, etc.

One variant of an in-demand device that seems to have caught the fancy in recent times is a cordless vacuum cleaner. Since we have a normal vacuum cleaner (Kent, incidentally!), I do watch ads for cordless vacuum cleaners with some extra interest.

In the cordless vacuum cleaner category, Dyson is probably the most popular brand and commands a terrific price premium. The brand is advertising actively in India right now.

Our own Indian brand Kent has a similar model and is advertising them too nowadays.

And there seems to be an interesting difference in the positioning of these similar products (category-wise) by two different brands. I find it particularly glaring since both are advertising at the same time period, in the same media.

Dyson’s ads are usually large and expensive – mostly front-page, either a full-page or a half-page. It fits the premium nature of the product and price.

Kent, on the other hand, usually advertised in the top-right corner of certain pages – usually smaller 2-3 column boxes. The brand advertises several products at the same time (egg boilers, dough kneaders, among others), though their water purifier ads, featuring Hema Malini, are always considerably larger, with better placement.

That brings me to the crux of the difference between the two – Dyson focuses exclusively on the product features with a smattering of price-related pitches (offer/discounts).

Half of Kent’s ad features a gender marker as to who should potentially be using this product!

I should add here that Kent has made such sweeping assumptions in the past too. For instance:

Is Kent depicting the potential target user of their cordless vacuum cleaners? And offering their product as an alternative to the broom and ‘ease’ their ‘burden’?

Is cleaning the house a woman’s job? That may not have been the intent of the depiction, but I do believe it perpetuates that stereotype. Ironically, if the cordless vacuum cleaners are so easy to use (and also perhaps enjoyable), depicting them as something anyone in the family can use (even kids) is probably a far better framing that doesn’t pigeonhole the product, and the household task, to a gender.

Now, what if Kent’s ad had shown an annoyed-looking man with a broom? Would it seem ‘unnatural’? Hardly, and it shouldn’t either. But what makes it seem ‘normal’ when a woman is shown with a broom, then? That’s where the gender stereotype begins. After all, a broom or a vacuum cleaner is not personal equipment/gadgets like an electric shaver or a hairdryer that have specific use cases. When the broom or a vacuum cleaner cleans, the benefit is for the entire house and all the people that live there.

But, advertising does perpetuate such stereotypes, at times unknowingly. A ‘chef’ is imagined as a man (Sanjeev Kapoor or Damu), while a kitchen at a home is shown with a woman. Someone cleaning the home is shown with a woman but a professional home cleaner (Urbanclap types) is shown with a uniformed man!

One simple argument Kent could make: “a majority of users who use a broom at Indian homes happen to be women. We, as a brand, are simply trying to make their lives better, easier”.

In contrast, Dyson perhaps assumes that this product (sub)category needs user education and awareness because people in India are mainly used to the Eureka Forbes-style vacuum cleaners. That could explain the number of details on the product features and nuances. But it does not assume, on behalf of potential buyers, who should be using the product.

There is another argument to be made too – Dyson’s ad perhaps doesn’t evoke a user-centric emotion, while Kent’s does. Dyson’s ad makes a user-agnostic pitch, while Kent’s ad makes a user-specific pitch. That is, the Kent ad shows potential users’ existing problems and offers the product as a solution. It’s just that, while making that emotional pitch, the Kent ad doesn’t think it through from a larger context.

The user-centric emotional pitch could also be made without associating any gender with it. For instance, without using a picture that marks the gender, a headline could simply depict a scenario around using brooms making the user (any user) tired.

But, if you move past Dyson’s print advertisement and visit their website, what do you see? This (in the video that plays)!

That’s not very different from Kent’s own video:

Even within a larger context, there is a difference between not perpetuating stereotypes vs. being progressive. Not showing a gender that is often associated with a common household task is the former, while showing a gender not associated with a common household task is the latter.

For context, HUL made a lot of PR noise last year when they launched a series of ads for Vim dish wash gel featuring Virender Sehwag.

Henkel’s Pril did it way back in 2018 – featuring model Gurmeet Choudhary as the one doing the dishes, quite effortlessly.

Another context is the ads from Prestige – they moved from ‘biwi’ to ‘apnon’, after all!

Yet another context—and one that has a direct connection with a cordless vacuum cleaner—is the product category of dishwashers. Like vacuum cleaners, a dishwasher is also not a personal product – it helps everyone in the family.

Yet, when Voltas Beko launched an ad campaign in July 2020, it framed it as a woman’s/mom’s product (by the agency Wunderman Thompson)!

But, another brand of dishwasher, Bosch, framed it in a much broader manner (by the agency MissMalini Entertainment)!

I did find the ads clunky, in terms of acting and the product mentions seemed forced, but from a gender perspective, they seem better thought-through.

So, there is a conversation between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law and the wife mentions her husband’s cooking, in context (though he burns the kadai!). In another ad, the husband is involved in helping the new mother. In 2 ads, the couple is working together in the kitchen (though I found them embarrassingly bad, in terms of quality). In yet another ad, the husband justifies the choice of paper plates with, “Else, I need to wash 20 people’s plates”. And in another ad, it could have easily been about the maid’s need being lesser, but they cleverly move it to frame the dishwasher as her device from now on!

Very similar to the Dyson vs. Kent (in ads) difference in treatment.

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