The first time I saw the new co-branded promo by Usha grinders for the upcoming biopic of Indian cricketer Mithali Raj, Shabash Mitthu, I quite liked the wordplay and thought.
‘Better batter’ was perhaps a slightly corny low-hanging fruit, but they closed it with the ‘grind’. It’s not mega inventive but is cute and smart enough; the kind that brings a smile to my face and ‘I see what they have done’, in my mind.
But 5 minutes later, something else struck my mind: is there an unintentional irony here? I mean, here you have a world-class cricketer, and her biopic is co-branded with a kitchen appliance historically associated with a ‘woman’s task’?
One potential implication could be: that you can be the world’s best cricketer but you still need to be the person responsible to make batter at home (to make food out of it). And yes, I cringed as I finished typing that sentence.
To be fair, Usha signed Mithali as their brand ambassador back in March 2022. And to be fair to Usha again, they are popular for their fans range (gender agnostic product) too, besides kitchen appliances and sewing machines (both being gender-associated).
Now, let me place a male cricketer in place of Mithali just to see how it feels/fits.
Imagine Dhoni as the ‘better batter’ being showcased and the co-promotion is for Dhoni’s biopic. And that there’s a shot of Dhoni standing in front of a Usha table-top kitchen grinder, switching it off when the ‘grind’ is being referred to.
I believe this wouldn’t even pass muster.
Or it may even be hailed as a progressive move by the brand. If so, then the counter—of Mithali’s association with a grinder; being seen as regressive—seems fair too… that is, if you think on those lines (now that I have seeded that potential perspective in your mind, you may think on those lines – I do realize that).
But, stepping back, there are other possible considerations.
One of them is this: someone in the family has to be the decision-influence/decision-maker for a grinder. It’s a practically useful product (despite excellent batter readily available from brands like iD; home-made batter is home-made batter! I can assert this as the owner of a very old and trusted ELGI Ultra-Grind kitchen grinder with which we make fresh batter at home every single week). In some homes, it may be a joint decision between the husband and the wife (if a couple), or it may be an individual decision if someone’s single.
But there is a reason why Prestige has Vidya Balan as the face of the brand, despite having changed the slogan from ‘Jo Biwi Se Kare Pyaar, Woh Prestige Se Kaise Kare Inkaar?’ to ‘Jo Apnon Se Kare Pyaar, Woh Prestige Se Kaise Kare Inkaar?’.
And that reason could be as practical and data-backed as the brand’s research and awareness that their products are primarily decided by the women of the house.
The unfortunate conundrum that poses in extending to marketing communications is that it may seem like perpetuating gender stereotypes, just like how Scotch-Brite 2 years ago. That was far worse, though – right at the logo level (and they have removed that gender marker eventually); with Prestige and Usha, it’s at the level of the choice of a brand ambassador.
So, is there a way out?
One way is to tilt in the complete opposite direction and consciously choose a male brand ambassador. But that may come in the way of practical considerations based on research of actual decision-makers/influencers.
So, the smarter kitchen-centric brands have done the next best thing. For instance, Liebherr has marketing communication that showcases both female and male users.
If you see only this ad from Liebherr, you may think the brand is using a regressive stereotype:
But then, you need to see this too – this was released at the same time as the other ad; this is part of the overall campaign.
It perhaps helps that Liebherr is an international brand and the product’s target audience may actually be gender-agnostic at least internationally, if not in India too. Prestige or Usha may not be so lucky in this aspect and may consider the communication featuring a male celebrity/model an unnecessary expense only to save themselves from minor, fleeting reputational damage. Or score minor, fleeting brownie points. Like how Vim did:
The other option is to perhaps take into account the possible reactions that may come their way and weave that proactively into the narrative – that is, if at all they care about the reactions that allege regressiveness or gender stereotyping.
How may that work? This is limited only by our imagination.
Here’s a possible scenario: imagine the male house-help at Mithali’s home operating the grinder, making batter, and being the recipient of Mithali’s ‘better batter’ pun (which he may understand only after some explanation, adding to the self-aware mirth-inducing possibilities of the script).
There could be a lot more scenarios, of course, but they all start with the awareness of how the script (that we see now) could be interpreted beyond the only way that the brand and agency have conjured it right now. In other words, ‘read the room’.