There is a fine line between glamorous, sexy and vulgar. And then there is language, which may have unintended consequences. As always, these are matters of perception and opinion, but I must admit to being a bit disturbed by the trend of the advertisement series for this deodorant called Zatak. Its sexual innuendoes may cross over into the vulgar and that is unpleasant enough, but it is the tag line of this series that causes concern: the tagline being – ‘Just Zatak Her’.
Objectifying women or stereotyping them is not new in advertising. This has been the object of debate ever since advertising began, which is why advertising standards were created for each nation. Some nations manage to implement them much more effectively than others. India has the Advertising Standards Council of India that has given its judgment on one of the Zatak series of ads as recently as March 2010 saying, ‘Visual is not likely to cause grave or widespread offence.’ The complaint was specifically about the Zatak ad where a woman emerges from a swimming pool in a bikini with the voiceover in the background saying ‘very very sexy’. The complainant had objected to cheap dialogue and claimed that the ad is obscene.
While the ad is certainly in poor taste, this particular one is borderline when it comes to obscenity. The fact that a woman is in a bikini is certainly not objectionable – she has a right to wear whatever she wants. What troubles me is the voyeuristic eye, via the camera that raises the tempo of the ad to the theme – ‘very very sexy’. A random search online revealed comments and discussions that were lewd which was reflective of the general response to the advertisement in question. Others, including on twitter were aghast:
Was it “Just Zatak Her” the guy sure looks more like he might “Just Attack Her”, the woman sure does.
twitter.com/patondaback/status/14111840391 – Cached
8 May 2010 … I find the Zatak ad showing a bride throwing her ring and clothes off pretty vulgar and cheap !
twitter.com/v_shakthi/status/13614773773 – Cached
Advertising is the art of influence. Influence enough to move people through the four phases of effective communication popularized by the simple acronym AIDA – Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Effective promotions and advertisements are all about taking potential customers through these four phases and every junior marketing executive is taught to build these stages into the promotion.
The advertisement in question does exactly that.. literally. One advertisement starts with a beautifully decked up bride who responds to the smell of the neighbour’s deodorant which arouses both interest and desire. Another advertisement in the series starts with a bare chested man at a party where, seemingly, all the other guests are glamour models. This man carries two axes in his hand, as one does at parties. Not. (Yes, it is an unsubtle attack on a competitor of the same name.) At the literal level, it is still a sharp and dangerous weapon that he swings around, ineffectually. Of course, another person, the suave ‘zataker’ gets the girls. Subliminally, we are being told that just having the weapon is not enough, one has to use the (z)ata(c)k. Get it?
The other advertisement, which is the more objectionable one, we have the beautiful bride performing a not so subtle strip for the voyeuristic boy next door. As the bride () starts to take her Jewellery and wedding finery off, the advertisement then proceeds to exhort the viewer to ‘just zatak her’.
What? Did I hear that right? Did the syllables of the first and second words in the tag-line just merge a little, sort of accidentally? What I heard, the first time I saw the ad, was – “Just attack her”. Right. A nubile bride and glamour girls, and the voice tells me to attack. And, of course, we have just the weapon to support this Action, which is what we are promoting. Zatak!
When has the word ‘attack’ ever indicated a positive interaction with the opposite party? Look up the dictionary meaning of the word attack. It is clearly aggressive, with intent to dominate, conquer and most often hurt the other party. The Zatak advertisement is a case of very clever advertising, just this side of the line. While each element in this is (barely) justifiable, it does not make it ethical. When combined with linguistic tricks, such as, the sibilant second syllable of the ‘just’ merging with the first letter of the next word, ‘zatak’ almost absorbing it in the process, leaving enough ambiguity to be defensible, and yet – not unintelligible. This is not about sexual innuendo; this is about the association of sexual innuendo with aggression, potentially seeding intent to cause harm.
Did anyone even think this one through and see how dangerous it could be? As a nation, our record of safety for women is dismal. There are 18 reported sexual assaults on women every hour. Our national capital was just reported to be one of the worst places for women to live and work, with three out of every five women reporting sexual harassment. Centre for Civil Society too found similar results in their study. An Assocham survey a couple of years ago revealed the same picture: over half the women felt unsafe, the proportion of working women was significantly higher. Women travelling to India receive advisories from their governments to be extra careful and dress conservatively. And then our television channels boom out the exhortation – just zatak her!
Using the concept of sex to sell perfumes is arguably logical. Ad industry professionals in this article argued that fragrances are associated with attraction and male grooming is an established behavioral fact. Hardly objectionable. Is it? However, the advertisement seems to have moved beyond mere attraction to aggressive action with the admonishment to ‘just zatak’, and more specifically to zatak ‘her’. In this I fear, we have crossed a line that should never have been crossed.