Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Ads, Hindu gods, goddesses and controversies

 In advertising, what sells apart from sex? Elegance, charisma and wit.

On the contrary, a recent campaign created by the ad agency Taproot India shows the most revered Hindu goddesses Laxmi, Durga and Saraswati as the victims of domestic violence. Laxmi, the goddess of wealth known for her elegance has a swollen lip and cut on her nose. The goddess of strength Durga's charisma is shadowed by cuts on her forehead and cheek. And the goddess of knowledge Saraswati's wisdom is marred by a bruised eye and blood-dripping lips.

"Pray that we never see this day," the ads read. "Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to." The ads have gone viral and blogs and online portals are awash with news and comments on the ads.

The "Abused Goddesses" campaign images were created by mixing modern-day photography using live models with traditional hand-painted Indian art. They were commissioned by Save the Children India for its Save Our Sisters initiative, which, works to prevent the sex trafficking of young girls and women.

While the campaign aims to shock and horrify the audience with its powerful text and images, a large segment of Hindus still don't want to see their goddesses abused. 

Earlier, Burger King had issued an ad showing Laxmi, along with one of the beef burgers, which are forbidden under Hindu religion. The fast food chain was forced to withdraw the ads from its stores in Spain owing to the hue and cry of Hindus across the world complaining of the denigration of their religion.

In a similar move, the ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi used images of Hindu gods in their advertising for a Goa tour operator, Cox & Kings. In the ads, Goddess Laxmi was shown sitting next to a chubby kid eating wafers, and Lord Hanuman was shown taking pictures with a camera. After Hindus ransacked Cox & Kings' office, the company ran a front page apology in a local newspaper apologising for the ads and blamed the agency for publishing the ads without its consent.

Likewise, designer and model Lisa Burke infuriated the Hindus during Australian Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2011/12 in Sydney when she presented a swimsuit featuring Laxmi as a part of the latest collection of her Lisa Blue label. After protests across India she announced a halt in production and vowed that the Laxmi swimsuit would never make it to stores.

In 2012, Burnside Brewing Company, a Portland-based American brewery was to launch "Kali-Ma Beer". Owing to protests from Hindus, the company postponed the limited release of "Kali-Ma Beer". The beer was earlier announced as spiced wheat ale involving cardamom, fenugreek, cumin, India dandicut peppers, etc., and showed the picture of Goddess with six arms and three severed heads.

In William Bernbach's words, "Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art." However, to cut the long journey short, the advertisers are lured to creating controversies to persuade the consumers to buy the products. And what's easier than manipulating imagery of gods and goddesses to hatch a controversy? That's also an art. 

Photo credits:
Abused Goddesses campaign (c) scoopwhoop.com
Burger King ad (c) EUROPICS
Model with Hindu goddess on the swimsuit (c) Mark Nolan/Getty Images

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