Clichéd ads that repeat the same storyline and walk the ‘safer’ rope are things of the past. With shifting narratives and opening discussions around topics that were once considered ‘uncomfortable’ or taboo for the audience, brands have also taken it upon them to give their voices a different approach while also starting a conversation around pressing issues.

In 2021, we had a whole array of ads that had messages too clear to miss. And we are just in awe of the refreshing ideas and progressive attitudes. While many ads and ad campaigns sparked ire among the orthodox section, all of these did their best to leave a spark for an India better to live in. 

1. Dabur Fem and the Karvachauth controversy.

Dabur released an ad for its product Fem creme bleach that featured a same-sex couple. The advertisement showed two women getting ready for the festival of Karvachauth and discussing the importance of the same. Later, it was revealed that they were a lesbian couple and celebrated the festival with each other. The ad drew flak from many people as they said that it was targeted to hurt religious sentiments. But we saw love, and pure love.

2. When Manyavar said it’s Kanya maan, not Kanya daan.

In this ad featuring actor Alia Bhatt, the brand gives a different definition to the marriage ritual of kanya daan, where a father gives away the daughter to his husband. Talking about a woman not being paraya dhan to be given away from one patriarchal figure to the other, the ad surely opened a conversation around regressive rituals.

3. Tanishq starting the real conversations about marriage, literally.

While Tanishq has a reputation of making progressive yet highly controversial ads, it again shifted from the traditional wedding ring format to go deeper into what marriage actually is. Bringing issues such as depression, adoption and financial stability into the scene, it struck the right chords as it reflected on marriage as a lifelong companionship, through each others ups and downs, and major life decisions being taken together. 

4. Pathkind Labs and the gender issue. 

The ad talks about the society’s dismissal of the transgender and hermaphrodite community, as even parents abandon their kids who are born that way. In a light-hearted way, the ad gives a powerful message on the society’s fixation with considering just the two gender normative genders as “right” and others as “unusual”. 

5. The ‘Macho’ female gaze.

While male-centric narratives have taken a centre-stage in the world of advertisements with even perfumes sexualizing women, Macho came forward with their ad with “a commitment to legitimise the female gaze,” in the brand’s own words. Media has long evaded the female gaze, as women are mostly the subjects of male desire, but Macho took a leap with this ad.

6. Society’s real face through the Dove’s beauty test.

Widely appreciated, Dove’s ad campaign #StopTheBeautyTest brought the ugly side of society’s fixation with stereotypical body standards that say “fair, slim, lovely, average heighted girl” in matrimonial ads. The ad talks about how women are thrown in to be assessed physically in an arranged marriage setup and what’s wrong about it. 

7. Bhima jewellery’s ad of acceptance, as it’s pure as love.

Bhima jewellery brought forth one of the topics that none of the brands try to pickup. The ad shows the gradual acceptance of a transwoman, by herself, her parents and the society. The ad beautifully captures the inhibitions and anxieties of a transwoman on the path of finding herself, and getting support of her loved ones on the way. 

8. Teach them young: not just subjects on Unacademy, but life lessons through Unacademy ad.

Through the ad, Unacademy said that youngsters need to be taught to respect boundaries and not intrude in other people’s personal affairs. In the ad, an elder brother is shown to indulge in the romantic life of his sister without her asking for it. Such gender inequalities need to be questioned and the privacy of women needs to be respected was the motto of the ad. 

9. Cadbury’s 1990s ad in a parallel 2021 universe. 

With the same music, storyline and setting, Cadbury changed the perspective of an ad launched in early 1990s, and gave it a fresh concept. While in the previous ad, we saw a male cricketer on the field while his female friend cheers for him, the recreated ad featured a new take on it, as it reversed the gender stereotypes. The ad showed a women’s cricket team on the field, while the male friend of the cricketer comes running towards her as she hits a six.

Here’s the old ad:

10. ACKO Insurance’s proud pride moment.

The ad is a critique on the tokenistic mindset of the society, who put on the garb of being so-called progressive but reality check proves them otherwise. In the advertisement, we see a man having changed the cover of his Facebook profile in support of pride, but when his friends reveal to him that his own son belongs to the LGBTQ+ community, he finds it hard to accept. The ad wanted to ask parents and families to accept their children and family members for who they are. 

11. A woman’s identity is much more than just announcing “Prega News”.

As we live in a society which measures a woman’s worth by her being married and bearing children, the ad by Prega News shifted the narrative as it wanted to show that mother or not, a woman is complete the way she is. Featuring a woman who couldn’t experience motherhood, the ad sheds light on a woman’s distinct identity which doesn’t depend on societal norms. 

12. Stayfree and the taboo conversation. 

Stayfree’s ad campaign broke the taboo of periods being an uncomfortable topic which can’t be discussed between a father and a daughter. It tried to bring forth the idea that as menstruation is a natural process which happens to most females, the conversation around it should be just as natural, and not swept under the carpet as a “woman’s talk”. 

Which of these ads did you find the best?