We Aren’t Laughing, Ola – Is Making Non-sexist Ads That Tough?

We just didn’t expect this from a young startup, with a huge female customer base, and extremely stiff competition.

Updated
Women
3 min read
(Photo courtesy: Screenshot of the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-zflWyf7Os">Ola ad</a>)

Ola Cabs recently set out to market its new car option, Ola Micro, with an advertisement that was supposed to be ingenious. Instead, they took a wrong turn. Equating a woman to a car and basing the punchline on how much it costs a man to take her/it out for the day was – surprise – in bad taste.

A Video Explainer

In the ad, a giggly, stereotyped woman character stops every few seconds to point at something she likes, while visiting a market with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend, obviously, carries her bags, and has a strange, pitiful expression every time she unconvincingly pleads, “Baby?” He reluctantly – and it’s made sure we know he’s not happy – takes out his wallet each time, to pay for the thing she likes.

A ditzy shopaholic, and a helpless boyfriend who pays for her. (Photo courtesy: Screenshot of the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-zflWyf7Os">Ola ad</a>)
A ditzy shopaholic, and a helpless boyfriend who pays for her. (Photo courtesy: Screenshot of the Ola ad)

Then, it gets worse.

He looks right into the camera – right at all the have-on-the wallet women in the world, who incidentally also book Olas everyday – and says, “Meri girlfriend chalti hai Rs 525 per km se, but Ola Micro chalti hai sirf Rs 6 per km se.”

Haven’t we got enough of on-screen sexism? (Photo courtesy: Screenshot of the <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-zflWyf7Os">Ola ad</a>)
Haven’t we got enough of on-screen sexism? (Photo courtesy: Screenshot of the Ola ad)

Roughly translated, he laments how his girlfriend’s day out is A LOT more expensive than the new Ola Micro.

Hey ‘Feminazis’, Is It Really a Big Deal?

Yes, it is. Advertisements, films and TV shows are an essential part of the societal fabric and the ideas and conceptions that come to dominate it. Ads represent the current mindset at large (basically, what sells) – a problem in itself – and then once made, they create a need in the minds of existing and potential consumers by the sub-conscious embedding of notions, often paraded in the garb of sexist or insensitive ‘jokes’.

Imagine this:

An upwardly mobile middle-class man, striving to achieve all that glorified images of consumption seem essential. Let’s call this post-liberalised, free market oriented man Bhola.

It’s a burning hot April day in Delhi. Bhola usually uses public transport; he’s in the process of saving up for his first car. He sees the Ola masterpiece on Facebook. A chance to travel in a unanimously accepted status symbol in India – a car – at 2 rupees per km lesser than an autorikshaw? They have his attention.

He follows the plot of the ad, while subconsciously rearranging or creating ideas to make space for the need to rent an Ola Micro. One of the ideas that takes root, or worse, fortifies, is the equation of women with cars, something men can possess, take out and unfortunately – need to pay for, to derive results.

While sexism in popular culture is not new, we just didn’t expect it from a young startup, with a huge female customer base, and honestly, very, very stiff competition.

Thanks for the Apology, Ola

Of course, the mindless ad broke the internet as men and women came forward to either dismiss Ola, the ad and everything the company momentarily stood for, or to ask other people to not be “hyper-feminists”– whatever that means.

Ola first deleted the video on YouTube.

We Aren’t Laughing, Ola – Is Making Non-sexist Ads That Tough?

Then, they issued an apology on Twitter. At least, we think that’s what they were trying to do.

So, collectively, Ola failed on many counts – maintaining online relationships, crisis management, gender sensitivity, and creativity.

And for those asking us women to calm down and get a sense of humour, we ask you to first get one that is progressive and funny.

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