Sri Lankan advertising seems to know no bounds
It is no secret that the power of the patriarchy dominates mainstream media and marginalises women in Sri Lanka. News and lifestyle entertainment content continue to follow a pattern of male power, whereby it legitimises gender bias.
Recently, a lady was brutally murdered, and her body was found in a suitcase. This caused mass fear and unrest amongst the women in Sri Lanka, provoking the question: Is anyone safe anymore?
There has been an increasing number of controversial advertisements released over the past decade; types of adverts that are deliberately pushing the boundaries of what is deemed acceptable, to generate some noise amongst their target audience. But where do they draw the line? Not at murder it seems.
Amongst the many suitcase memes that emerged over the last few weeks, this disturbing murder seemed to also prompt some careless and unempathetic citizens of our country to jump on this as a way of advertising and marketing their products. Sensitivity to murder, seems, frankly, non-existent.
Speaking to Brunch, Wunderman Thompson Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Alyna Haji Omar commented on the lack of sensitivity in media and advertising in the 21st Century, where it’s well overdue that we begin to draw a line between right and downright insensitive. She began by observing that in both online and offline mainstream media, they continue to portray women within the confines of patriarchal culture, discriminate, and negatively stereotype.
Using examples to validate her point, she added: “When male suicide bombers unleashed a campaign of terror on Easter Sunday, every Muslim woman in a headscarf continues to pay the price for it. When a father rapes his daughter, it is the mother’s fault for working outside the home.”
She further added that the war on drugs soon became an indictment against women, thus eroding social and value systems, playing politics with our wombs, our clothes, our periods, our sexuality, and our bodies while actively suppressing our minds.
In response to the lack of sensitivity in media and advertising, she also observed that Sri Lanka’s ability to lead change and champion progress is devastating, adding: “A man – a policeman no less; someone charged with protecting us, slaughters a woman in the most heinous way only to become the ‘pora’-end of sick jokes and callous fun.”
One could argue that advertisements of this nature aren’t too vulgar, but rather picks at the consumers’ over-sensitivity. But if we make light of a murder, then what are the odds that over time, such a heinous crime stops being viewed as a crime? Alternatively, one could also argue that sometimes advertisements, however controversial, can still get across a powerful message, raising awareness on world issues or supporting equality, encouraging debate and engagement, but it seems as though the line between raising awareness and it being morally disturbing has become blurred by selfish desires to sell a product.
Suggesting ways to fix this gross demonstration of insensitivity and egocentric wants, Haji Omar explained that one only needs to observe the gender portrayal across news, teledramas, and advertising to understand why and how we got here. Only then will anyone using a cold-blooded murder for the sole reason of selfish gain, understand their stance and know the limits.
There’s no doubt that controversial adverts can create debate and garner an astronomical amount of attention for a brand. Although it might not be for the “right” reason, it puts the brand in the spotlight – after all, it is said that “any publicity is good publicity”. Although critics might not always agree with the message of an advert, there’s no doubt that it can make the brand stick in people’s minds. Meanwhile, the question remains whether we, as the general public, could band together to condemn such behaviour in the media that we consume on a daily basis, and propel change.