31/40 Marks Worth Essay
On October 1st 2015 Wilde Stone released an advertisement in India for its new product in the line of Fine Fragrance Deos, Drift. As advertisements are important cultural products which not only inform what is normal but also what one should aspire to, they inevitably shape our ideals of the world and how it operates. As such my concern in this essay is to unpack what ideals of femininity and masculinity Wilde Stone pedals as it situates itself vis-à-vis the aspiration towards this ideal embodiment.
My choice of words such as “ideal”, “femininity”, and “masculinity” in the singular form is deliberate because what I wish to is highlight is the fact that the ideal masculinity that Wilde Stone brings into the lime-light is only possible because it plays on other more desirable forms of masculinities by centering a less-but not too much-desirable form of masculine body. To this end I shall be relying on Michael Uebel’s essay “Introducing Race and the Subject of Masculinities” in order to support my argument.
In contrast to the presence of a less desirable embodiment of masculinity Wilde Stone introduces a figure of a woman who embodies an exquisitely attractive physique, is also socio-economically positioned above the man, and is the center of attention in the advertisement. However, as I will explain later, simply showcasing these different facets of a femininity, which also plays on other forms of femininities, does not result in the formation of a personhood as the crucial question of agency is eschewed resulting in the setting up of an extremely elaborate and luxurious palanquin in order to hide the stick figure within. As such I shall be using Audre Lorde’s essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”, as a guiding light in order to illuminate how the construction of a binary between men and women, forced in an unequal power relation where men rule, is the social and cultural currency which allows for the circulation and propagation of Wilde Stone’s advertisement.
Therefore, using intersectionality as my theocratical framework, my methodological approach shall comprise of semiotic analysis to concretize my argument in order to bring to the forefront the inherently misogynistic and sexist sub-text of this advertisement.
As such, I propose that while narrative wise it is well constructed and cohesive-expect for one small omission-as it is self-reflexive and thematically coherent; the placing of a strong and ‘in-control’ female lead is only a façade which Wilde Stone uses to elude the usual trappings of a deodorant advertisement. As the audience for the deodorant advertisement is middle class, young adult to middle aged, not too good looking-but not too bad looking either-men. Thus, I argue that Wilde Stone Deos, Drift specifically in this case, is marketed primarily as a sexual product for men as opposed to a simple hygiene product.
Character Introduction, Narrative Flow, and Visual Analysis:
Unlike most deodorant advertisements the opening shot is not of a topless man with sinewy muscles, tensely knit, as he sprays/applies the deodorant on the hot mass of his smooth torso before going out into the world and being chased by women who, as the scent wafts over to them, are reduced to sensual beings whose only raison d’être is to be in a sexual relationship with him. The lead character of the advertisement is a female character; Nicole.
Nicole, belonging to an elite household, wearing a dull golden blouse with heavy embroidery, is a beautiful woman. She is of medium height (not too tall but not too short either) who looks to be in her early thirties, with perfect pearly white teeth, petite nose, big doe full eyes, skin colour that could pass for white, long flowing hair, and a well-toned (but not muscular) figure. Nicole is also getting married, as indicated by the flower arrangement, decorations, festive music, other people’s attire, and, mostly importantly, the mehndi on her hands and feet. However, the centering of Nicole as the lead should not be heralded as a subversion of the typical deodorant advertisement because until Nicole meets the jewelry designer, who has used Drift, the half a dozen male bodies which are shown in the advertisement either have their faces being obscured or turned away. Thus, placing the woman in the lead is even less than tokenism because in the end they have no control over their bodies as they are blind to all other men who have not used Drift.
Similarly, the fact that only Nicole is attracted to the jewelry designer should not be seen as a critical intervention by Wilde Stone mainly for two reasons. First, this advertisement is made for an India audience where the fantasy of hordes of women running after one man may not circulate favourably, as it would seem as a bit too promiscuous. Having one woman at a time, however is perfectly acceptable (or there could be cable regulations of which I am unaware). Second, Nicole is the lead character in this advertisement. Her body language indicates that she is in control as she stands straight and tall, walks with her head held high and certitude, and initiates the flirtation with the jewelry designer-as he smells so irresistible-on her own terms as she teases him while the jewelry designer with a faint half-smile on his tries his utmost to keep a rein on his libido. Thus, the implied message here is that the man who uses Wilde Fragrance Deos shall attract the best woman out there. Nevertheless, the actual reason why it is absolutely essential that it can be no one besides Nicole who falls for the jewelry designer is because she is getting married. There is a (very insidious) pun being made here.
The deodorant which is being marketed through this advertisement is Wilde Fragrance Deos: Drift. Thus, it is Nicole who is drifting away from her role as a respectable, pious, earnest, soon to be married woman. She is breaking social norms by flirting with the jewelry designer who is dark skinned, has a beard, and is socio-economically on a lower rug than her.
This pun is also made using non-diegetic music which plays as soon as Nicole inhales Drift. The lyrics of the song all hum a common refrain of losing one’s senses, a weakening of one’s will, a crack in one’s resolve, etc. The oft repeated phrase, “behekene lagi maeh” (I began to be seduced) is an example par excellence. What makes this pun particularly insidious is that it is sung by a female voice actress. In the whole advertisement Nicole has no voice, even though the wedding planner and the jewelry designer each speak a sentence in English but Nicole cannot speak. She is spoken for. The lyrics, which are in Hindi thus also tying Nicole despite her English name to the mother India, are her dialogues. It is her internal monologue. This can be quite easily illustrated by Nicole’s body language, especially her breathing, as both are perfect sync and rhythm with the lyrics. For example, when the non-diegetic lyrics “saans khanak gayi” (I caught my breath) are sung we are shown Nicole’s stomach contracting.
Thus, while Wilde Stone does elude the usual trappings of a deodorant advertisement for men (and all deodorant advertisement in India are for men) by placing Nicole as the one who is ‘in-control’ because the jewelry designer does not take any action, and it is Nicole who walks away-with a bewitching smirk on her face-after teasing the jewelry designer. Still, this is nothing more than a façade because the one who actually holds power here is Drift.
It is because of Drift that the jewelry designer who is lower on the socio-economic rug, darker, and has a beard that Nicole falls for him. Also, a somewhat trivial point, but Nicole is shorter than the jewelry designer. I believe it is important to mention this because while the jewelry designer cannot be too attractive, he also cannot be unattractive. The image of a man shorter than Nicole then might be too emasculating.
This is why it is important that the appearance be such that the jewelry designer is disadvantaged while Nicole is seduced by his/Drift’s scent, otherwise the male fantasy would not play out. As such it is important to understand masculinity not as simply something that is constructed in opposition to femininity, but that this idea of masculinity is a much contested terrain which is informed by the clashes among the different forms that masculinity takes; thus masculinities. Therefore, Michael Ueble writes,
“Masculinity becomes not the defining quality of men, of their fantasies and real experiences of self and other, but one coordinate of their identity that exists in a constant dialectical relation with other coordinates.” (Ueble 1997, pg. 4)
However, as I have already illustrated this is only in appearances. The jewelry designer is the one who is in control, even as Nicole walks away from him, because he is not voice less. He is the seducer. He is a man; the target audience for this advertisement.
What we need to be mindful of is for whom is this advertisement produced, and why. As McLuhan once said, quite aptly, the medium is the message. That the form, the genre, structures the content, the message, which is being disseminated. As such if we are able to unpack the structure of the message, the contents of the message itself can be understood in much more depth and with greater easy as we will know then why this message was given out. This is why I have repeatedly stress that the audience of the deodorant advertisement is heterosexual men. The cinematography, narrative flow, costumes, voice overs, dialogues, character roles, etc are all tailored keeping in mind this audience. How to appeal to them. What sells? And as the famous phrase goes, sex sells.
This is exactly why this advertisement, no matter how many props it sets up or ornaments it uses, it will be inherently misogynistic and sexist. It is misogynistic because it will reduce women to nothing more than an object which is the receptacle of male of desire. It will subordinate and disrespect them. It is sexist because sexism is a structural/systematic problem. This deodorant advertisement, as I hope has been made clear, is no exception to any of the core rules of deodorant ads. As Audre Lorde directs our attention towards this facet of oppression as well,
“As a tool of social control, women have been encouraged to recognize only one area of human difference as legitimate, those differences which exist between women and men.” (Lorde 2007, pg. 122)
Thus, I would argue that it is exactly this ‘legitimate difference’, one that places women below men, that allows for the transformation of deodorant, a hygiene product, into a sexual product since women are only attracted to those men who use Wilde Stone. Thus, the primary function of Wilde Stone deodorant is not to prevent the man’s body odour, but to cloak him with an air of irresistibility that only affect women who meet the minimum criteria of being young and good looking.
Uebel, Michael. “Men in Color: Introducing Race and the Subject of Masculinities,” in Race and the Subject of Masculinities ed. Harilaos Stecopoulos and Michael Uebel. Durham: Duke University Press, (1997)
Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Berkeley: Crossing Press, (2007)
 Wild Stone. “Wild Stone Fine Fragrance Deos”. Filmed [October 1st, 2015]. YouTube video, 1:30. Accessed [May 21st, 2017]. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-1w2ebEqIA>