MUMBAI: The depiction of women in Indian advertising has moved from homely mothers to confident multi-taskers, with marketers increasingly regarding them as an educated, financially independent group that needs to be targeted in its own right.

A report from IAA and Hansa Research, Changing Trends in Portrayal of Women in Indian Advertising, surveyed almost 100 senior professionals in advertising and marketing to assess gender stereotyping and the impact of communications that challenged this.

The most popular description of the portrayal of women was energetic (94%), followed by multitasking (93%), modern (87%) and self-confident (86%).

A gender divide was evident, however, as female professionals strongly believed the portrayal to be more about the energetic and multitasking aspects, while the male professionals thought the portrayal was modern and self-confident.

And opinions were split on whether these depictions reflected women's status in wider society, although more leaned towards no than yes. But all accepted that they had changed and that this was a welcome development.

Further, they all expected this change would be sustainable in the long run, as women gained more financial independence and as society itself changed.

Among the campaigns they felt had been especially good at showing women positively was one from jewellery maker Tanishq. This used a bridal story to tackle a number of taboos, first by showing a confident, dark-skinned bride rather than the usual fair, demure choice, and, second, by showing her daughter to indicate she was remarrying, as divorced women are never seen this way.

Another was for Bournvita, where mothers were shown helping their child prepare for various challenges and focusing on the role of inculcating good habits. One of the films forming part of this, Race, also produced one of the highest returns on investment of any Mondelez campaign anywhere.  

So, publicly at least, India's advertising professionals are in the progressive camp. But they will have to guard against a repeat of the infamous ads produced by JWT staff for the Ford Figo in early 2013.

These were never, the agency stressed, intended for paid publication but when a cartoon image appeared online of three women bound and gagged in the back of a car driven by then Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the backlash was global.

Data sourced from, New York Times, additional content by Warc staff