New Dalda Ad Stars Fawad Khan, But Regurgitates Patriarchal Tropes

New Dalda Ad Stars Fawad Khan, But Regurgitates Patriarchal Tropes
We grew up watching the heartwarming ads of the famous household cooking oil brand, Dalda. Since the 80s, Dalda has stayed true to its overall narrative and has been remarkably consistent in its brand positioning strategy; it has associated itself with the purity of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. The famous tagline, “Jahan Maamta Wahan Dalda” has been a common feature of our television advertising spots for over 3 decades.

A few months back, Dalda launched its latest ad campaign with a series of ads featuring country’s biggest star, Fawad Khan, as the lead. When I saw the ad several times, and my starry excitement to see Fawad Khan subsided slightly, I came across a number of underlying themes that appeared problematic to my sensibilities.

Let’s talk about the first ad. It starred Fawad Khan as a son narrating his mother’s love over the years, taking care of him as a child. The story is very moving; a son appreciating his mother’s commitments to her parental responsibilities, laced with the utmost love and care. We see the ever gorgeous and supremely talented Zara Tareen playing the role of the mother in the ad. It bothered me slightly to see the rampant ageism in the advertising space in Pakistan’s television industry. It seems like we very conveniently and unapologetically have not learnt how to cast and tell the stories of middle-aged women. It’s almost as if a woman between 35 and 45 years of age can’t be cast in any other role besides a phuppo, khaala or a mother. Male actors in their 40s still perform romantic as well as meaty lead roles in both the drama and film industry.

The story in the ad revolves around how the narrator’s mother took care of him and now she’s extending the same motherly care towards his son. The family is sitting around the table for a meal in second part of the commercial; the whole montage where an aged Zara, with greyed hair, feeds the grandson did not appear to be very pleasing to the eye. I wanted to see the grown middle-aged son taking care of his mother now. It would’ve been heartening to see the loving son using Dalda and cooking up a meal for his mom and serving the family for a change.

In popular culture, we need to show that at some point in our adult lives, our mothers ought to be relieved of their caregiving responsibility. This kind of messaging would have sent a more effective and liberating message to the young boys watching the commercial, thus taking at least a tiny step towards breaking the chain of entitlement that the patriarchy ingrains into our society’s men.

The second ad in the series shows a mom, who is offscreen, telling her son, dreamy Fawad again, to finish all the food on his plate. In the third ad, the son is taking a tiffin lunch packed by his mom for the flight that he is supposedly running late for.

These two ads are even more problematic than the first. It is a utopian male fantasy that men ought to be treated as a mama’s boy by every woman in their life, be it a mother, girlfriend, wife, sister or even a daughter. In our day and age, this narrative needs to be lowered into its grave; when the proportion of women engaged in the workforce is at its lowest ebb in our country, we need to educate the youth that for girls to flourish in their careers, it is imperative that domestic and parental responsibilities are shared. When you employ the country’s biggest heartthrob for your brand positioning, it is likely that whatever he will say will be adhered to ferociously. I am willing to bet that this ad feature might even have motivated many girls to aspire to be the best mom they could be for their sons, just so their little boys can grow up to be like Fawad. Not that there is anything inherently wrong in women aspiring to motherhood, but it must be kept in mind that the subtext of the messaging in such ads get ingrained in our society’s subconscious a lot faster - not because of the content, but because of the actor in the ad.

Contrary to Dalda, Shan Foods have launched a more progressive ad campaign centered towards woman empowerment, showing a mother-in-law supporting her daughter-in-law’s career, who is a doctor by profession. Shan demonstrated solid corporate responsibility on their part by enforcing their messaging with solid statistics as well; they showed that 77% of female doctors are unable to practice medicine after marriage. The primary cause of this phenomenon is that their motherly duties are so immense that striking a balance between career and parenthood is impossible to achieve; the trade-off is compromising your child’s well-being for career advancement or vice versa. Multiple ads run by Shan have broken gender stereotypes and its tag line was better in line with the kind of message we should be sending out into the world, “khana banana kisi eik ka kaam tou nahin” (cooking food is not the responsibility of just one person). This tagline conveyed the powerful message that domestic responsibilities ought to be shared. This messaging is so badly needed in our society, to compel women from all strata of society to complete their education and embark on their own professional journeys.

It's about time that brands take a deep dive into women’s needs and look at their product advertising spots as an avenue to create genuine change in society. Brands that make consumable household items, especially cooking and cleaning products should make a conscious effort to fulfill their moral and social responsibilities, and align their brands with desperately needed social causes like women empowerment, equal employment opportunity, workplace safety and marital agency to create awareness. Only when such ideas are nudged towards widespread acceptance can these corporations lay claim to have contributed to changing the country for the better.