Unevolved advertising

2014-04-13 15:00

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Kaya FM’s new ad campaign misses the mark, writes Gugulethu Mhlungu

This week, US President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Equal Pay Day that addresses the gender wage gap.

As this was happening, Oscar Pistorius and Shrien Dewani were both appearing in court for their partners’ killings. These are sobering reminders that despite advancements, woman continue to bear the brunt of inequality at all levels of life, and South Africa is no exception.

Kaya FM’s latest print advertisement is called The Evolution of (Wo)man. The radio station says: “The purpose of the ad is to be seen as a symbolic interpretation of how the changing and multidimensional view and role of women is unrestricted.”

The ad uses the evolution of humankind as its symbol.

The depiction of our move from awkward Homo habilis, to Neanderthals who were physically superior but not very smart, to humans as we know them: walking upright, doing bizarre things like adding complete strangers on Google+ and using their opposable thumbs.

At the start of Kaya FM’s “evolution of (wo)man” is what looks like a pregnant teen, followed by a young mother with a child on her back.

She is followed by the older mother with a baby on her back and a pot on her head. The fourth stage of woman is a young graduate, the penultimate stage before the Homo sapien of black womanhood: the upright, unburdened, educated, cellphone-using, long-haired, briefcase-carrying Kaya FM “Afropolitan”.

The trouble with this evolutionary model is it represents individual lives of black women as being part of a single, linear process. That one “type” of woman necessarily leads to another, as evolution does. If the ad indeed intended to “celebrate who [women] are?…” this was not the best choice of model.

At any one time, all of the women depicted in the advert exist, often simultaneously in one life, and are in no way a “stage” before or after each other.

The woman in the big city listening to Kaya is in no way the “next stage” of the teenage mother, or the rural-dwelling woman, because womanhood is not a singular happening or stage, nor is it part of some kind of evolution.

There must also be other ways of showing that women weren’t considered equals other than using teenage mothers or mothers as symbols.

Women being able to become educated or become corporate leaders and/or mothers is not an evolution of women at all.

It is an evolution of society that continues to limit the potential of women.

For an ad intended to show and celebrate woman, it in fact does the opposite. And perhaps a start would be not to create an “evolution” of woman at all.

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