Nepalese ad agencies believe female audience does not exist

The infested Nepalese television commercials
Something strange and discomforting will appear when you look into the semiotics of Nepalese television commercials; you will find it full of voyeurism and fetishism, which are the ugly secrets and yet they have become the guiding principles, at least in the world of commercials.
For the marketing managers of this time, television commercial is one of the most effective and powerful means of product advertising. Today's marketing strategy, therefore, gives the ad agencies a strong mandate to hook their target audiences, hypnotise them with offensive visuals and ultimately seduce them towards consuming their products. The strategy is to attract the audience through exploitation of a single psychological factor called "pleasure" (of looking at images from secure vantage point). So the creative aspect of all the commercials is mainly focused on generating "pleasure of looking". But while focusing in the creative strengths, the ad artists are taking recourse to voyeurism and it is being confused with creativity. This is, in no way, a socially responsible trend in media.
The principle of voyeurism believes that "pleasure of looking" is possible only when the onlooker is fearless, not observed or looked back by the same person who is being looked at. The viewed must be distanced from the viewer. The television screen as a spectacle does this job, where the observer could look at the images in the screen but the images in the screen could never do the same.
The situation in television is likened to that of the darkened cinema hall, where the audience feels secure as the darkness distances him/her from the images of the cinema and at the same time from the other accompanying audiences. The more the position of the audience is secure and secluded, the more the possibility for the pleasure of looking images secretly. As the darkness of the cinema hall facilitates voyeurs towards pleasure of looking, the television set and its privacy also make necessary spectacles for voyeuristic pleasure.
Such commercials which cater to the expectations of male voyeuristic gaze could best be seen in soap ads. One of the ads is of an established multinational toilet soap.
One may ask looking at the huge hoarding board ad: why is she exposing herself without looking at the audience? Why is she made to appear in that manner? There is a solid reason. Had she been presented with her look, there would have been fewer chances for the voyeurs to have "pleasure of looking" at her body. There would have been less secure spectacles for the voyeur's pleasure. In other words, her looking back would have generated "fear" in the audience. The woman is presented as a field of observation and her body parts exposed with over invested sexual meanings. She cannot look back, she is passive and so she could only exhibit "to-be-looked-at-ness".
Had she been presented with a look of her own, she would have her own identity. But the way she is presented rules out the possibility of acknowledging her identity. She is acknowledged in the ad simply as an object, which is a precondition for omitting possible "fear" in the voyeurs.
The ad of another locally produced lime soap is yet another example of ads having voyeuristic features. Though the soap is designed to bring freshness, this effect of the soap is contradicted by the image of the woman presented in its ad. More than freshness the ad focuses in arising sexual desire to the audience through presentation of a woman in swimming costume. Besides, the ad's focal point is on the fetish parts of the woman: exposed underarm, breasts, neck and belly. The woman is presented as a sexual object to be viewed by voyeurs. To supply a secure position for the voyeuristic male gaze, the woman is made to close her eyes while stretching her both arms upward. The idea is to let the voyeurs fearlessly watch her as there will be no possibility of her looking back.
Voyeuristic features are so pervasive in the media ads that it has become a marketing strategy for most of the advertisers. The wrong belief is that the pleasure of looking at individual's body parts is the demand of the audience. This also makes the magazines full of blow up posters and ads that cater to male gaze. The worry is that such trends in visual ads have normalizing effect on the society, as if it is a bunch of voyeurs.

(Originally published by The Kathmandu Post,

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