Shortly after business tycoon Cyrus Mistry passed away in a tragic road accident, the Union Road, Transport, and Highway ministry has rolled out a campaign focussing on promoting air bags in passenger vehicles.
Although the ad has been made in a setting which is relatable to majority of Indians it has started inviting criticism from netizens as it allegedly ends up encouraging ‘dowry culture’. The spot, tweeted by Union Minister of Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari and featuring Akshay Kumar, shows an emotional father at his daughter's 'bidaai'. Kumar, who plays a policeman in the ad, makes a comment that the couple is in a car that has "just two airbags” and hence not safe.
The scene cuts to the couple walking out of the car, and the arrival of a new car. The groom is now seen counting the number of airbags in the new car to six. There’s explicit implication that the car belongs to the groom and is not a gift from the bride's parents which can be dubbed as dowry.
"You should smile now that your daughter is safe," Kumar tells the bride's father, after the car has been changed.
The video has over one million views on Twitter alone. The advertisement has elicited intense responses from the netizens who are slamming it for promoting the dowry culture.
This advt clearly promotes dowry AND provides free publicity for expensive cars. Somebody should tell @OfficeOfNG that each extra airbag hikes up the price of the car!— RD (@DharRenuka) September 12, 2022
Will @akshaykumar come to court to say dt car was just a #Gift & not dowry if #Marriage fails— Poonam (@MyNation_PM) September 12, 2022
We all know misuse of IPC 498A #DomesticViolence @AnubhavMohanty_ @asliyoyo are not even spared frm #BiasedLaws
Meanwhile unionminister promoting #marriagegifts to #PapaKiPari #Burden
Some netizens also complained about the condition of roads in the country that also lead to accidents.
How about safe roads first? And corruption free RTOs that issue licenses without tests or without visiting RTO? And traffic cops focusing on violation of traffic rules and not collecting fines for PUC etc? Promoting expensive cars is not a solution.— Twinkle Twinkle (@HowIWunder) September 11, 2022
Opposition parties also jumped in to criticise the spot.
"Is the government spending money to promote the safety aspect of a car or promoting the evil and criminal act of dowry through this ad," asked Shiv Sena MP Priyanka Chaturvedi on Twitter.
Just days before, the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, which was released on 29 August, showed 6,753 women losing their lives to dowry-related harassment in 2021. The same set of data, for 2020, revealed that 19 Indian women died due to dowry harassment every single day.
"Actually dowry is a bad word. Even a hint of it in advertising is considered insensitive. This is an advertising faux pax!," says brand expert Harish Bijoor, founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Naresh Gupta, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Bang In The Middle says that when he first saw the ad, he found the context to be linear and over reliant on Akshay Kumar.
“However, the second viewing does raise the issue of dowry and everything else that the netizens are saying. And there is then a bigger issue that no one seems to be addressing. Why should I have a choice to buy car with just two airbags? Make it legal to have six airbags, and don’t release any ads. More than dowry, it don’t like sarkar (government ) mocking citizens,” he points out.
“…when I was buying a car in the segment that I chose, it has all the features what the dad in the ad says - automatic, music system, six speakers, but six airbags were not on offer. So, it’s a bit of a downer as an ad when customers don’t even have an easy choice in the market,” Gupta notes.
Gupta mentions two impactful global ads from The Transport Accident Commission (TAC), Australia urging people to rethink the speeds they drive at.
“I would have loved to see a campaign that said “ask for 6” That would have been so much more impactful,” he concludes.