It was meant to transport the brand into the consciousness of India's youth, but a new advertisement by Flying Machine has flown into a storm of controversy instead. A welcome controversy! One of India's early home-grown jeans brands, Flying Machine, over the weekend, released a print advertisement that shows the picture of a female model wearing tight fit jeans around her buttocks, with the catchline in big, bold font screaming: 'What an Ass!' It was probably meant to highlight the oomph and cool quotient in an old brand, perhaps even mimic the edginess of the 'All asses were not created equal' tagline in an advertisement last year by larger rival Levi Strauss & Co. While the jury is out on whether Flying Machine's latest campaign has found resonance with the cool set, the advertisement is generating heat in some quarters.
Women rights activists are certainly not amused. "It's outrageous and vulgar," says women rights activist and director of Centre for Social Research Ranjana Kumari. "Such sexually suggestive and titillating advertisements are responsible for creating the image of women as sex objects." Kumari plans to take up the matter with the National Commission for Women and the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
However, Flying Machine, owned by Ahmedabad-based Arvind Mills, the world's fourth-largest producer of denim and a supplier to some of the biggest brands in the planet, does not find anything vulgar in the ad. "There is a sensational headline," says Alok Dubey, chief operating officer of the youth, denim and sportswear division of Arvind Lifestyle Brands. "But if you read the headline and body copy harmoniously, there is humour."
Dubey says the Flying Machine advertisement reflects a strong attitude of a mature and aware girl who "doesn't care about those who mock her existence or physicality".
Ankit Fadia, a 26-year-old who acquired fame and fortune after he published a book on ethical hacking at the age of 15, also can't seem to understand why there is so much fuss around the advertisement. "This is modern India and women dress up the way they want to," says Fadia, adding that this advertisement is not at all vulgar when compared with the kind of advertisements aired on TV and what appears in movies.
Fadia is one of Flying Machine's brand ambassadors along with cricketer Virat Kohli and Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan. Some branding experts say the advertisement was designed to be controversial, with the ensuing brouhaha aimed at making it a talking point that could improve the product's visibility.
"Once a familiar brand, Flying Machine is now trying hard to get back into public consciousness," says Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer of ad agency BBDO India. "Sensationalism makes even a small-size ad look bigger."
Branding expert and CEO of brand consultancy firm Brand-comm, Ramanujam Sridhar, says: "Young would love it, activists would hate it, but nobody can ignore it."
In Arvind's case, given what is at stake - India's denimwear market, according to Technopak Advisors, is expected to double to Rs 14,000 crore by 2015 from around Rs 7,000 crore last year - any controversy can only be good for business.
In a nation of more than a billion people, over 70% of whom are less than 35 years old and fast westernising, branding experts say Flying Machine, whose tagline is 'I'm Sexy When I Am Me', knows too well it needs a new, edgy language if it has to connect effectively with this demographic.
It's not the only one using what can be considered provocative language. A host of marketers are pushing the envelope of decency with edgy advertisements these days, hoping to stand apart from other competing products and nursing hopes that some controversy can yield collateral benefits.
A very fine line separates the sensational from the vulgar, and campaigns that fall in the latter category have found themselves on the wrong side of public decency - and with it, law. Recently, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting cracked the whip on some men's deodorant commercials for being overtly sexual and against good taste and decency because they depicted women as sex-starved.
Flying Machine must wish its latest ad is viewed as firmly in the first category, becoming the news while appearing between it.
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