Lodha advertisement digs out real estate biases again: It's time to reflect

When it comes to expressions of creativity which hold up a mirror to us as a society, there's nothing quite like advertisements. They are, after all, designed to induce a particular action—that of buying the product in question. It is no surprise then, that in their effort to sell a product, they end up revealing the deepest instincts of their target audience.

The latest advertisement to have generated (richly justified) outrage is by real estate giant Lodha Group. The advertisement for a luxury residential project read, "You worked your way up to rise above the crowds. Not live with them." While real estate groups routinely emphasise 'exclusivity' to their potential customers, this advertisement was a new low for high-end projects.

While this was perhaps remarkable for its pointed and blatant reference to 'the crowds,' other advertisements also strike a similar chord. For example, another project by the same firm, the Lodha group, emphasises that one of its projects features 'Thane's first by-invitation' residences, and that people who buy houses in the project will 'live a life only a handful will have the privilege to enjoy'.

Housing projects exemplify this trend of underlining exclusivity and privilege to potential customers the best. That is perhaps because they address multiple instincts — including security, comfort, ideas of purity and pollution and class consciousness. Gated communities are structured in such a way that they keep the 'underclass' at an arm's length, allowing them inside for the sole purpose of serving the residents of the enclave. Here's an example:

In some cases, housing projects also explicitly aim at keeping out people with certain food choices. For example, a report by The Times of India in 2012 stated that several developers in Chennai were seen to be promoting vegetarian-only apartments.

The fact that these factors formed the basis of a marketing pitch indicated that the company believed that they would work with their target audience.

But class consciousness does not reflect only in terms of the amenities available or the people it ostensibly keeps out. Even names bring with them their own set of biases. For example, in Mumbai, developers are resorting to names like 'New Cuffe Parade' and 'Upper Worli' to increase the market value of their projects, as reported by The Indian Express. For example, Lower Parel is rebranded as Upper Worli, as the former is associated with a working-class mill district.

So, while there has been much criticism of such advertising pitches, they only reflect existing biases and social divisions. In a different contexts, an article in Mint wrote about the controversy following an advertisement by the website Bookmybai.com, which exhorted husbands to 'gift' their wives a maid in the festival season. Pointing out that domestic help indeed are often treated as objects rather than real people, the article said that the website was only 'supplying what people are demanding'.

As yet another insensitive advertisement leads to internet outrage, it is a good time to question the biases which underpin them.

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Updated Date: Jun 10, 2016 08:47:23 IST