A few weeks ago, Pakistan, and the metropolis in particular was busy protesting against the infamous ‘moral stunt’ pulled off by Maya Khan. The protest predominantly came from a relatively privileged class of the country with their primary contention being the intrusion of privacy and harassment of people, especially those who could not afford the luxuries of up-market restaurants and cafes. Besides that, many also pointed out the media bubble going directionless and the need to hold the media accountable in the larger interest of the public.
In the midst of the noise in the cyber world, Karachi was, and is still in the process of experiencing the resurrection of the billboards advertising upcoming lawn exhibitions, now an annual ritual for Karachiites to mark the beginning of the summer season. What was different this year was one of those billboards that read ‘I drive Convertible, and I wear Asim Jofa.’ Another hoarding at another location read ‘I collect diamonds and I wear Asim Jofa’. Some other variations of the same ads on the brand’s Facebook page referred to being a banker and being a ‘classy housewife.’ This article, however is neither about Maya Khan nor about the lawn. It is the two interesting similarities between the Maya Khan saga and the lawn advert in question that has been bugging me.
I am an avid of consumer of lawn but neither do I drive a Convertible nor do I own one. While I have nothing against women who drive one, as I consider it a matter of pure affordability and choice, I believe I am still living a decent and elegant lifestyle despite of owning a car that costs less than half of a Convertible. I fail to understand the connection between a luxury car and an average branded lawn fabric that costs between Rs. 2500 to Rs. 5000 ($27 to $55), with its customer base including not only the elite, but also a significant proportion of urban middle class women. Even without the earlier presence of class oriented advertisement campaigns, the need of having the latest lawn outfit and being the first one to sport it has already reached insane heights among urban ladies. A product that should be marketed and perceived to promise beauty, feminity and womanhood, has become yet another epitome of social status, and that too in a society where women seldom feel a sense of strength about themselves.
While the brand in question claims to celebrate ‘classy woman’ and there is nothing wrong with that, but the disputation here is the definition of the adjective ‘classy’. In essence the adjective refers to, and should be used to depict classiness in terms of elegance, dignity, self-esteem and strength. Contrary to that, the personification of classy women as Convertible driving and diamond collecting women, which covers only the crème de la crème of the society, deprives the rest of the female population from that perimeter of classiness that they deserve.
Apparently, this kind of marketing strategy was designed to sustain the elite clientele while attracting the middle class at the same time, giving them a chance to be a part of a ‘special’ social echelon. This might be a commercially viable strategy from the technical point of view; however, I do not consider it in compliance with the ethics. Besides that, anyone who has witnessed some of these exhibitions would agree that the behaviour of lawn hungry women at the event makes them look anything but classy.
Connecting it back to the Maya Khan episode, there are two questions that are common to both the issues. One, Is freedom, privilege and class allowed only for a limited elite social segment? Secondly, will the common Pakistani consumers and public stakeholders be continued to be humiliated by the marketing gimmicks of the corporate sector?
On a positive note some citizens do take note of it and make use of social media to create public pressure, but to deal with this problem on a long term and concrete ground, an organized consumer protection group is required that not only act as a civilian pressure group against the corporate sector, but also educate the common consumers about their rights.