Bhima ad featuring trans woman goes viral: Meaningful dialogue or smart branding?

The advertisement uses every cliche for a jewellery brand — except the protagonist in this one is a trans woman.
A fully dressed up bride, a trans woman, putting on her earrings before her wedding
A fully dressed up bride, a trans woman, putting on her earrings before her wedding

Do ads go beyond advertising when they make a social statement? ‘Pure as Love’, the recent viral ad by Bhima Jewellers traces the journey of a trans woman as she comes into her own. The well-made advertisement shows a loving family, gifting jewellery to their trans daughter leading up to her wedding — every cliche imaginable in a jewellery ad, except this time, the protagonist is a trans woman. The ad has been welcomed by people online for its sensitive portrayal of a trans woman — and for once, it’s not a cis person “dressed up” as a trans woman, but really a trans woman (Meera Singhania) cast in the role.

Bhima, a 96-year-old jewellery brand, says it wanted to break all stereotypes of a typical jewellery ad campaign with this ad. Navya Suhas, Online Operations Head of BHIMA Jewellers Trivandrum says, “The reason for choosing this cause is, even though there is so much talk of gender equality between men and women, the trans community is often neglected from this debate. Which is why when we were putting the brand ad together, we were clear we needed to do something relevant in today’s society. For the trans community.”

Sayantan Choudhaury, Creative head of ANIMAL — the ad agency which conceptualised Bhima’s campaign says, “We always wanted to tell a positive story, because we believe for normalising something, you have to first show that it’s normal — lead by example. So we showed a story where this child was accepted and supported by her family every step of the way.” He also adds that films and ads on the trauma trans people go through already exist. “What more could we do for the community is what we kept asking ourselves,” he says.

Bhima has released the ad, not as part of a ‘special campaign’ to champion LGBTQI+ rights, but expects the ad to run for a long time, just like any of their other ads. “It just happens to be about a trans person and their family. The ordinary expectations of this film are what make it stand apart. Our client expects it to run for a long time and attract new customers with it,” Sayantan says.

Meaningful dialogue or smart branding?

But does BHIMA’s ad campaign introduce meaningful dialogue on trans rights? Or does it take up the trans cause just to promote its jewellery? There are split reactions to this question.  

Kerala based model and trans activist Sheetal Shyam says, “All of us are so used to seeing fair ‘beautiful’ cis hetero women wearing jewellery and being featured in jewellery brand ads. So seeing an unconventional lead in the ad was a welcome change.”

Sheetal also says that she is happy that the ad cast a trans woman, instead of a cis hetero actor to play a trans woman. “It throws open opportunities to the community to be cast in ads. And it also gives a message — that representation is key. Besides this, the utopia factor in the ad — that they show a family which is accepting of their child — will hopefully help mainstream audiences think a bit on the issue. That ostracisation and exclusion need not be the way and that trans people need love and acceptance,” she says. 

Bengaluru based writer and trans activist Nadika Nadja believes that the ad was a smart way for BHIMA to position its brand — but nothing more. 

“We've had too many "starting the conversation”, “initiating the dialogue" sort of attempts — ads, events, even state govt gimmicks. But things don't seem to go beyond that. What happens after the conversation is initiated? How has the dialogue changed over the last 5-10 years?” she asks. 

The 39-year-old who used to work in advertising says that the problem in a media landscape is that, ‘even if you start a conversation, it fizzles away into nothing.’ 

“I was one of those who thought — yeah, it's fine if an ad starts a conversation and does nothing more. But what finally sticks in such cases is a "warm fuzzy" feeling for the brand (sometimes we may even forget the brand, and just have some warm fuzzy feeling), without any particular change in the circumstances of the people the ad has used to get to the point,” she says. 

On the argument that the ad uses a trans person to ultimately promote their brand, Sheetal says that she agrees, but does not necessarily view it as a bad thing. “Every ad’s primary goal is to market a brand or product and that’s what Bhima’s ad does too. Bhima itself says so in their press release that they expect their advertisement to attract more customers and sees it as any other ad and not as a special campaign to champion any cause,” she adds. 

Nadika agrees that an ad does not have to do more than market a brand or product, but adds that it is also unfair to claim ‘progressiveness’ and ‘efforts to do something for the community’ if there is no lasting impact on the community. 

“It is unfair to use marginalised people to get to the top if you don't do anything worthwhile to the community that lasts. It can't be a gesture, but something that's useful long term,” she explains. 

Watch the ad here: 

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