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The Indian car market has witnessed significant growth in the SUV segment in recent years, which even overtook the sales of hatchbacks in 2022. This was a little surprising since India has traditionally been seen as the market for small cars, where men are the car owners.

The assumption that many car brands and the Indian consumer might have is that men have more purchasing power than women, as most men in India (and globally) earn higher salaries than women. Thus the target audience for most brands in India will be mostly men as they form the majority of car owners in India. 

While it is true that there is a substantial wage gap that needs to be bridged, the perception that brands in India don’t target women as their consumers is unfounded. According to Forbes’ analysis of the Google Bidding data, what Indian advertisers spend on women as the target audience for their products in seemingly male-dominated industries is far more than what they spend on men as their target audience. 

Let’s take a closer look at how automotive brands have used masculinity in the advertisements for their SUVs over the years:

Maruti Suzuki

Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza | Play Wickedly Smooth

Maruti Suzuki largely chooses to refrain from playing on the theme of masculinity. Most of its advertisements feature the common man, who is polite and somewhat docile. We do not see any theme of masculinity in the conventional sense in the advertisements featuring hatchbacks. 

However, Maruti tried to use the theme of masculinity in its advertisement featuring its flagship compact SUV - the Vitara Brezza.

The short ad shows a woman in distress as her car is tightly parked between two cars. A man comes in and pushes the car parked in front of her vehicle with his hands. After the woman drives away, he unlocks the car. We hear the ad's tagline, ‘wickedly smooth’.

Except for this ad, which has some element of masculinity in it, all other Maruti ads do not feature this theme.


Hyundai I ALCAZAR Live the grand life

Hyundai’s long-time ambassador Shah Rukh Khan is seen as a symbol of masculinity in the popular culture of India. Due to the range of roles he has played in many of his films, he is seen as a romantic hero and an ideal family man.

While in a lot of older Hyundai ads, there is some element of Shah Rukh Khan getting the girl due to the car. In the advertisement for Alcazar, though, we see a more masculine version of Shahrukh. He picks up women cricketers in his SUV and drives them around to their destination for a match. He is chivalrous in the advertisement and asks for their autographs towards the end of the ad. Interestingly, he plays himself in the ad as the cricketers refer to him by his name and say that a superstar must be arriving in a car like the Alcazar.

Shahrukh’s baritone voice, bearded face, and suit signify masculinity in this ad.


Mahindra XUV500 - 2012 TV AD

Mahindra is a brand that really dials up the theme of masculinity in its advertisements. Most of Mahindra’s car collection features rugged SUVs. Due to the ruggedness of their SUVs, the models that Mahindra chooses to feature in its advertisements also symbolise the same qualities of the car.

Mahindra’s XUV range and the Scorpio are seen as the most masculine cars of the lot. In its advertisements, Mahindra cars are used to showcase force and strength. They are powerful-brute machines, much like a ‘macho’ man.

Its 2012 ad for the XUV 500 features a man who traverses in the jungle alone in his XUV, which shows the rugged nature of the SUV. He walks around shirtless and is enticed by four women who want to eat him up figuratively, and the intention is pretty clear as we see him boiling in a pot of stew. The women who were preparing him to be devoured now suddenly want to steal his car. The ad is supposed to show the ‘wild’ side of humans, especially men. It is clearly highlighted by the tagline of the ad too which says that the cheetah inspires the car.

A clear distinction we see in Mahindra ads before 2014 and after 2014 is the presence of Indian actors/models in the commercials. Ads made before 2014 featured mostly foreign actors with European-looking features. Whereas now, Mahindra has shifted to including Indian actors in their latest commercials. This shift also reflects the shift in our polity as India moves from a western and globalised approach to a more nationalistic one.


All- New SAFARI | The Legend Is Here

Tata ads demarcate a clear shift from the obvious use of the theme of masculinity in its ads. While in the older ads, Tata’s strategy was to position the car as a rugged one that can traverse any terrain, much like the man driving it. 

To showcase masculinity, Tata used to rely on the trope of a man who saves a damsel in distress. The element of surprise in its 2011 ad was that after the woman got stuck while river rafting, a man driving the Tata Safari rescues her from the middle of a river. The ad highlighted that the Safari could drive in any terrain.

However, with changing times, Tata has shifted to a softer look at masculinity. The modern masculine man is now a family man. His masculinity relies on the fact that he is the protector and provider of the family. He is secure in his masculinity and thus can hand over the keys to his wife to take charge while he rests in the backseat with the kids.

It is a commentary on the changing gender norms and fluidity in conventional gender rules as well.


From the above analysis, we found some interesting insights:

1. The narrative of the ads made in a certain period is quite similar to the narratives that we see in films of the same period. Ad narratives thus are derived from pop culture, which in India is heavily shaped by the movies.

2. Brands use women in their advertisements to further highlight the masculinity of men. The ad-makers believe that it is only in the presence of a ‘fragile’ woman that men appear to be more masculine.

3. Although, there has been a significant shift in the definition of masculinity in popular culture and the advertising industry. We still see advertisements of SUVs being driven by tall, rugged men who sport a beard and have a baritone voice. Mahindra especially, is a brand that relies heavily on the conventional perception of masculinity. Although, the masculine man that we see in Mahindra’s ads now has been more ‘Indianised’.

4. Unlike in the US, no female brand ambassadors of automobiles exist in India. This is despite the fact that as compared to the US, there are more female car owners of SUVs in India.

5. Maruti Suzuki, in spite of being the biggest player in the Indian car market, has chosen to stay away from using masculinity in its advertisements; since most of its products belong to the hatchback segment. It positions its hatchbacks as products for ‘followers’ who play by the rules and live a stable life. The SUV segment on the other hand is positioned by most brands (including Maruti to some extent, although in a very limited way) as products for the ‘leaders’ who break the rules.