Advertising and Ethnicities: A Comparative Study of Sri Lanka and Northeast India

© Media Watch 6 (1) 43-56, 2015
ISSN 0976-0911 e-ISSN 2249-8818
DOI: 10.15655/mw/2015/v6i1/55387

Advertising and Ethnicities: A Comparative Study of Sri Lanka and Northeast India

University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka

Ethnicity has become a key interest of advertisers in diverse societies. Contrary to the popular argument that ethnic identities are threatened by the intensified influence of media and consumer culture, they have become the core sites of representation and reproduction of ethnic identities. It is arguable that in today’s (mass) mediated societies there are no ways of imagining ethnicities without the media’s influence and impact on them. Advertising1, no longer a mere commercial activity, is an important component of popular culture and hence plays a crucial part in the social and cultural life of our times. Sri Lanka2 has long been a country of communal unrest, which culminated in a civil war. Northeast India is a region where a number of conflicting identities are in a constant battle of production and reproduction. The ways the ethnic identities are represented in advertisements in these two societies are worthy of studying in this context. When ad-makers segment a market for a particular brand, they mostly rely on ethnic identities. As a result, advertisements too become a site of reproduction of ethnic identities. This paper is intended to identify and analyze the ways of representations of ethnic identities in advertisements in Northeast India3 and Sri Lanka by a comparative reading of a sample of print and electronic advertisements.

Keywords: Ethnic marketing, imagining, representation, reproduction, text


24frameslk. (2009, May 7). YouTube. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from Mobitel SIM Registration Advertisement:
Agarawal, M. (Ed.). (1996). Ethnicity, Nationalism, and Culture in North-East India. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company.
Astroff, R. J. (1994). Advertising, Anthropology, and Cultural Brokers: A Research Report. In B. G. Englis (Ed.), Global and Multinational Advertisng (pp. 103-113). New Jersey: Lawrence Eralbaum Associates.
Bareu, E. (2014, September 10). Coca-Cola & Dabbawala campaigns among McCann’s best works. Retrieved September 10, 2014, from The Economic Times: magazines/brand-equity/coca-cola-dabbawala-campaigns-among-mccanns-best-works/ articleshow/42107692.cms?prtpage=1
Barua, P. P. (2005). The State at War in South Asia. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Baruah, S. (2003). Citizens and Denizens: Ethnicity, Homeland, and the Crisis of Displacement in Northeast India. Journal of Refugee Studies, 16(1), 44-66.
Bass, D. (2013). Everyday Ethnicity in Sri Lanka: Up-Country Tamils Identity Politics. London and New York: Routledge.
Baudrillard, J. (2001). Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings. (M. Poster, Ed.) California: Stanford University Press.
Bhaumik, S. (2009). Troubled Periphery: Crisis of India’s North East. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Business and Finanace. (2011, December 31). Retrieved September 1, 2014, from The Economist: http:/ /
Census of Population and Housing – 2012. (2012). Retrieved September 1, 2014, from Department of Census and Statistics – Sri Lanka: CPH2012Visualization/htdocs/index.php? usecase= indicator & action =Data&indId=11
Chopra, A. (Producer), Sahni, J. (Writer), & Amin, S. (Director). (2007). Chak de! India [Motion Picture]. India: Yash Raj Films.
Cortse, A. J. (2008). Provocateur: Images of Women and Minorities in Advertisng (3rd ed.). Lanham: Rowman and Littilefield Publishers Inc.
De Mel, N. (2007). Militarizing Sri Lanka: Popular Culture, Memory and Narrative in the Armed Conflict. New Delhi: Sage Publications.
De Silva, K. M. (2012). Sri Lanka and the Defeat of the LTTE . New Delhi: Penguin Books India.
DeVotta, N. (2004). Blowback: Linguistic Nationalism, Institutional Decay, and Ethnic Conflict in Sri Lanka. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
DialogAxista. (2010, November 14). YouTube. Retrieved September 5, 2014, from Ranaviru Real Star [TVC]:
Echtner, C., & Prasad, P. (2003). The Concept of Third World Tourism Marketing. Annals of Tourism Research, 30(3), 660-682.
Esse, D., & Liyanage, D. (2014, May). “Our Kommitment to the Nation”: Where Mary Kom (Identity) Meets Dalmia Cement (Development/Market). Asian Journal of Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, 4(5), 663-672.
Gugler, T. K. (2013). Südasien-Chronik/South Asia Chronicle. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from Buddhist Zion: Sri Lanka’s Sinhalisation Politics toward its Muslim Minority:
Haokip, G. T. (2012). On Ethnicity and Development Imperative: A Case Study of North-East India. Asian Ethnicity, 13(3), 217-228.
Heensare. (2009, August 21). Dialog GSM – Uththamachara. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube:
Hussain, M. (2004). Nationalities, Ethnic Process, and Violence in India’s Northeast. In R. Samaddar (Ed.), Peace Studies: An Introduction to the Concept, Scope, and Themes (pp. 292-318). New Delhi: Sage Publications India Ltd.
Johari, A. (2014, June 18). Ad Trend. Retrieved September 4, 2014, from 667254/Indian-advertisements-slowly-begin-to-include-people-from-the-North-East
Karmakar, R. (2012, August 8). Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet on Mary Kom angers northeast. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from Hindustantimes: Olympics2012/Chunk-HT-UI-Olympics-OtherStories/Amitabh-Bachchan-s-tweet-on-MaryKom-angers-northeast/SP-Article10-910156.aspx
Kemper, S. (2001). Buying and Believing: Sri Lankan Advertisnig and Consumers in a Transnational World. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Kemper, S. (2003). How Advertisng Makes its Object. In T. d. Malefyte, & B. Moeran (Eds.), Advertising Cultures (pp. 35-54). Oxford and New York: Berg.
McDuie-Ra, D. (2012). Northeast Migrants in Delhi: Race, Refuge, and Retail. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
Myers, T. (2003). Slavoj Žižek – Key Ideas. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://
Nair, R. (2014, February 14). Incredible India North East 90 sec. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube:
NirvanaFilms. (2014, March 7). Nestlé. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from YouTube: http://
San Juan, E. J. (2002). Racism and Cultural Studies: Critique of Multiculturalist Ideology and and the Politics of Difference. Durham: Duke University Press.
Senaratne, K. (2014, April 15). The ‘Mad Monk’ Phenomenon: BBS as the underside of SinhalaBuddhism. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from GroundViews: 15/the-mad-monk-phenomenon-bbs-as-the-underside-of-sinhala-buddhism/
SETIndia. (2014, July 8). KBC 2014 launch film – Kohima. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from YouTube:
Shimray, U. (2004). Socio-Political Unrest in the Region Called North-East India. Economic and Political Weekly, 39(42), 4637-4643.
Singh, A. (2008). Ethnic Diversity, Autonomy, andTerritoriality in Northeast India: A Case of Tribal Autonomy in Assam. Strategic Analysis, 32(26), 1101-1114.
Srinivasan, R. (2010, December 25). Star North-East.mp4. Retrieved September 7, 2014, from YouTube:
Stein, S. (2014, February 14). Interreligious Tension in South and Southeast Asia. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from CSS:
Tambiah, S. J. (1986). Sri Lanka: Ethnic Fratricide and Dismatling of Dimocracy. London: I.B Tauris & Co Ltd.
Tewari, S. (2014, July 15). KBC Kohima: Winning hearts. Retrieved September 3, 2014, from Afaqs!:
Thiranagama, S. (2011). In My Mother’s House: Civil War in Sri Lanka. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
VimIndia. (2014, February 15). 160 Birthdays, 1 Family: Sabse Tez Vim. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube: qo_emCnZTBE&index =3&list=UUKN6LUsHc9YjUvK0TcaubHA
VimIndia. (2014, February 15). Breakfast for 160 Members. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube: h t t p : / / w w w . y o u t u b e . c o m / w a t c h ? v = R J k k O Z h k U b U & i n d e x =4&list=UUKN6LUsHc9YjUvK0TcaubHA
VimIndia. (2014, February !7). Breakfast with World’s Largest Family. Retrieved September 5, 2014, from YouTube: 1&list=UUKN6LUsHc9YjUvK0TcaubHA
VimIndia. (2014, February 15). Football with the Family. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube: nvnRMqys&list =UUKN6LUsHc9 YjUvK0TcaubHA &index=2 VimIndia. (2014, February 15). Lunch with the World’s Largest Family! Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube: &index= 6&list=UUKN6LUsHc9YjUvK0TcaubHA
VimIndia. (2014, February 11). Sabse Badi Family, Sabse Tez Vim. Retrieved September 6, 2014, from YouTube:
Williams, R. (2009). Advertising: The Magic System. In J. Turow, & M. P. McAllister, The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader (pp. 13 – 24). New York and London: Routledge.
Žižek, S. (1997, September-October). Multiculturalism, Or. the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism. New Left Review, I(225), 28-51.
Žižek, S. (2000). The Fragile Absolute: Or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting for. London and New York: Verso.
Žižek, S. (2012). The Year of Dreaming Dangerously. London and Brooklyn: Verso.

Darshana Liyanage is a senior lecturer in the Department of Sinhala at the University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka. He is currently reading for his PhD at the Department of Cultural Studies, Tezpur University, Assam, India on a commonwealth fellowship.