New Delhi: Two television commercials of deodorants for men have been placed under the scanner of the Advertising Standards Council of India (Asci) following consumer complaints of offensive sexual overtones.
One of the advertisements for a deo called Wild Stone, a product of McNroe Chemical Pvt. Ltd, shows a woman tricking her way into her brother-in-laws’ arms because of the effect his deodorant has on her. The brand’s tag line says “barely legal”.
The other ad for a deodorant called Fuel for Men, launched in March by Elder Health Care Ltd in alliance with VLCC Healthcare Ltd, shows a woman so attracted to a man using the product that she starts unbuttoning her blouse.
“We are waiting for an explanation from the respective advertisers before we give these to the consumer complaint council to take a decision on whether we have a valid reason to pull these off-air,” said an executive of Asci, which is the ad industry’s self-regulatory body. The official did not want to be named.
The companies, however, said that they have not stepped out of the line with these commercials. Mridul Munet, brand manager for Fuel for Men at Elder Health Care, said: “There are certain category truths that are known to sell products like toothpaste results in clean teeth and shampoo in clean hair. Similarly, fragrances are associated with attraction and our advertisement is based on that premise.”
The advertisng agency that created the ad also defended it. “It is an established fact from behavioural scientists that males groom themselves for the female species and that is exactly what this category of advertising is reflecting,” said Arvind Sharma, chairman, Indian subcontinent, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, the agency that handles the Fuel for Men campaign. “The only difference in these ads is how creatively the idea is executed.”
“The Wild Stone ads raise eyebrows for sure, but it is in line with our brand positioning which is about classic Indian male fantasies,” said Aanchal Jain, vice-president, brands, Future Brands Ltd, the brand manager for McNroe Chemicals. “All deo ads are based on a similar theme but Wild Stone puts an Indian context so consumers can actually connect with it.” McNroe Chemicals declined to comment on the matter, saying its brand manager would speak for the company in this regard.
An earlier Wild Stone ad had also invited comments. The advertisement, aired in 2007, showed a woman dressed in sari, fantasizing about sleeping with a complete stranger after smelling his deodorant when she accidentally bumped into him.
Using sex to sell men’s personal-care products is not new in India. Besides the two commercials Asci is reviewing, current television campaigns of Fa Men’s Xtreme of Henkel India Ltd, Denver deodorant of Vanesa Inc. and Zatak deodorant of Paras Pharmaceuticals Ltd are also airing ads with sexual overtones.
Some executives in the advertising industry said the idea of sexual innuendoes in advertising for deodorants for men gained ground after a successful campaign in 1999 by Hindustan Unilever Ltd for its Axe deodorant. The ad showed women going crazy for men who used the deodorant.
The market for deodorant and perfumes, including for men, is estimated to be worth around Rs470 crore.
To be sure, Asci has taken action on ads that it thought went too far.
In September last year, its complaints council banned an commercial for Axe Dark Temptation, which showed women taking bites out of a man who is coated in chocolate after using the chocolate-flavoured deo.
An industry watcher said that many brands are copying the Axe idea in their communications. “The men’s deodorant market is at a very nascent stage with a lot of room to grow,” said Anand Shah, an analyst at Angel Broking Ltd. “Since Axe is the biggest brand in the industry and its campaign has been very successful in the past, there is no reason for other players to be different just yet.”