Mumbai: The Maharashtra state government has directed the Mumbai civic authorities to clamp down on inflammatory banners and posters that have come up after recent terror attacks, raising concerns among some advertising companies that genuine civic messages could be targeted as well.
“The state government has issued a government resolution that requires us to clamp down on ads that cause public unrest and communal violence,” said R.A. Rajeev, additional municipal commissioner, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). “We’ve also been directed to not give the required permissions that are essential for putting up such ads.”
The government wants to pull down only those advertisements that could cause law and order problems, he said, without clarifying how ads will be judged.
Preventive step: A file photo of firefighters trying to douse the fire at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai. The government wants to pull down advertisements that could cause law and order problems.Punit Paranjpe / Reuters
Mumbai is one of the largest and most expensive outdoor advertising markets for an out-of-home (OOH) industry in India that is estimated to generate annual revenues of about Rs2,400 crore and is facing a 30-40% drop in revenues because the downturn.
“This kind of political messaging forms a very minuscule part of the outdoor pie in any case and most are not routed via outdoor agencies,” notes Soumitra Bhattacharyya, chief executive of Laqshya Media Pvt. Ltd’s Laqshya Outdoors. “If certain brand messages were seen as offensive, the concerned companies would naturally replace these with other ads. As an industry, we would not be affected.”
Still, there is some apprehension that the directive could be used against advertisements that question state policy.
For instance, newspaper advertisements that urge citizen activism in the wake of the 26 November attacks could be soft targets, some advertising executives said.
“If there are any such legitimate ads that are taken off under this directive, the government would have to prove how it would adversely affect public sentiment,” insists Raghu Venkatraman, a vice-president (media strategy) with Out-Of-Home Media (India) Pvt. Ltd. “If it’s a corporate social responsibility initiative by a responsible media organization, it would be difficult for the government to pull it down.”
Aniruddha Banerjee, president and chief operating officer, Publicis Ambience Advertising Pvt. Ltd, said the government is right in clamping down on such advertisements, but it would face criticism if the directive is used to target messages promoting citizen activism.
Meanwhile, some other outdoor advertising companies actually expect the directive to help the industry, as large political banners and posters typically obstruct the visibility of other legal hoardings.
“It could be an upside for the out-of-home industry if such ads are pulled out because many of them obscure the visibility for legitimate hoardings or banners,” said the vice-president of a prominent outdoor company on condition of anonymity. “Most of the ads that we see in Mumbai are illegal ads put by local parties.”