New Delhi: When a youth-focused brand gets a popular Bollywood star to feature in a campaign which is highly suggestive and reeks of sexism, it is a recipe for disaster. The Danish fashion brand Jack and Jones has faced the ire of consumers on social media for a suggestive outdoor campaign featuring actor Ranveer Singh. The outdoor leg is the extension of the brand’s first-ever India-specific video campaign ‘Don’t Hold Back’.
Made by advertising agency Marching Ants, the billboard put up in 12 cities across the country, promotes brand’s formal range of shirts. The creative features Singh dressed in formal attire carrying a woman on his shoulders about to enter an elevator as the suggestive copy states ‘Don’t Hold Back, take your work home’. The woman, also dressed in Western formals, is shown smiling while the elevator boy, smirking, is shown opening the door.
On 19 November, users on Twitter started posting the pictures of billboard accusing the brand of being utterly sexist and objectionable. The ad was also reported to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the advertising industry watchdog. The company eventually withdrew the ad on 21 November and individually tweeted to the complainants apologizing for causing distress.
According to ASCI code advertisements should contain nothing indecent, vulgar, especially in the depiction of women, or nothing repulsive which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave and widespread offence.
“As a progressive brand that is loved by youth the world over, we take our responsibility of always being respectful, as seriously as we do our bold attitude. We regret that a billboard of our current campaign has caused people distress. We did not intend to offend anyone, and have discontinued it immediately,” said Vineet Gautam, country head, Bestseller India which markets and sells brands such as Jack and Jones, Vero Moda and Only India, in an email response.
This is not the first time a brand has been accused of crossing the line, or as they say in ad fraternity, taking the creative freedom a bit too far. In 2013, Ford India along with its advertising agency JWT, was attacked for creating a series of ads, one of which featured women bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford driven by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The company and the agency apologized stating that these creatives were not supposed to be published.
While Ford is a standalone case, a lot of brand categories have overtly depended on sexual overtones in their ad campaigns from deodorants, condoms to even mango drinks. A recent campaign by Emami Ltd owned deodorant brand ‘HE’ featuring comedian Vir Das took a potshot at such sexist ads.
Advertising experts agreed to the Jack and Jones ad being sexist and spoke of how marketers and ad folks address the larger issue of gender stereotyping and objectification of women. Calling the Ranveer Singh billboard ‘distasteful’, Navin Talreja, founding partner of The Womb, an independent advertising agency, said that there is a larger problem with the creative as it encourages harassment in the work place. “It is huge issue in India with very little reporting of it or laws that are stop it. This ad seems to propagate it. There is another point here—that of celebrities who are role models to put a stop to this kind of stuff and have a certain level of social consciousness. Glad Jack & Jones has made the right decision in pulling it,” he said.
For Sandhya Srinivasan, managing partner and chief strategy officer at Law & Kenneth Saatchi & Saatchi, the visual is clichéd and the ad is badly done. Adding that men’s innerwear as well as alcohol brands have objectified women for long, Srinivasan said that advertisers and marketers can be agents of change. “Advertising, movies and media have a great opportunity to change the narrative wherever it is discriminatory and impacting real people physically and emotionally.”
Talreja thinks that there is light at the end of a tunnel with more and more marketers evolving and not being stuck in the archaic view of consumers. “For every fair skin ad there is a counter point of view on beauty that brands like Dove and Glam Up propagate,” he said.