It is surprising that the self-styled watchdogs of Indian culture, religion and sensibilities don’t find anything offensive about deodorant ads that explicitly promise sex as a benefit, but are quick to react to ads for other products—ads that are genuinely funny or try to be funny about something that should ideally be non-controversial, but actually turns out to be someone’s holy cow.
It could be, given the Khajuraho argument and all that, that Indians are fine with sex, but not with jokes about animals—and not just cows, as ad agency McCann discovered to its discomfort, but even donkeys.
There are some ads that require statutory warnings or disclaimers. Ad agencies and advertisers discovered long ago that any ad featuring a stunt also needed a disclaimer, simply because, in some cases, the reach of television was far greater than the comprehension of viewers (which explains why you had children watching an episode of Shaktimaan, a serial about a desi superhero, and jumping off buildings; and why any ad for a motorcycle says “stunts performed by experts; do not try to imitate, especially in your living room”, or some such).
Of late, they have also discovered that ads which attempt to take the humour route run the risk of not being understood, which could explain the disclaimers that have appeared on these. Irrespective of the actual wording of these disclaimers, or the quality of the ad, what they mean is simply this: “This ad is meant to be humorous, so please do not take it seriously and sue us.”
This newspaper thinks it is time for ad agencies to stop worrying and start being brave. Though, as anyone who has watched Mad Men knows, advertising executives aren’t exactly known for their courage. It also thinks it is time for the courts to come down hard on individuals, activists and groups which are quick to protest against ads, and on flimsy grounds. For instance, it is highly unlikely that the ad for a brand of mint that featured a donkey could have encouraged people to start using the animal as a beast of burden. The disclaimer forced upon the agency in this case read: “Donkeys are not intended to be working animals.”
If an attempt at humour, however good or bad, and however offensive or inoffensive, is a crime, then possessing thin skin is a bigger crime.
Should social preferences take precedence over humour in ads? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org