New Delhi: A day after the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry asked TV channels to stop airing condom ads between 6 am and 10 pm, advertising and brand experts unanimously agreed that banning a crucial category like condom is not the solution. Calling it a futile exercise, they have asked for a strict content guidelines which companies must adhere to while creating such ads.
“Why is the condom category being singled out because from content point of view categories like deodorants and undergarments have far more suggestive ads than condoms. Even Bollywood songs running on various music channels have content unsuitable for a child’s viewing. I think ban is not a solution, there has to be regulation on content being broadcast on television which should be category agnostic," said Navin Khemka, managing partner, Wavemaker India, a GroupM owned media agency.
The I&B ministry advisory followed multiple complaints that the advertising industry watchdog the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) received on condom ads. Most recently, Mankind Pharma owned condom brand Manforce’s outdoor ad in Gujarat during Navratri was taken down by the company. The ad featuring Sunny Leone with tagline “This Navratri, play, but with love" was attacked by Confederation of All India Traders for being offensive.
“There’s a problem with government objecting to advertisements. Sunny Leone in a condom ad is objectionable but okay in a sleazy item number being aired on television. Our creative freedom continuously being restricted. While I agree that one cannot show nudity or vulgarity in ads, the bigger question is whether the government can create similar strong filters for film content on television as well," said Santosh Padhi, co-founder and chief creative officer, Taproot Dentsu, a Dentsu Aegis Network agency.
Ambi Parameswaran, brand strategist and founder of Brand-Building.com and a Mint columnist, noted that many countries have a separate “unmentionable brand category", which includes products like tampons, condoms or sanitary napkins, which are not allowed to be aired during prime time.
“The sensible thing is to create guidelines where ads from any category which have titillating content are not allowed to be telecast. Advertising regulatory body ASCI can create separate guidelines on unmentionable products which brands must strictly adhere to. Irrespective of the fact how they are being promoted, condoms are used for birth control and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases which need to be communicated to the consumers through television," he added.
Condom marketing has seen a major shift in the last couple of years moving from utilitarian aspects to eroticism. The state-run HLL Lifecare-owned Nirodh was the first condom brand introduced in India in 1960s with a clear focus on family planning and prevention of AIDS in its marketing. The sexy spin to a condom was given by JK Chemicals owned condom brand Kamasutra launched in 1991 and promoted by models Pooja Bedi and Marc Robinson. Between the 1990’s and 2000s, a number of brands offering a wide range of flavours and variety were launched in the country including Mankind Pharma owned Manforce condoms, TTK Protective Devices’s Skore condoms and Reckitt Benckiser’s Durex most of which resorted to erotic execution in their advertising.
“Currently, no condom brand is promoting safe sex in their television ads. It is either about flavour or lubrication showing a sensuous woman in suggestive shots. I feel that the way condom ads are being created is the reason that has triggered this decision," said Pratap Bose, founding partner and chairman at The Social Street, marketing communications agency.
While government’s decision takes only television ads in its purview, ad experts note that it is digital media where the control should be exercised. “Today, children have internet access which hosts all kind of content, which is not regulated and has far more negative impact than television," said Wavemaker’s Khemka.
Currently, ASCI does not have a separate guideline for digital ads however it claims to track words like misleading ads, vulgar ads, offensive ads in social media conversation urging consumers to report such ads.
While condom brands have not responded to Mint’s query on the I&B ministry’s advisory, a spokesperson from Durex’s media agency Initiative stated, “While we cannot comment on the government advisory, from a brand’s perspective we are not worried because our chatbot Rexbot hosted on Facebook messenger is available to connect with consumers at any point of time."