Photo: Bloomberg
Photo: Bloomberg

Fairplay guidelines for fairness products

Guidelines issued on Tuesday by ASCI may put a stop to companies flogging formulaic before-after ads to sell fairness creams

New Delhi: For years now, companies have flogged formulaic before-after ads to sell fairness creams (read: creams that make one fair), India’s largest cosmetics category, accounting for a 3,036 crore slice of a skin-cream market worth 9,641 crore in annual sales.

Guidelines issued on Tuesday by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory organization of advertisers, may put a stop to that.

ASCI claims the new guidelines will not allow ads for fairness creams and other fairness products to depict people with dark skin as inferior to those who are fair.

They should not depict people with dark complexions as “unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned", the guidelines said. Nor should they be depicted as being at a disadvantage when it comes to “being attractive to the opposite sex, prospects of matrimony or job placement and promotions".

ASCI has also said that the advertising should not associate darker or lighter colour of skin with any particular socioeconomic strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity, nor perpetuate gender-based discrimination because of skin colour.

According to Partha Rakshit, chairman, ASCI, the “...new guidelines...will help advertisers comply with ASCI code’s Chapter III 1 b, which states that advertisements should not deride any race, caste, colour, creed or nationality". ASCI saw the need to set up specific guidelines for this product category given the widespread advertising of brands in this segment, Rakshit said.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s skin-lightening cream Fair and Lovely and Emami Ltd’s Fair and Handsome are widely advertised.

Former ASCI chairman and consultative committee member Bharat Patel said that the feedback to the draft guidelines was positive. “Advertisers have reconciled to the fact that they cannot show dark-skinned people as depressed or disadvantaged in any manner. Fairness brands cannot deride any skin colour," he said.

TV ads will have to comply with the guidelines, as the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act makes it mandatory for all television commercials to abide by ASCI rules, Patel said. “We expect 92% compliance in print also, as most large advertisers will follow the guidelines," he added. TV is the primary advertising medium for fairness creams.

Fairness and skin-lightening products are also popular in Japan, China and Thailand, although they do not deride dark skin in their advertising, Patel said. “So while we cannot wish away advertising of skin-lightening products, communication strategies of brands in India will change after these guidelines."

The sheer size of the market in India has meant that even multinational corporations that entered the cosmetics business with lofty notions of selling sophisticated formulations have quickly changed their plans and launched whitening or brightening creams. L’Oréal India Pvt. Ltd, for instance, launched whiteness creams under the Garnier brand.

Responding to the new guidelines issued by ASCI, Mohan Goenka, director, Emami Ltd, said: “We welcome the new advertising guidelines of ASCI for the skin whitening products category which address the concerns raised by various quarters including industry, society and consumers at large. The aim of an advertiser should be to ensure that viewers are not misguided about the efficacy of any product or promote discrimination of any sort, without compromising the creative licence to portray product attributes. We believe that consumer is the king...and it should finally be his choice to use any product that is advertised."

Darshan Patel, chairman and managing director of Vini Cosmetics Pvt. Ltd, the company that manufactures powder under the White Tone brand name, said that although White Tone does not have “fairness" as a product promise, his firm will abide by the ASCI rules.

“We talk of looking good as it is a make-up powder. We also have Glam-up, a foundation cream, that makes you look special. However, we sincerely hope that companies that were crossing the line in advertising their fairness products will stay within limits after this ruling."

ASCI and its consumer complaints council deal with complaints received from consumers and industry against advertisements which are considered false, misleading, indecent or leading to unsafe practices. ASCI currently monitors over 80% of the new print and television ads released every month.

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