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What  upsets  us  about  ads? ASCI  explores

ASCI examined the complaints and spoke to all the complainants directly to get a clearer narrative to help advertisers make better choices and create more responsible advertising.Premium
ASCI examined the complaints and spoke to all the complainants directly to get a clearer narrative to help advertisers make better choices and create more responsible advertising.

  • In a new report, ASCI says the big offenders are ads that are seen to reinforce socially undesirable depictions for commercial gains, those seen as inappropriate for children and aired during prime time or family viewing time

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A few months ago, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) found itself flooded with scathing complaints against a newly launched ad campaign for underwear brand Amul Macho made by Leo Burnett India.

It featured actor Vicky Kaushal with a female gym instructor who creates situations to catch a glimpse of the actor’s Macho Sporto underwear band.

One of the complainants asked, “What if the same was being done by a man to a woman? Would that be ok?" Others said it tarnished the image of women.

To get to grips with consumers indignation, ASCI decided to find out what upsets Indians most about ads. The answer: just about everything.

In a new report, What India takes offence to, ASCI says the big offenders are ads that are seen to reinforce socially undesirable depictions for commercial gains, those seen as inappropriate for children and aired during prime time or family viewing time, and even those that portray characters that seem to either cross social boundaries or make fun of what society considers sacred.

Of course, there are other categories, too.

The ad regulator studied complaints received over the last three years regarding alleged violations of norms of decency and propriety and depiction of situations that could be harmful to individuals or society—that’s 1,759 complaints against 488 ads.

“We have seen an increasing trend of people taking offence. People may have been getting offended even earlier, but because of social media, a lot of these things have come to the surface," said Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI. “These people express what they feel, and we’re more aware of what offends people."

Ads that offend vary—from those that sexually objectify people to those that go against societal norms or hurt religious sentiments.

Kapoor cited a Kwality Walls ad which shows actor Alia Bhatt in a theatre with her partner but sharing an ice cream cone with a stranger sitting next to her who’s also in the cinema with his partner. For upholders of cultural values, this violates their view of what a traditional relationship should be and how a woman should behave, he said.

The trend of ads and brands being trolled on social media when an individual or a group takes offence is also a major concern, said the council.

ASCI examined the complaints and spoke to all the complainants directly to get a clearer narrative to help advertisers make better choices and create more responsible advertising.

Hurting religious beliefs is also a pet peeve with Indians. Some of these ads don’t really say anything offensive—they simply concern complainants about new structures that are emerging in society, the council said. One complaint read: “Usage of the phrase ‘upar wala’ to refer to god in an ICICI business banking ad is the promotion of Islam because there is No upar wala in sanantan dharm. god is everywhere....".

“Not everything that comes to us may be violative of our code..... but it does tell advertisers as to what is bothering people about their advertisements, and then they can take a call as to if that is something that they can address," said Kapoor.

She said complaints are analysed by its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) to see if the ad offends a particular person or whether it has the potential for a larger offence.

In October last year, clothing brand FabIndia came under fire for a Diwali-themed advertisement for a collection named ‘Jashn-e-Riwaaz’, which offended some for not being in keeping with “Hindu tradition". In the same month, Dabur was forced to withdraw an ad for its Fem brand, which showed a lesbian couple celebrating the Hindu festival of Karwa Chauth.

“Legal departments of companies have started weighing in... It is just one more thing you have to navigate when making an ad. It is the nature of the beast now," said Piyush Raghani, founder and director of ad-firm Like-Minded People whose clients include Oppo, Apple’s Mac computers and Country Delight.

Delhi-based lawyer Safir Anand, a senior partner at Anand and Anand, which has an advertisement law practice, said in today’s culturally sensitive climate, consumers are incredibly vigilant about their rights. Hence, there is an increased need for greater diligence. Issues of disparagement and violation of intellectual property and moral and privacy rights need to be looked into.

“But the line between exaggeration and violation is now very thin, resulting in non-compliant or misleading advertisements needing to be pulled down. This can cause shame (for a brand), high cost of pulling down and or replacing coupled with social outrage, the negative impact of which can spread like a forest fire," he said.

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