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'Sanskari' India wants condom ads off primetime

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MUMBAI: India is a country that takes offence at the slightest suggestion of titillation. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has approached the ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB ) for withdrawing condom ads that are telecasted during prime time or ‘family viewing time’. The council received several complaints on the kind of content condom brands show in ads, which may not be suitable for kids and teenagers. The ASCI, in its letter to the ministry, has specifically stated that ads that are explicit and vulgar in nature should be aired only between 10 pm to 6 am.

The most recent instance wherein our sanskari-ness was awakened was when Mankind put up banners across Gujarat that had Sunny Leone advertising condoms with a tagline to ‘Play Navratri but with love’ that did not impress people one bit. Twitter and Facebook were bombarded with hate posts, forcing Manforce to eventually pull down the banner.

ASCI’s consumer council looks into the content of advertisements and decides whether the ad is a s per its self-regulation code or not. Speaking to Indiantelevision.com, ASCI secretary general Shweta Purandare said, “Given the nature of the category (condoms), some sort of intimacy shown in the ad is inevitable but viewers are upset about them being shows during family viewing time. We replied to a few complaints that were forwarded to us by the MIB , by stating that those ads were not considered objectionable as per ASCI’s code but they (I&B) could consider the timing.”

Vouching for brands, Vizeum Media Services associate vice president Saumya Agarwal adds, “One cannot penalise the product for the incorrect/unacceptable treatment in their communication. The guidelines must be placed towards how should the creatives be designed, without demeaning any gender in any way, etc., but to put an embargo on their exposure time is not justified.”

Calling it an extremely myopic and ad hoc approach to solving a much larger issue, Agarwal notes that given the plethora of freely available information across multiple media, this would hardly make any difference. In fact, it is an irony that a country that is promulgating sex education is also fighting to ban condom advertising to the same audience.

Doordarshan during the 1980s had declared that sanitary pads are ‘unmentionable’ and were not allowed to be advertised before 10 pm. That created a vicious circle for the product since young girls were the primary target. Brand-Building.com brand strategist and founder Ambi MG  Parameswaran is of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with pushing what is known as ‘unmentionable’ products into a more ‘adult’ time slot. “We should remember that condoms are in fact health products, they are for family planning and for prevention of sexually transmitted disease and that needs to be kept in mind when pushing condom ads to midnight slot.”

On a different note, Harish Bijoor Consults brand strategy expert and founder Harish Bijoor said that laws such as these will help protect the innocence of young audiences that are besotted with television. “If implemented, I do believe that the meaning of explicit should be common to all categories and not condoms alone. If showing skin above the knee is explicit, it should be common to every category for sure. If a skin cream can get away with it, why not condom brands,” he adds.

Pointing out that brands need to self-regulated before they put out ads, Purandare added, “We are not against advertising of products but the execution is very important. Some ads are quite bold in nature and may not be appropriate for kids and we can’t allow them to show pornography at prime time. Advertisers have to be more conscious about what they put out.”

One might want to consider the fact that even if the I&B accepts the proposal, kids and teenagers are fairly active on digital as well. They can view the content on digital platforms making it a moot point. Havas India CCO Nima Namchu believes that the content can be delivered to the target audience with a relatively higher degree of accuracy on digital media. But if the idea is to regulate content so that explicit content is not viewed by our children, then this step with ads on television will perhaps be followed by similar requests with digital content as well.

Doesn't the nature of the product need ads to be creative with raunchiness and ‘explicit’ communication? Our media experts tend to think otherwise. While Namchu thinks that is not the case, Agarwal adds that categories like alco-bev (Alcohol and Beverages), condoms, feminine hygiene need to be portrayed sensitively without falling into the obvious traps and there must be some sure shot ‘socially responsible’ guidelines in order to prevent marketers crossing the line of objectification of women which is indeed objectionable!

If and when the move happens, it will impact brand communication and marketing spends for these brands on television as the viewership between 11 pm to 5 pm is negligible. Advertisers would be forced to find alternative routes, use surrogate advertising and move to digital platforms. Harish Bijoor added, “The loss is more for the medium of television rather than for the brand player. The brand player will find other means to advertise. Water will find its own level.”

Purandare also points out that whether prime time ban would only be applicable for certain products or the entire category would be I&B’s call.

A head of a big TV network, who did not wished to be named, says it is “hypocritical “ on the part of any government or regulator to say condom ads pollute Indian culture or corrupt young minds, especially when government  itself runs awareness campaigns for HIV/AIDS.

“At a time when bursting population is becoming a problem for a government and the country, saying young people should not be taught or made aware of sexual activities of humans, especially as it has a big health angle (prevention against AIDS, etc.), any effort to push ads of condoms to unearthly hours past midnight defeats the whole purpose of sex-health education of young people,” the TV exec adds. 

However, sources in Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) said no decision has been taken on the issue yet, though, prima face, some content and it’s depiction in such ads are a bit explicit .

KamaSutra and Durex declined to comment on the issue.

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