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ASCI seeks feedback on draft guidelines on ads for fairness products

LiveMint logoLiveMint 11-06-2014 Gouri Shah

Mumbai: In what could possibly signal a change in Indian advertising, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory industry body, is seeking industry opinion on a draft of guidelines for advertising and promoting fairness and skin lightening creams. It has invited all stakeholders to provide feedback on this draft by 15 June.

While the fairness cream market in India continues to thrive on the back of deep-seated misconceptions and prejudices linked to dark skin, these guidelines could put a stop to advertising that feeds off such misconceptions.

While all fairness products are licensed for manufacture and sale by relevant state food and drug administrations (FDA) under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, there is growing concern that such advertising communicates and perpetuates the notion that dark skin is inferior and undesirable.

For instance, over the years, advertisement for such products have been criticized for showing dark-skinned protagonists unable to land the best job/marriage proposal, or be confident. Their fate, so to speak, changes only with a change in their skin colour.

So, while ASCI’s existing code already states that advertisements should not deride race, caste, colour, creed or nationality, a need was felt to frame specific guidelines for this product category.

As per the draft of the new guidelines, ASCI maintains that the advertising should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour, or reinforce negative social stereotyping, by directly or implicitly showing people with darker skin as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.

The ads should also not portray people with darker skin at a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life, particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.

Neither should such advertising associate darker or lighter colour skin with any particular socioeconomic strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity or perpetuate gender-based discrimination because of skin colour.

More specifically, the advertising should also not use post-production visual effects on the model to show exaggerated product efficacy. And the expression of the model’s pre- and post-usage of the product, both in the real and graphical representation, should be the same.

While the guidelines have been framed taking industry stakeholders into confidence, it is yet to be seen what response it will evoke from a segment that has long touched upon these themes to push sales.

A spokesperson for consumer products maker Hindustan Unilever Ltd said, “We welcome ASCI’s move to further strengthen the guidelines. This will help to further promote transparency in advertising in this segment. These guidelines are currently at a draft stage and have been published for seeking industry inputs for the same.”

In the same vein, a spokesperson from Garnier, a brand from L’Oréal India Pvt. Ltd, said, “We strongly believe advertising should not encourage the social discrimination of people based on aspects like the colour of their skin, etc. All Garnier communication focuses on the efficacy of the product and is most importantly, backed by scientific fact. Our conviction is that there is no single model for beauty, the appearance and physical features of each person are unique. We are dedicated to understanding and serving those differences with the diversity of our products.”

However, some feel that it will still be a while before this case can be won. Especially, given the fact, that a wide spectrum of advertising, not just that which promotes fairness creams, feeds into these prejudices.

“Personally, I have never liked this unfair category. As it is, we are a society driven by multiple benchmarks and all of them are complete tributes to hypocrisy,” said Prathap Suthan, chief creative officer and managing partner of advertising agency Bang In The Middle.

“Chances are even the most virulent and loudest of voices against the societal partiality to fair skin, have had skin issues in their own homes. On the guidelines, while I am yet to go through them, I hope there aren’t any loopholes. Corporates and brands have invested tonnes of money in this pandering to vanity, and it’s almost foolish to think that they will not find ways around most rules.”

“After years of having pummelled the thought that dark skin is below par in real life, just how do you expect to correct that mindset? ...For me, there’s just one way out. Cauterize this category for good. It doesn’t need to exist. It just makes us a population of very unhappy people.”

Shweta Purandare, secretary general, ASCI, said, “The draft guidelines are currently on ASCI website seeking inputs from all concerned. Specifically, ASCI members, and the industry association, also has been asked to provide inputs and comments. ASCI is all about industry self-regulation and, therefore, buy-in by fairness products’ marketers to the guidelines is critical to its successful adoption.”

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