With the average Indian audience becoming more conscientious, the Indian entertainment and media industry has been forced to become more inclusive in the kind of content it creates. The latest vertical to join in this effort is world of advertising.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has updated its advertising code of conduct to prevent insensitive portrayals about gender identity and sexual orientation, physical and mental health conditions, body types, or even age in ads. The body has always called for advertisements to be “Non-Offensive to Public” and has now updated the code to make space for greater inclusivity. The updated Chapter 3.1 (b) says that “no advertisement shall be permitted which derides any individual or groups on the basis of race, caste, color, religion, gender, body shape, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical or mental conditions or nationality”. If ads are found violating these codes, they would be at the risk of being taken down.
“As a future-facing organisation, ASCI works to ensure that its guidelines keep pace with the ever-evolving society. As consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about unfavourable depictions of certain sections of society, this change ensures that advertising too keeps pace with these rightful expectations.” stated ASCI’s Press release.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general of the ASCI said, “We have seen consumers call out ads that mock or deride people, or portray them in unfavorable ways. And it is only right that advertising becomes more inclusive and sensitive to this. It is not acceptable for example, to associate characteristics such as sluggishness with a certain body shape. Similarly, to deride someone with a physical or mental ailment, or their gender identity would now violate the ASCI code.”
While this allows for advertisements to be more mindful of the sensibilities of the average Indian audience, it is also important that these codes are used to establish progressive narratives. In January 2022, the ASCI published a report titled, “What India Takes Offense To”, which analysed 1,759 complaints made against 488 ads between 2019 and 2021. The report observed six themes that gathered the majority of complainants. While some concerns were valid, some took issue with ads for sanitary products that chose to use red liquid to depict menstruation as opposed to the original blue liquid. Many advertisements in the recent past have been taken down due to it not toeing the line of what is seen as traditional, such as the Tanishq ad that showcased an interfaith relationship.
Given the increasing amount of intolerance in the world around us, it is even more important that these updated codes help us become a more progressive nation, and not a close-minded one.