The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has proven itself to be avant-garde once again by being progressive enough to amend its Code and recognizing the importance of gender identity and body shaming in advertising.
Section 3.1(b) of the original ASCI Code regarded all advertisements deriding anyone on the basis of race, caste, creed, gender, and nationality to be hazardous or harmful to society or to individuals, particularly children, to a degree or of a type which is unacceptable to society at large, and hence not permitted. The revised Section 3.1(b) now reads, “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.” Therefore, any advertisement that disparages an individual on the basis of these criteria is in violation of the ASCI Code, and vulnerable, at best, to a complaint, worse being taken down, and at worst, scorned on Twitter by the woke citizens of India.
Manisha Kapoor, CEO & Secretary General of ASCI, said in a Press Release, “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. With this change, ASCI hopes to ensure that advertising becomes more inclusive and sensitized to all sections of our country, and does not perpetuate certain portrayals that have no place in a progressive society”
In a recent Report titled, “What India Takes Offence To”, ASCI undertook a study on the complaints received against ads that offend people. Among such complaints, was one against the brand Ziddi Perfumes, with the tagline, “Jo paseene mein nahaatein wohi hain asli mard kehlaatein hain” translated as “real men are those who are not afraid to bathe in their sweat.” In his complaint, the complainant mentioned that the advertisement aims at creating an image and prejudice about how men are supposed to be and how they should act, thus promoting toxic masculinity. Similarly, an ad for Levis Jeans featuring Bollywood actress, Deepika Padukone is seen to promote body image that is demanding and anxiety-causing for women. The ad was complained against on the grounds that the ad leverages the ill-mentality of body conformity and creates psychological stress to slim down and attain a certain bust-waist-hip ratio to be considered "jawan" (young) or "haseen" (sexy).
Now, Indians can not only raise their voices against insensitive and deriding advertisements, but also go through the proper legal channels to seek relief by registering their complaints with the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI. Regardless, with the Advertising Standards Council of India as the guard, we are optimistic that we can look forward to a more inclusive, friendly and sensitive ad space that does not hurt the sentiments of the various segments of the society.