Recently, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) undertook an exceptional step of suspending two offensive advertisements for a deodorant that were in serious breach of its Code by being offensive to women.

The ads in question were of Layer’r Shot, a deodorant brand, which were accused of promoting rape culture and being demeaning and insensitive to women. In the first ad, three men are seen entering a room of a young couple. The men first make suggestive remarks and then advance toward the woman because of which, the woman is shown to be afraid. However, the men instead pick up the Shot deodorant bottle. The second ad is set in a supermarket where a woman hears a group of men saying “There are four of us but one of you” in Hindi. The woman is shocked at first but relaxes later on when the men pick up the Shot deodorant bottle on the aisle behind her instead.

A user on Twitter called out the said ad while tagging ASCI to intervene. One of the users called into question the Company's founder for giving a nod to such unpleasant and distasteful ads. ASCI acknowledged with, “Thank you for tagging us. The ad is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and is against the public interest. We have taken immediate action and notified the advertiser to suspend the ad, pending investigation.”

In an official statement, Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General of ASCI said, “After seeing the ad, ASCI immediately invoked a special process called “Suspended Pending Investigation” (SPI). In most cases, ASCI provides an opportunity for the advertiser to put forth their arguments before a recommendation is provided on the ad. However, in exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and its continued transmission can cause public harm or its continuation is against the public interest, then ASCI would, pending investigation direct the advertiser / the advertising agency / the media buying agency and the media concerned to suspend the advertisement…”

The ads in question are clearly in violation of Chapter II of ASCI’s Code, which states: “Advertisements should contain nothing indecent, vulgar, especially in the depiction of women, or nothing repulsive which is likely, in the light of generally prevailing standards of decency and propriety, to cause grave and widespread offense.” Further, under usual circumstances, an advertiser is given four business days from the date of receipt of the complaint to submit a response before any kind of action is taken. In exceptional circumstances, such as the present, ASCI has the authority to suspend an advertisement on the above-mentioned grounds. In the event of suspension of any advertisement in the manner as aforesaid, the Consumer Complaint Council shall at the earliest and not later than 30 days from the date of the suspension, adjudicate whether or not the advertisement is in breach of the Code and pass appropriate order accordingly after giving a reasonable opportunity to hear to the advertiser whose advertisement has been suspended. This decision of the suspension is to be taken by the Chairman (or, in his absence, the Vice-Chairman) of ASCI, in consultation with two members of the Consumer Complaint Council. [4]

In addition to the ASCI Code, the said advertisements are also in violation of the following statutes:

Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021:

3. (1) Due diligence by an intermediary: An intermediary, including social media intermediary and significant social media intermediary shall observe the following due diligence while discharging its duties, namely:—

(b) the rules and regulations, privacy policy or user agreement of the intermediary shall inform the user of its computer resource not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information that,—

(ii) is defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, invasive of another’s privacy including bodily privacy, insulting or harassing on the basis of gender, libellous, racially or ethnically objectionable, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise inconsistent with or contrary to the laws in force.

The Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 (as amended):

7. (2) No advertisement shall be permitted which – 

(vi) in its depiction of women violates the constitutional guarantees to all citizens. In particular, no advertisement shall be permitted which projects a derogatory image of women. Women must not be portrayed in a manner that emphasises passive, submissive qualities and encourages them to play a subordinate, secondary role in the family and society. The cable operator shall ensure that the portrayal of the female form, in the programmes carried in his cable service, is tasteful and aesthetic, and is within the well established norms of good taste and decency.

In this specific case, ASCI served notice to the advertiser on June 3rd that informed them of ASCI’s decision to suspend the advertiser and asked him to submit a response which shall be presented to the Consumer Complaints Council. 

In the meantime, government officers, influencers, and celebrities alike expressed outrage about the disrespectful ad. Delhi Commission of Women’s Chief, Swati Maliwal questioned if such ads encouraged the ‘gangrape mindset’ and wrote to the police to file an FIR against the Company. LinkedIn influencer and Head of Creative at Tata Consultancy Services, Nikhil Narayanan wrote, “It's appalling enough that an ad like the terrible "Shots" deodorant ad was made in the year 2022. But what makes it even more awful is that this was not the consequence of one random, thoughtless person taking a camera and shooting something. That would still be understandable because everyone is entitled to their moment of madness. Doesn't make it right, but would still be believable. But this... This was different.”

According to Section 3(1)(d) of the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, upon receiving actual knowledge in the form of an order by a court of competent jurisdiction or on being notified by the Appropriate Government or its agency under clause (b) of sub-section (3) of Section 79 of the Act, the intermediary shall not host, store or publish any unlawful information, which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force in relation to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India; security of the State; friendly relations with foreign States; public order; decency or morality; in relation to contempt of court; defamation; incitement to an offense relating to the above, or any information which is prohibited under any law for the time being in force.

Accordingly, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (MIB) promptly intervened to ensure that the ad is pulled down from social media channels as well. MIB has stated, “An inappropriate & derogatory advertisement of a deodorant is circulating on social media. I & B Ministry has asked Twitter & YouTube to immediately pull down all instances of this ad. The TV channel on which it appeared has already pulled it down on directions of the Ministry.”

While the Layer’r deodorant advertisement goes above and beyond offensive and harassing, unfortunately, it is not a singular incident of deodorant brands publishing sexist and stereotypical ads. Not only are these advertisements disrespectful and derogatory, but they are also inappropriate for children. Brands such as Axe, WildStone, Set Wet, and more have been called out in the past for precisely this reason. Having said that, the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, along with ASCI, have taken prompt and just action each time to ensure that standards of public order are maintained.