Don’t show bias on basis of skin colour: ASCI to fairness cream brands like HUL, Emami

11 Jun,2014

By Shephali Bhatt & Ravi Balakrishnan


New guidelines from the Advertising Standards Council of India, a self-regulatory body, could quite literally change the face of advertising in the approximately Rs 3,000-crore fairness category which includes creams, face washes and lotions.


Hindustan Unilever dominates the category with its Fair & Lovely brand, and other big brands include Emami’s Fair & Handsome for men, as well as Garnier from L’Oreal.


A draft of the new guidelines specifically targets several well-established tropes of fairness advertising.


The new rules propose, among other things, that ads should not show darkerskinned people as unhappy, depressed, or disadvantaged in any way by skin tone, and should not associate skin colour with any particular socio-economic class, ethnicity or community.


According to Sam Balsara, chairman and managing director, Madison World and a former chairman of ASCI, “The reason for these guidelines is to make it clear to advertisers as to what society finds acceptable and what it doesn’t.”


When asked about the ramifications on the guidelines on its advertising, a spokesperson from Hindustan Unilever, said, “We welcome ASCI’s move to further strengthen guidelines. This will help to promote transparency in advertising. These guidelines are currently at a draft stage and have been published for seeking industry inputs.”


Adds a spokesperson from Garnier, “We strongly believe advertising should not encourage social discrimination of people based on aspects like the colour of their skin. 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.”


Both ASCI and Balsara say that advertisers have been consulted while coming up with the guidelines. And advertising folk who chose to respond off the record believe (or at least hope) that the letter and spirit of these guidelines allow a certain room for interpretation.


Pioneered by Afghan Snow in 1919, the fairness category is dominated by Hindustan Unilever’s Fair & Lovely, launched in 1975.


Today, almost every skin care brand worth its name, from Garnier to Ponds, has a fairness variant, with an entire sub-category targeting men. It has been built on storylines about how being dark skinned could materially affect the job and marital prospects of consumers.


However, over the last decade, there’s been a groundswell of protests against these products and how they are marketed. Celebrities like film director Shekhar Kapur have taken on the category on social media including Twitter.


An entire segment in Madhur Bhandarkar’s Traffic Signal is devoted to an anti fairness-cream rant. The category’s ads has been pilloried in global media for promoting a kind of “racism”.


Chennai-based Women of Worth has been running a campaign around the theme Dark is Beautiful with support from actor and director Nandita Das. It’s finally made ASCI take notice.


Long regarded as a well intentioned but powerless body, the ASCI has revitalised itself over the last couple of years, moving with speed and aggression against ads that break its code of conduct.


Says Shweta Purandare, secretary-general at the ASCI, “Over the years, we have come across several complaints against advertisements regarding skin lightening or fairness improvement.”


Source:The Economic Times

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