Time there’s solidarity to save advertising

11 Oct,2017


By Sanjeev Kotnala


I am a happy-go-lucky person. Very few things bother me. Mine is a life of peaceful co-existence within the highly competitive and inconsistent advertising –media-marketing industry. Nothing is permanent here. The brotherly love exhibited over drinks does not even last the hangover. However, I must note that things have changed a bit.

One can never be sure in the era of new violent wave of religious, cultural and social censorship. Anyone, anywhere at anytime can take offence to an extremely logical and sensible communication. And you have to fight it alone. No one within the industry comes to support.

We are after all an industry of armchair activists. Masters of mind-burning thought-numbing 140- characters. We can start a discussion on any subject that we don’t want to close. However, we fail to find long-term, visibly demonstrable, vocal support within the industry.

A few days back, a simple communication from Habib (the hair guru) was the centre of debate. It was completely harmless. Far more play is visible on Bengali magazines’ covers and pandals fronts. Maybe his only fault was being part of a minority. He was instantly trolled. Few rare voices of sanity were drowned under threat. He had to beat a hasty retreat.

Not a big advertiser. With the creative not carrying weight of a large advertising agency, Habib remained isolated. No one really found time to debate or support. Oh, yes, we don’t support a losing debate, in spite of valid arguments. It is just not right for the industry.

Next in line was an ice cream brand. It was grilled and trolled by gender-sensitive women power gang. How dare they show celebrating the simple playful act of a young girl making her first round chapati?! Where was the son? What was she doing in the kitchen? The din was too high. Bad even if that was a buzz-creating strategy.

By ignoring such acts, we definitely constrain creativity, interpretation and innovation. We are not far from a time that the brief for a campaign will go through the list of don’ts. It may be easy to send a list of do’s as it is expected to be shorter.

During Navratri, this time big advertiser Manforce Condoms learnt the same lesson. They did the most blasphemous act of taking Sunny Leone to drive home the importance of safesex. ‘Yuva Vahani’ took offence ‘Aa Navratri a ramo, parantu premthi’ (this Navratri, play but with love). It was insulting. Dandiya-rass was equated to sex opportunities and pleasure. Instead of celebrating womanpower the brand was purposely offending festival sensibilities. Come on!Ultimately, Manforce could not stand against the demand; the hoarding was promptly removed.


Meanwhile, in my inbox was a visual from ASCI promoting safe advertising. And in my view, ‘Manforce’ was clearly promoting safe practice.

Manforce ended up apologising for erring and hurting sentiments. I am yet not sure which sentiments were hurt. Was it saying aloud the worst kept secrets? That Gujaratis don’t have sex, definitely not during Navratra. The abortion figures in December, January is just statistical aberration.

I would suggest that Manforce submits the advertisement to ASCI for guideline violations. Let’s understand where they went wrong.

What would have happened if some progressive Garba mandals were to place in easy-access boxes of condom? And if Uber or Ola were to place some in their cars? Great activation ideas addressing a segment, but…

If such a treatment was given to a film, the film industry would find ways to support and visibly demonstrate the intent. In case of books, the authors support by debate walks and protest. Even the frequently abused press behaves with far more solidarity.

Meanwhile, Baba Ramdev continues with his stance on ASCI and self-regulation. And the industry remains a silent spectator.

I have no solution but a few wild thoughts.

ASCI’s role is to stop exposure to an advertisement that does not follow the guidelines. Is it not natural, then to expect it to support and protect campaigns that follow the guidelines?

How long must the industry suffer such threats? There is a need of collectivism and solidarity.

We must ensure that all stakeholder organisations are a member of relevant associations. And they must toe the line. The rouge agencies, media and marketers must be penalised – boycotted and not supported in their initiatives.

It’s a crazy thought, but an advertiser with more than a Rs 2 crore budget must be a member of ASCI otherwise the media refuses to run its advertisement. Any agency with Rs 50 lakh-plus billing must be a member of AdClub and AAAI. These are random figures with no logic. Maybe it will work. However, I have my doubts if it ever happens but no harm in dreaming.

The associations in addition to being busy with calendar events awarding excellence and creating those wonderful engaging evenings need to find focus on industry issues too. Work on creating a totality of approach and even lobbying for a protected environment for legally valid- guideline following campaigns. It is a collective force of Ad clubs, ASCI, ISA, IMA, AAAI, IAA and other association that may help.

Remember the appeal for solidarity.. Today it was Habib, Kwality and Manforce. Tomorrow, Man you can in place of them. You will need the collective power of the industry to do what is rightfully right. So, next time onward when something like this happens, speak up and act.

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