377: Which brand will be first off the block in Indian advertising?

12 Sep,2018


By Sanjeev Kotnala

Article 377 is out of contention.  A brigade championing the cause has finally found a verdict it was wanting. LGBT community has a sense of relief.

The battle begins now.

A lot more need to be done within the legal system. There is a need for sensitising police, public, the Romeo brigade and the religious groups full of ill-founded definitions. Then there is the issue of same-sex marriage, acceptance and inclusiveness in housing societies and employment, new definition of relationships and adoption to name a few.

We have recently witnessed an onslaught of rainbows and pride in social media. Was that a case of spontaneous expression? Alternatively, should we read a lot more into it?

Everyone has used the permit to celebrate and mark his or her presence. Many of them are misplaced social activists pushed to celebrate the Supreme Court decision. Many have been happy stamping a token sense of approval.

Vh1, Flipkart, Indigo, CCD, Durex, Ola, Pringle, Duroflex, Dinshaws, Mother Dairy, Twitter, Amul and Swiggy are some of the brands going multi-coloured in their calculated overtones.

The real situation could be very different.

What do the masses think of it? How acceptable is it to the new generation? What about the older generation that looks at it differently?

Not many are comfortable with this open sense of legalisation. Many fear the winds of change. Most of them are uncomfortable with the thought of what if? What if, their son or daughter came out in the open with their skew of choices?

The truth remains that social pressure and the so-called family respect have forced many couples to live a life of masked heterosexuality. It is foolhardy to think; it is going to change soon.

One thing is sure that no one will be able to object to such communication to the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). Chapter III of the ASCI states that no advertisement shall be permitted that derides any race, caste, colour, creed, gender or nationality, it now gets a broader scope. The Press Council has a stated stance of avoiding references to caste, gender or sexual orientation and not to reinforce stereotypes about sexual minorities including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).

However, we know the difference between the intent and reality.

There is a provision that the Supreme Court can review its judgment, this decimalisation and removal of SEC 377 is an example of it. There is ample indication that no further reversal will happen in future, at least on this subject.

It is not that Indian brands had not breached the barrier or walked the thin line when it existed as a legal constraint.

Myantra (Bold is beautiful), Vicks (adoption), Urban Clap, Red Lotus (Mazhavil meaning Rainbow sarees), e-bay (#Thingsdontjudge), Jabong (Be You), Virgin Mobile (#ThinkHatke), Red Label (Hum Hai Happy), and Fastrack (come out of closet) are some of the most reported and quoted brands depicting a same-sex relationship. The Indian film always had a slapstick caricature of LGBT community. Maybe it will also change.

These brands due to their expression were seen as progressive. They were before time.  Many eyebrows were raised when such communication hit the screen. However, times are changing at a faster pace, and there is a higher degree of acceptance of what was earlier called a deviant behaviour.

Are the brands willing to walk the road? Will, they be opportunistic and try to leverage it? Alternatively, will the brands remain conscious and cautious of the over-riding sentiment and not risk taking a stance.

The question remains: which brand will be off the block?

Which brand will take it seriously and endorse the new expression? Which brand will succumb to the lure of trying to leverage the opportunity under the garb of social relevant? Who will be willing to risk alienating a large segment, which thinks otherwise?

As per government statistics, 2.5 million was the reported gay population in 2012. However, we know the figure is a misrepresented considering the entire LGBT community- closeted and open.

Many may wish that the brand custodians avoid raising the dreaded question.  It is not going to be an easy question to answer in Indian markets.



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