6 key patterns in ads that India finds offensive

13 Jan,2022



The Advertising Standards Council of India, the self-regulator body set up advertisers, advertising agencies, media companies and others in media ecosystem, has come up with a report titled ‘What India Takes Offence To’.


Based on 1,759 complaints against 488 advertisements over the past three years, ASCI undertook a deep dive to identify trends in such complaints in order to deconstruct not only the messaging that was found objectionable, but also the articulation of the complaint along with desired action asked for.


There are six broad patterns of triggers:

Socially undesirable depictions for commercial gains: Some ads were seen to reinforce depictions of society that perpetuated unhealthy practices or beliefs for the sole purpose of commercial gains. For example, ads that promote stereotypes such as fair skin, certain body shapes or ads that create undue pressure on parents and kids in the field of education.


Inappropriate for children: This category had ads, mostly viewed at prime-time, that seemingly provoked children’s interest in ‘adult life’, particularly in the idea of sexuality and physical intimacy. The complainants were largely embarrassed or concerned parents.


Ads where people seemingly crossed cultural boundaries: Depiction in these ads seemed to cross boundaries set by society or to make fun of what was considered sacred in our culture. Individualist depictions, particularly of youth and women, were key triggers. Many ads that showed intergenerational dynamics in non-traditional ways were also considered problematic by some people.


Advertising mocking men: Ads where men were depicted in a negative or poor light, even in humorous or introspective ways, were considered offensive by some.


Hurting religious sentiments: Ads portraying mixed religious narratives, depictions of new interpretations of traditions or the use of religious and cultural motifs in a humorous manner became a trigger point. Complainants questioned the intent of the ads and felt the need to guard against ‘conspiracies’.


Depicting unpleasant realities: Everyday realities, when depicted in an in-your-face manner, triggered complaints from consumers who preferred a more sheltered and ‘civilised’ version of realities. Showcasing death, raw meat or blood tended to raise the hackles of these complainants.


Said Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI: “Being in direct touch with the complainants gives ASCI a unique vantage point to understand what people find offensive in advertising. We are sharing these insights with our stakeholders to help advertisers plan campaigns better and be more cognizant of  consumer sentiment.”


Added Subhash Kamath, Chairman ASCI said “At ASCI, we believe our role is not just to police the narrative but to also constantly add value to the industry by guiding our members towards more responsible advertising. These kinds of reports, along with initiatives like our ‘Advertising Advice’ service will help the industry a lot in that direction.”


The report can be accessed at https://ascionline.in/.



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