Lateral Views: Advertisement – If not regulation…at least CSR?

Long long ago in the pre cable TV days, when a single DD channel was the only option, ads were one of the most entertaining part of the night TV program which then were just bunch of boring talk shows like “Krishi Darshan”. I still remember those ‘NIRMA jingles’ or ‘I love you Rasna’ or ‘I’m a complan boy’, so soothing and so sticky…Well!!! life were much simpler then. I’m sure the ad industry would then be in few Crs., if not less. Today, the Indian ad industry is about Rs 20K Cr with astronomical CAGR. Thanks to the economic progression and growth courtesy Mr. Singh & Co apart from many other factors.

I’ve been an ardent lover of advertisement, especially TVCs. Maybe the conditionings in my tiny tot days were really ingrained. Today, as much as we’ve got enough TV channels (Cable/DTH), we’ve got enough TVCs as well. To me it’s a sign of prosperity and I’m really proud of it. And what excites me more is the progress in the creative fields – be it the idea/concept, the positioning, the script, the shootings, etc. We have come a long way. And yeah we did it; Cannes Lion today is a regular feature in our newspaper with many of our comrades bringing back many Lions.

Kudos and accolades for sure, but there are directional glitches as well. For sure it’s nothing new, we’ve seen past instances like milk (for infant) debate or Milind Soman & Madhu Sapre controversy or ban on alcohol or tobacco advertisement and the more recent one, debate on fairness cream (on national TV channel). Cases are tackled and settled as per the relevant acts or statues.

Off late, this directional madness seems to magnify in a much larger scale. In the guise of modern day creativity, the sanctity of social reverence or cultural relevance seems to be taking a real beating. Though modern in texture but obnoxious in message, hordes of such TVCs are flooring every now and then.

To list some –

  • Fairness Cream Products promoting COLOR in human (Emami, Loreal, HUL, Himalaya)… It’s kind of sending a message that DARK is a curse…
  • Life threatening stunts in Motor Bike Ads (Pulsar, CBZ, Karizma)…Young hormones are ready to follow suit…
  • I-Pill by CIPLA…you know it!!!
  • TATA Docomo series of ads…It kind of promote DE-VALUE in our youth… 
  • And goes on….
  • Still goes on…

The danger threat running across all of these is that it’s attacking our belief and value system as a nation. And worse, it’s maligning our future i.e. our youth.

Absence of a single comprehensive legislation seems to be the consensus blame when it comes to advertising code of conduct. After all the only regulatory body as of today is ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) which is self-regulatory and non government. Their website says: “The Role and Functioning of the ASCI & its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) is in dealing with Complaints received from Consumers and Industry, against Ads which are considered as False, Misleading, Indecent, Illegal, leading to Unsafe practices, or Unfair to competition, and consequently in contravention of the ASCI Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising.”

At stake is a Rs. 20K Cr. of money which indirectly is borne by consumer and still bigger, 190 million television sets in the wild which will obviously attract more than a set of eyeballs per television. Is there a way out?

For sure, complaining to ASCI for every individual case or file a PIL every time cannot be a solution. Nor can we just wait for our dear government to act…Even if it click sometimes, but these are post mortem activity. Attacking at the root can only give solutions rather then try and cure after the damage is done.

With nothing much in hand currently, the way out seem surreal. But, Yeah!!! There is a way out…though a bit of lateral views… 

“Going by the spirit” as once advised to me by someone on following RULES/LAWS, at this point sounds quite golden. Why don’t companies extend advertisement code of conduct as part of their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)? 

Good that one drills and kills environment and then contribute tones of money to some NGOs working for upliftment of underprivileged or other emitting cloudfull of carbon in the air and investing huge bucks on alternate energy source…Why can’t CSR be part of the corporate culture, which run across every aspect of the business and which truly cares for the society and ensure every single steps are not in contradiction against the larger social good? 

My point is…CSR not always should be “Save Trees” or “Save Water”…It could also be save our social value, save our culture/ethos and hence save the generation… 

(Disclaimer: Just some lateralviews of the author as a citizen and nothing else) 



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3 Responses to Lateral Views: Advertisement – If not regulation…at least CSR?

  1. Arun Kumar N.K. says:

    Nice article.

  2. Arun Kumar N.K. says:

    Cultural Responsiblity? On one end of the spectrum we have Ads which are based out of some other country . A sample case would be the Vodafone Ads. Most seem to be set in Italy rather than India. At the other end of the spectrum we have the shampoo Ads. Most of the shampoo ads are beyond the realms of time, space and nationality. They could be used in any part of the world as they do not have any roots in the local culture.

    Of the ads, which show some resemblence of Indian culture are ones by Perfetti, an Italian company based out of Lianate .

    Gattu of Asian Paints, to me is a culturally insensitive icon. It maybe also considered to be a symbol of child labour. What do you think?

    Boi, as you said , we miss those lovely jingles of yesteryears. Most of us can recall them verbatum even today after a decade or two since we last watched them. The latest Nirma ad is weird to say the least. Threatening dirt, what a concept? What are they trying to prove? That they learnt a few new camera tricks? Who Knows?

    Self Regulate? The RIN vs TIDE ads. CSR……..Yawn……not in the distant future atleast not in the FMCG sector.

    For anybody interested, there is a clip on manufactured demand for mineral water which breaks et makes mockery of social responsiblity. Check the link –

    The IDEA ads I really find interesting, a cut different from the rest. It touches some of the issues we are facing, it shows the pulse of a changing India.

    Cultural Responsibility Zindabad !

  3. Ankita Srivastava says:


    A late response but I am obliged to make one.

    The key objective of airing ads is to create awareness and persuade the consumer to buy certain products and services. It is a purely business and marketing objective with no pretensions to saving the culture/ generation/ moral values.

    Ad makers usually spend a lot of their time and energy in creating concepts, researching, debating and executing the ads. Then, they go on to spend on an average 70% of their total Marketing budget to air these on media- and boy! is that a huge amount of money!! You bet it is.

    The basic evaluation parameters of an ad are –
    1.Is it unique and does it break the clutter? – use of humor, execution such as jingle, visuals that are compelling. eg. Amir Khan Tata Sky ads.

    2. Does it have a strong insight=> message? – does it vocalise the problem/ need/desire of the consumers in a setting that they will recognise. Any insight can only stem from strong understanding of belief and value systems and cultural sensitivity- eg. Fructis 2in 1 shampoo (Shampoo + oil)- Oiling hair is an integral everday/ weekly beauty ritual- present generation does not have time to oil its hair.

    3. Is it likeable? – we all want to see pretty faces and hear some good music and be part of a story well told.

    4. Is it persuasive? – Does it give the consumer a strong Reason to Believe that the product offered will solve the stated problem and therefore lead to a high purchase intention?. Eg. Omega 3 fatty acids in Anti Ageing product will help delay wrinkles.

    What must also be kept in mind is that each ad speaks to a specific TG, which you may or maynot be a part of. Eg. LG’s smart phone Optimus ad shows how a boyish firang executive manages to scan and email reports to his boss even as he continues to flirt with a PYT. That may appeal to you more than the BSNL ad on connectivity and data speed- entirely depends on who you are and what motivates you. The first is aspirational/ identifiable, the second uh- so – not me even if it is super functional.

    That brings me to the point that what you say and how you say are both important. Hence, the tendency to exaggerate- Which young boy does not want to be a macho biker riding into the sunset? So if you are trying to sell a bike to an 18 year old, would you appeal to his self image of a dynamic devil- may-care self or will you show how he can now transport himself from one place to another using a new bike. Remember the Bajaj ad “I feel like God.”?…Ads are an escape. They let you be who you want to be. And by possessing a dare devil machine, in your mind you are a superhero though you will still follow traffic rules. You know all about positioning and differentiation. So if these concepts were not brought to life, what is another way of differentiating one bike from another?? A bike is a bike is a bike.

    Yes, there are exaggerations – like how fairness creams can lighten your skin color and get you your perfect man and win you competitions. India is a fairness obsessed country – this is the consumer reality, we cannot wish it away. There are strong emotional laddering of being fair, it is part of the culture (look at matrimonial ads for substantiation..). Surely a lot of companies take an emotional route because the emotional payoffs are so high that for the consumer, it makes up even for the lack of delivery on the functional promise. If that was not the case, Fair and Lovely would have shut shop ages ago. So what do these fairness creams deliver- they deliver a sense of “everyday indulgence” to millions of hasseled, overworked moms, wifes, daughters – in – law who have very little time left to take care of themselves and who prioirtise themselves right at the bottom after the family and the dhobi. These products make women “feel beautiful” and just a wee bit pampered. And that is good enough to make their day and that gets reflected in the strong loyalties that the fairness creams brands enjoy. Is it right to sell “fairness”- when the product may or may not deliver? No. Is it right to say one skin color is better than the other. Definitely not. But hey!! haven’t you noticed- companies stopped putting out such messages years ago. Look closely. Both Garnier and L’Oreal ads have the following sequence- My skin is looking dark and has dark spots – Introducing the new…- It contains…which does…- Now my skin is looking fairer (notice, how they say “look fairer’ and not “become fair”)- happy model shot. There are NO emotional payoffs. It is flattering to see some other sensible brands follow suit.

    Coming to i-pills, I fail to understand how it corrupts young minds. It is not that a generation will turn promiscuous seeing an ad- there are strong cultural influences – the media they consume, the friends they hang out with, the general environment at home that will lead them to do what they want to do. Advertising for i-pill is better than advertising for seedy abortion clinics, which are anyways banned. It talks to the woman, who is undoubtedly in a moral dilemma and at physical risk and needs a reliable way out of a pregnancy that she as a sound individual does not want. The product empowers a woman and the ad deals with the issue with a rare sensitivity. Will the product be misused? Well, it will be at the same rate as other contraceptives are.

    At a time when social barriers are breaking, and technology can allow you to share pictures with a stranger sitting in Germany on internet groups or date online a PYT in Australia or share a laugh with a FB friend sitting in London, who is upholding the “rich culture” of our beloved nation? Surely not me. I am grounded enough to appreciate “my culture” but I want to grow and evolve with the times and that will over time add back to the “culture” of my country, giving it a different hue and flavour in tiny sort of way. I am sure you would also want to grow and evolve like me… If we, as individuals, cannot be tied down to upholding and following rituals that define the present culture, how can we expect profit making business ventures to take on the mantle of protecting our culture. It’s a give and take at best.

    As for ASCI, it wields the whip quite often on erring brands and companies. There is understandable anxiety. Which consumer today has the time to file a case against a misleading ad when she can barely finish her daily chores? Worry not, warring companies employ enough people in their Legal and Regulatory Affairs departments to slap cases against their rivals using common people to file in the petitions. Strong chances are that more petitions are filed through this route, than law abiding citizens who are incensed with a particular ad. If an ad makes a strong claim, uses exaggerations to its advantage , net net makes an impact- it is enough to put the rival brand into action through ASCI.

    Advertising has come a long way since the DD era. Intuitively, perhaps because there were fewer means of communication and a single channel on TV which you could not zap, the impact could have been higher. Yes, there were memorable, even iconic ads that one thinks of fondly..but you never know. Each generation has its own set of songs that it swears by or rather sings by..the present generation may be taking its pick of favourites while we hold on to the ones that we grew up with. Alternatively, with the explosion of media choices available to the kids today, they may really not care so much about a TV commercial as they would about a video game version of the latest product commercial being viralled around.

    Times change and so do we. What does not change is the objective of ads- sell products and make money. Let the ads do their job.


    P.S.-The point on Gattu bothers me.If Gattu, represents child labour- Shera, the CWG mascot should have been banned by PETA for trying to get a wild animal out of its natural habitat and forced to don human clothes. What cruelty on the poor beast.

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