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Union Minister Smriti Irani lambasts ad industry over portrayal of women in ads

Irani was speaking at the launch event of ASCI’s guidelines that guard against harmful gender stereotypes in ads

Union Minister Smriti Irani

The Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI), yesterday in an event, released guidelines that guard against harmful gender stereotypes in ads. Smriti Zubin Irani, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, was also present at the event and she raised the question that why did it take so many years for the advertising industry to release guidelines around harmful gender stereotypes in ads.

Irani also said that it is high time for not just men, but women in the ad industry to step up. 

Irani questioned the advertising and marketing fraternity over the value it puts on character, safety, security and how a woman is viewed in the society. She said, “If you think we are of value then you will not need these guidelines. The fact that in 2022 we needed to come up with guidelines against harmful gender stereotyping is an indication that women are not valued truly within the industry. Then how will it create value outside the industry? The time for incremental change is over because we have lost much in this wait.”

While ASCI has over 800 members, only three were present at the event. Irani then questioned the seriousness of the members who weren’t present at the event. She said, “That is where the change needs to begin. If your members do not deem these guidelines important enough to be present here and support the organisation that means the change has to start from home. We need to contact the absent 797 members of ASCI and reflect on why their absence speaks louder than their presence on paper. If we can address this issue, I think the real change will begin.” 

Stating the growth of women-led consumption of goods and services and the rise of internet penetration in rural India, the advertising industry needs more seriousness towards the issue.  

Irani said, “80% of FMCG buying decisions are done by women in our country. There are 57% and 34% of female internet users in urban and rural India, respectively. We have 294 million internet users in urban India and 356 million users in rural India, which means there is more consumption of internet in rural India and 800 members of ASCI are missing. Pointing this out to just reflect on the situation.”

Most recently, an ad promoting fragrance brand Layer’r Shot caused an uproar for being ‘misogynistic and promoting rape culture and was later pulled down from all digital platforms days after it went live.

Commenting on the ad, Irani said that when money takes the centre stage, gender is an issue that nobody wants to address. “Behind the deodorant ad (Layer’r Shot ad) that was pulled down, there was an agency, a writer, a director, an actor, a TV and radio channel, and an internet service that gained from it financially.”

Actor-turned-politician, Irani began her career by acting in a sanitary pad ad. She said, “But now when I switch on the television, I see the ad ‘Men will be men’ and have to work in my office to get a deodorant ad off the television.”

She also pointed out that one must also take care of the sensitivity of content while placing ads in it. Explaining the same, Irani said, “Why do advertisers need to tap into news items that are political, of social intent, speak about a tragedy and place women undergarment ads in it. Those are ad placements that are inconvenient and need to be spoken about.” 

She concluded, “Releasing guidelines around gender representation is a very small step. A long journey awaits us.” 

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