Recently, the fragrance brand Layer’r Shot produced an ad that ‘promoted rape culture’. The ad went live across platforms without any broadcaster or social media player raising objections against it.
It’s not the first time a brand has acted insensitively towards gender portrayal or objectified women in ads. To curb such outrageous acts by brands, a self-regulatory firewall is not enough. Speaking at the launch event of ASCI’s guidelines against the harmful representation of women in ads, Ranjana Kumari, gender expert, social activist and Director at the Centre for Social Research India, demanded for laws be framed to be acted upon such ads.
Apart from fleeting references in the Cable Televisions Networks (Regulation) Act and Press Council Act, India doesn’t have central legislation and a statutory regulator to take action against serial offenders that portray women in a bad light.
Kumari asked, “Where are the laws? It’s very important to ask for these laws because the IT Act also does not cover this. Press Council of India’s guidelines is not law. We don’t have anything directly dealing with these issues. Let’s face the reality. The ASCI’s GenderNext report came out in 2021 and from that one can gauge that someone reviewing what’s happening in the advertising world is as recent as that. If we will not ask for law even at this stage then certainly this will continue. MIB did ban the deodorant ad, but under which laws? What is going to be the quantum of punishment? Who should be punished?”
The GenderNext study is a comprehensive actionable insight study on the representation of women in advertising. The study covers patterns of portrayals across multiple categories, such as personal care, fashion, beauty, home and hearth, gadgets and wheels, money and education. The study also touches upon how advertising portrays women versus how they see themselves and want to be seen.
She then went on to say that advertising is like a double-edged sword. “It can influence the mind to re-enforce the stereotype. The other edge of the sword is that the same advertising industry has the power to bring about positive changes in the mindset of people.”
Commenting on the recently launched guidelines around gender sensitivity, Kumari said that it’s good that we have taken the first step of launching the guidelines to help the advertising fraternity to be more gender-sensitive. “Change is incremental, especially in a society which is as deep-rooted culturally and socially. When we started our struggle almost four decades back, we thought to achieve everything in one go. But it takes time. Also, the society is not urban only. These messages go to villages and smaller communities. While this incremental change is taking place slowly, it can be accelerated by using corporate power.”