A recent ad promoting fragrance brand Layer’r Shot has caused an uproar for being ‘misogynistic and promoting rape culture’. Even after the brand issued a public apology for airing the ads people have not stopped targeting the brand, because as per the netizens a simple apology can’t make good the damage they’ve done and it requires strong action.
The ad had created so much furore that it even made the Information and Broadcasting Ministry sit up and take notice. The Ministry had issued a notice to pull down the ads from all digital platforms days after it went live.
However, this alone cannot be enough to set a precedent, as per the advertising industry. Therefore, BestMediaInfo.com reached out to experts to know their views and opinions on the damage caused by the ads, a just punishment for the same, and also the way ahead for the industry as a whole to ensure such ‘mistakes’ don’t happen again.
Ritu Sharda, Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy, said, “The brand should be penalised in the most severe way. Not just by pulling down the ad but by holding every stakeholder accountable. This is not a joke. It’s a serious offence. It needs to be made an example of. The severity of the punishment is my only hope.”
According to Pallavi Chakravarti, Creative Head, West, DDB Mudra Group, when an abomination like the Layer Shot campaign gets made, it shows us that not one person across all these functions thought that there was anything wrong with this. "Or if they did, didn't raise enough of a stink to stop it from seeing the light of day."
"So, pulling the ads off-air is really the least anyone can do in a situation like this. I can go on and on about appropriate penalties, but the truth is, what is that going to achieve? For instance, I may believe that public flagellation of all parties involved is a fitting punishment - but that's not going to happen, right? There is no law for this kind of thing," Chakravarti said.
"What we really need to take away from this episode is an understanding of how deep seated the misogyny in our country actually is. It wasn't an autowallah and his pals who did this, so we can't sit back and titter sagely and act sanctimonious about ‘those people’ and how they treat women. ‘Those people’ are oftentimes uneducated and may have seen women being treated as second-hand citizens in and around their own homes, right through life. This, however, was perpetrated by educated people, people of means, people in air-conditioned boardrooms who order decaf and discuss how the war is affecting their stocks. Now what's the ministry going to do about that?" she questioned.
Several other experts also suggested severe punishments, ranging from heavy fines to temporary suspension of the product for the quarter of a financial year.
“The very fact that the furore on social media forced the client to withdraw the ad within 24 hours must mean something. Especially to the client, the agency and the production house which thought it could actually get away with creating something so repulsive. I am not entirely sure how such incidents can be prevented in the future (unless we suggest more regulation, which by itself is not a great solution), but we can hope that all clients and their partners would have their hearts and minds in the right place and understand that without a functioning core of humanity within them, their brands cannot hope to survive. It's in their own self-interest to be better human beings before being better communicators,” said Vistasp Hodiwala, Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer at Underdog Communications.
“Action requires a certain thought and deliberation from cool industry minds rather than any knee-jerk reaction. I do believe though that if there are no financial consequences to such acts, the message will not go down as well as it should. Maybe a temporary suspension of the product for a financial quarter would be a good start,” he added.
Akshneel Dasgupta, Chief Creative Officer at Network Advertising said, “A lot of brands believe that any publicity is good publicity, for all you know this is what they would have wanted. However, you cannot operate at this level. This should not be let go this easily. I think legal action should be taken and it should affect the brand.”
He further added that there cannot be a debate whether the ad is right or wrong, like in the uproar against brands like Tanishq. “There is a difference between being bold and being sleazy,” said Dasgupta.
The advertising industry needs to speak up
Some other leaders feel that the Shot ad is a result of the advertising industry not being bold enough to speak up openly.
Soumitra Karnik, an independent Creative Consultant, stated, “I don’t think the advertising industry has taken a hard call on the past incidents like Tanishq. It was a beautiful ad, but nobody defended it from the outrage. There is no doubt that it (Layer’r Shot ad) is a crass ad, so there should be a unanimous opposition against it. While ASCI has taken a brilliant stand, what about the industry leaders? I am not seeing them take a stand on anything.”
“There must be at least 20 people associated with the ad. Not one person finds it offensive? So, either all of them are okay about it and it is their mindset and that should be an even more worrying situation. However, another situation is what if no one spoke out of the fear of losing their jobs?” he further explained.
Karnik further suggested the advertising budget of Layer’r shot should be used for the positive portrayal of genders to undo the damage caused by the ads. “It will be like community service; the goal is not the punishment but the reformation of the offender. People should understand the repercussion of such actions,” Karnik said.
Azazul Haque, Chief Content Officer at Media. Monks, added, “The brand has got the attention, everyone is talking about it, and I actually think they did it by design. I don’t think they were unaware of its impact and wanted to create a controversy. I have met such clients and brand custodians in the past who want to create something controversial. This behaviour should not be encouraged, a precedent should be set. I feel top agencies should also speak against it and should put up mandates that people who are behind this should not be hired easily. Such strict actions should be taken. It’s not about boycotting a brand but more about setting a precedent.”