DOES INDIA INC. NEED SUCH REGULATORY DIKTATS?
On one hand, the popular war cry amongst marketers world over has been – sex sells! On the other, morality remains a tricky issue, and the reasons are simple. What is immoral to one, can be a hilarious howler to another! The issue gets more complex when one recognises that we live in several Indians simultaneously, where thinking, mindset, environment, family background & values, education levels, circumstances, peer groups/pressure & stage of evolution as a person, influence one's take on morality. It is clearly not value judgement but the big picture – which is about recognising, understanding & then interpreting any specific issue – is the prime focus. Same with the notion of morality. However, some basic norms (insist pundits) must be adhered to and this patthar-ki-lakeer zone, must never be tampered with by the consumerists; must never be compromised, commercialised, trivialised or absued. Like what is happening in the outrageous Deo-TV ad space, for example? According to the powers-that-are, these ads provoke libidous male instincts, arouse women's sexuality, show women & men to view each other with lust, and also motivate women to undress as an after effect of the sexy deo in an inappropriate, obscene & cheap manner!
SO WHAT'S GOING ON?
Before playing Judge n' Jury, or frothing at the mouth, let's take a ppep at some of these ads in question. Let's start with a Wold Stone TVC. It's a typical Bengali Pooja Pandal scene. An attractive young hunk passes a sultry, dusky bong-belle on her way to the diety. Suddenly, she's struck by his deadly deo, swoons, swirls around to lock eyes with the guy. A passionate (un-holy?) quick ie follows, after which (suitably ful-filled) the young lady, in a super stup out, moves away. The tagline reads: Wild By Nature! Another one shows a young, lovely girl innocently playing bBlind Man's Bluff, with a bunch of happy, excited kids. Suddenly a young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids. Suddenly a young dude, wearing another deadly deo, accidentally opens the door. The young lady is instantly zonked, forgets the kids & the game, and not so blindly follows the guy to his room. The tagline reads: It Happens!
The popular Axe deodorant ads, where women keep collapsing while confronted with the seductive spray, are too well known to warrant repetition but the one that seems to have got the mickey of the politically correct purists is the one that has the bhabhi go weak kneed while sowing a button on her bewildered, deo-sprayed devar's shirt getting into some rather un-bhabhi like body language! The tagline reads: Just Zatak Her! The list is endless, with seduction as the main driving force. Question is – are these ads really the dangerous weapons of destruction, created to poison & corrupt innocent, impressionable minds, denigrate & commodify male & female bodies as objects of desire... or are they just quirky, edgy, naughty, fun snapshots of the times we live, created to entertain, surprise & delight in a provocative manner to a new-age viewership totally comfortable in their skin?
Theatre Person and Branding Specialist Sumit Roy is up next and believes that if it's legal and follows the guidelines, it's okay. “Regarding laws & diktats, that's the easiest thing to do because to protest or politicise an issue seems to be the flavour of the day,” adds Roy. Ad Filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar agrees as he tells 4Ps B&M, “Suddenly, everyone, everywhere appears to have got this new lovely toy to take panga with anyone or anything they need to get even! It's mostly too silly or trivial to even discuss. Same with bans. But yes, I have to agree that some deo ads indeed push the ticket a little too hard.”
“Entertain, surprise and delight? These are not typically ads, and are closer to porn.” This outraged salvo comes from Delhi-based housewife Kusum Malhotra. The 35-year-old mother of two kids is shocked & angry at what goes in the name of manoranjan. Mumbai-based MNC executive Coyel Ghosh however can't stop laughing, “One has to chill! Its's the year 2011 and not actually 1947. Where does this 'scandalised' lot live – in caves, jungles, another planet? And where is their sense of humour? These ads are just light-hearted, clutter busting, and totally over-the-top, for effect! Why take it so seriously and make it a moral isise?” Coyel tells 4Ps B&M.
Veteran ad-watcher Arvind Godbole attempts to bring order out of chaos. “It's bewildering! On One hand you have people wishing to sue companies! On the other hand, there is this huge over-reaction from the purists. If Sheila Ki Jawani, Dum Maro Dum, Munni Badnam Hui, Jalebi Bai and zillions of item songs are titillatingly celebrated on the silver screens every other week with nodoby offering a word in protest, then why this sudden grab for the chastity belt?” asks Godbole.
As always, it's a tough nut to crack because morality is finally a subjective issue. Allan Collaco, Secretary of ASCI, has referred to at least seven ads – including Axe & Set Wet Zatack – under the scanner for improper portrayal of women. “The Consumer Complaint Council will decide on the action to be taken soon,” says Collaco. This magazine ran an incisive story on ASCI and how it was going over the top and beyond even its allowed legal norms in attempting to control certain ads.
Truly, there's much that the Indian government needs to regulate – from insider trading to unfettered private equity participation, from corruption to black money... It's quite obvious that attempts to regulate fair weather advertisements should have perhaps not even been taken up. India, clearly, doesn't need regulation like this – that too by self-appointed moralists!