Friday, May 18, 2012



For some time now, concerned consumers and ad-watchers have been getting increasingly worried about the frat crossing boundaries and hitting erogenous zones erogenous zones where even angels (should, but no longer?) fear to tread! Holding up the Lux Cozy and Amul Macho ads as earlier examples apart from the tons of sexist deodorant ads and of course the scores of whitening creams, they continue to remain anxious, often protesting vehemently against the way the Persuasion Industry is trying to seduce the impressionable, unguarded and aspirational sections of our mahaan Bharat into promising them a more fulfilling, confident and rewarding life if they embrace the products advertised. In its effort to keep pace with India's ever changing profile and fashionable definition of an ancient civilisation, which is also a young and modern nation, are the ad guys getting a bit too carried away and overdoing it by adventurously crossing the Lakshman Rekha and touching areas best left untouched? Or are we, due to traditional conditioning, being a little too touchy and forgetting that this is year 2012, and the blitz and exposure of new-age media to a techno-savvy youngistan renders this a non-issue?

A new TVC along the skin-lightening-product segment for a product called Clean & Dry Intimate Wash even promises Indian women protection, freshness (and most importantly) fairness “down there”! The commercial shows a young couple relaxing in their house. The man is shown reading a newspaper while the attractive wife-or whoever! -pouts, unhappy at being ignored. Reason? Her dark-coloured privates! Providence steps in, in the form of Clean & Dry Intimate Wash, ostensibly whitening the parts that seemed to have earlier cast a shadow over the guy's inner view of the young lady and bingo, suddenly aal izz well! Pout disappears, break-up averted, newspaper flung aside to (undoubtedly) explore and enjoy some real whitening-strikes moments!

There're too many questions that hit one when such an advertising hits the ceiling. Where do we stand on such in-the-face ads? Isn't there an LoC that the product's positioning is crossing? But then, how is such a product expected to be launched or marketed? One possibly cannot expect a simple word-of-mouth campaign, can one? And if the product is legal, then why have any hassles on the marketing of such a product? Are we going through the same wave of astonishment that one saw years ago when condoms were marketed in a savvy manner by Kamasutra as opposed to the politically correct yet moribund manner in which Nirodh was advertised?

When invited to comment, political journalist Mahua Chatterjee admits she's temped “to laugh hysterically so that she may not weep!” She soon gets serious and unleashes a series of posers. “Who are these guys creating these ads or manufacturing these products? Clearly a lot of us are totally disconnected from their radar! Is this their professional version of marketing which decrees: Find a gap and fill it? In their drive to sell a product, is nothing sacred, safe or out of bounds? In the crazed rush to grab eyeballs, is titillation of any kind permissible? What about social responsibility, good taste, style & class?” questions Mahua. Then, tongue-in-cheek, the journo enquires why despite a zillion face-whitening products for men “nothing like Intimate Wash has been dedicated to their, er, penile space?”

Actress Moon Moon Sen, after a hearty laugh, offers discrete perspectives. “Sometimes, some ads – even if uncomfortable – are necessary. We live in a society where women (mothers & daughters) don't always know about a lot of stuff, and doctors or professionals who do, hesitate to communicate these facts, due to mental conditioning, rendering them taboo. Unfortunately, many of these are necessary for a woman's well-being. However, a vaginal whitening cream doesn't remotely come in that category and does strain the imagination! A douche or cream for infection is understandable but...”

While documentary filmmaker Ishani Dutta finds the 'intent' of the TVC “inappropriate and sexist”, 23-year-old copywriter Tanu Koundal can't stop laughing! “It's too funny... I know that India is very whiteness crazed and men prefer fair complexioned wives, but it's the face and body on display that is seen and reacted upon... not the private parts!” says Tanu. But the young lady also believes that this kind of advertising – edgy, weird and hitting no-man's- land – is a part and parcel of today's permissive, sexually-cool society where nothing is a big deal anymore. But isn't the product strengthening the unfortunate fairness orientation of Indians and fortifying racist paradigms?

The inimitable, original 'Kamasutra' hottie, Pooja Bedi adds up to the debate as only she can, saying, “People reacted strongly to botox in the beginning, remember? Now it's a rage! Whether you are colouring your hair black, spraying on golden tans or turning private parts white, is an individual choice. I don't know why fairness creams are okay for faces – but not down there! Waxing, laser, designer-trimmer is acceptable so why the fuss about a lightening cream, for god's sake? Why are we always so obsessively reactive regarding our pubic/pelvic area?”

Then is it just media (in their zeal to constantly penetrate and explore new areas of darkness and bring them to light!), including yours truly, who've overdone the issue once again? At a time when more critical issues like education, health care, sanitation, more employment opportunities for women and poverty elimination need to be addressed, should the issue of vaginal whitening need be given the scrutiny that we've all managed to give it?

Irrespective of what the answer to such a macro issue might be, what cannot be denied is that after some weeks of quite dismal and perseverance testing television campaigns, we've finally got one that has the wherewithal to initiate a national debate. Let's raise a toast to at least that, and to the fact that the future is going to see quite some more of such advertisements and quite some more debate. And you know where we'll be when that happens – right in the midst of the fray.