It took a ghastly incident on the night of December 16, 2012, in New Delhi to drive home the point about the plight of women and their safety or lack of it in India today. In the days following the incident and the unfortunate demise of the victim, there was outrage and anger expressed over the way women are being treated in the country.

Thereafter, it was only a matter of time that the portrayal of women across media would be called into question. It is not uncommon for many a reader or viewer (media consumer) to frown in disgust on seeing women being depicted as ‘objects’ to hawk products across media.

Conversely, women have either been portrayed as being simple and gullible individuals measuring their self worth through attributes such as weight and skin tone or stereotyped as naïve and bent on keeping the husband and children happy.

Categories such as cars, motorcycles, fashion wear, deodorants and perfumes liberally use veiled suggestion, sexual innuendo and stereotyping as part of their campaigns.

A poor light

For instance, the Axe deodorant and the Lux innerwear campaigns have shown women in poor light, and gratuitous use of sexual imagery has been employed even to sell products such as motorcycles, pen drives or duplex flats.

There is a need for ‘gender sensitisation’ and the advertising industry can do a lot, felt Srinivisan K. Swamy, MD & CEO, RK Swamy BBDO, and President of the India Chapter of International Advertising Association (IAA). “It is important to sensitise content writers across media not to typify women. They must be conscious and not objectify them.”

The problem, he felt, was that the government went into knee-jerk mode whenever there was an incident. “There is no need for more laws to govern or regulate advertisements or content. There are enough penal provisions with regard to obscenity, vulgarity and inappropriate representation of women. The need of the hour is to start enforcing the law.”

The Indian media and advertising industry was pegged to grow at 8-9 per cent by Pitch Madison Advertising Outlook 2012 and reach Rs.28,013 crore in 2012. It estimated TV advertising to garner 45 per cent of the total ad pie at Rs.12,626 crore and print advertising with 41 per cent at Rs.11,438 crore.

M. G. (Ambi) Parameswaran, Executive Director & CEO, DraftFCB Ulka Advertising, felt more laws would only choke the already-strained legal system. “Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) should be empowered like the censor board so that an objectionable ad can be taken off air and the legal system can then take over.’’

In fact, in May 2012, ASCI, which is the country’s apex self regulatory body for advertisement content, along with TAM Media Research, introduced National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) which monitors around 350 TV and 10,000 print advertisements weekly for compliance with ASCI’s content code. The ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) checks for violations and initiates appropriate action when required.

Arvind Sharma, Chairman & CEO, Leo Burnett-Indian subcontinent, Chairman, ASCI, and President, Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), said, “We now get around 500 potential complaints per month and of these around 80 are in violation of the code,’’ said Mr. Sharma. “While increasing awareness is a priority, any advertisement that can cause widespread offence or depicts women and children in an unacceptable manner will have to be withdrawn.”

“It is easy to swing from one extreme to another but there is wisdom in having a consistent and balanced view. As advertising is so visible, it seems the easiest target to grab but what is happening today is a reflection of poor ethics and requires a mindset change and education,’’ Mr. Sharma said.

In that direction, the IAA is conducting a ‘gender sensitisation drive’ called Stop Violence on Women’ (VOW). First, a series of seminars are to be held across five cities starting with Mumbai in mid-February and followed by Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune to sensitise content writers across media to stop typifying women and focus on the correct way to project women.

IAA is also planning a national advertising campaign to tackle behavioural patterns in a way to benefit women. The campaign will have the support of prominent non-government organisations (NGOs), and invite entries from the creative community on how to tackle the issue effectively through communication.

An eminent panel from the advertising industry, NGOs and a cross-section of society will preside. The eventual production of the advertisement by the winning entry will be funded by IAA, and the campaign will run across print and TV industry.

“The campaign will not be out before April but then these are long-term problems and have to be addressed and tackled patiently,’’ said Mr. Swamy adding “Eve-teasing has been identified as the mother of all evils affecting women. Today’s eve-teaser is tomorrow’s molester and could become a potential rapist. If it could be suitably addressed, it would go a long way in improving safety for women.”

Keywords: TV adsASCICensor Board

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