The controversial Layer’r Shot ads have been pulled down and the company has apologised, but brand analysts and industry experts say it’s a case of ‘spit and run advertising’. Many campaigns, including those by fast-food company Nando’s, cosmetic brand 18 Again and whisky brand Imperial Blue, have come close. An old trick is being packaged in a new bottle to cater to younger customers who are less likely to shy away from controversy.
Until last week, most people were unaware of Layer’r Shot—a body spray for men. But that quickly changed when Adjavis Venture Ltd, a Gujarat-based firm which owns the brand, released two ads that could easily be construed as promoting sexual violence against women.
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High risk, low cost ads
In the fragrance market world over, sexual connotation and casual sexims are the currency. “The dominant emotion is sex appeal. I believe that they knew the controversy it would generate. As any publicity is good publicity for the brand, they will latch onto this to target the younger generation,” said Chandan Bagwe, founder and managing director of marketing agency C Com Digital.
“When a younger generation is driving a brand, which is the case here [with Layer’r Shot], companies are willing to take a risk as they want to be known quickly,” he added.
The uproar and outrage have ensured that no one will forget Layer’r Shot anytime soon. But is it mission accomplished? According to Harish Bijoor, brand guru and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults, Layer’r has a minuscule share in this competitive market. “This is a classic case of spit and run advertising. Do a piece of communication that creates controversy–this drums up noise for the brand–and then leave. This strategy is low cost and high impact. And also gives high visibility,” he said.
And it won’t be the last time a brand courts controversy. A 2012 ad for a vaginal tightening gel, 18 Again, caused a stir when it promised women that it would make them feel like ‘a virgin again in order to make their husbands happy’. One of their ads showed a woman dancing in a courtyard, taking a leaf out of Madonna’s book and singing, “Ooh, I feel like a virgin” Bagwe cited the example of an Indian whisky brand Imperial Blue that ran an ad showing men gazing at women with the tagline: ‘Men will be men’.
Nando’s India, a fast-food company, got embroiled in a controversy after the global chicken restaurant chain published a sexist advert in the print stating, “We don’t mind if you touch our buns, or breasts or even our thighs. Whatever you’re into, enjoying any Nando’s meal with your hands is always recommended”.
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Two brothers, two brands
Layer’r was launched in 2013 with Wottagirl body splash for women followed by Shot for men. Manisha Kapoor, secretary general, Advertising Standards Council of India, told ThePrint that the Shot ads were probably a case of the brand being completely out of sync with consumers. However, Adjavis Venture’s founder Devendra Patel has made a name for himself by marketing consumer cosmetics and other related products. Along with his brothers, he joined his father’s company Paras Pharma, known for products like Moov, Itchguard and Dermicool.
His brother Darshan Patel is also in the segment and founded Vini Cosmetics, which owns Fogg perfumes, one of the leading brands in the segment, according to analysts. Darshan launched the product in 2011 with a tagline: ‘No gas, No Wastage’, to position itself against already established multinationals like Axe (Hindustan Unilever) and Engage (ITC).
Analysts estimate that Layer’r makes up around 5 per cent of the approximately Rs 4,000 crore deodorant and perfume market. Adjavis Venture wants to establish Layer’r Shot and Wottagirl in the market and has even roped in celebrities such as Parineeti Chopra, Ileana D’Cruz and Akshay Kumar to endorse the brands.
To position Layer’r in an already saturated market, Devendra had to come up with something different for Wottagirl at the time of its launch. His solution was celebrity endorsement and the product’s packaging. In an interview with Business Today, he said, “Our fragrance is different, as we are available in a unique see-through bottle.” Ad campaigns for Wottagirl tried to portray how their perfumes commanded attention from everyone, irrespective of gender. They targeted working women as well as young college students with the message that a splash of Wottagirl would make them feel beautiful.
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A step too far
Shot took a different approach relying heavily on hyper-sexualisation. Its latest campaigns, however, went a step too far. The outrage started gathering steam on social media as well as news platforms, prompting the Advertising Standards of Council of India (ASCI) and the I&B ministry to intervene and ban the ads.
Two Shot ads were aired on Sony Liv during the England versus New Zealand Test match. In one, four men barge into a bedroom where a young couple is sitting, and ask if they are getting a shot. The young woman looks horrified as the men then proceed towards the couple, only to take the ‘Shot’ perfume bottle kept on the table. In the second ad, one of the men in the group says: “There are four of us, and one of us will get a shot,” as they stand behind a woman who is shopping at the store. While the woman appears visibly taken aback by their statements, one of the four men reaches out to grab the bottle of ‘Shot’ on the rack in front.
Adjavis Venture Ltd later issued an apology and clarification on its social media platform: “We never intended to hurt anyone’s sentiments or outrage any women’s modesty or promote any sort of culture, as wrongly perceived by some.” The brand also said that the ad was aired “only after due and mandatory approvals.” ThePrint sought additional comments on the approval process via email but was not answered.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)