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Are there no checks? How offensive Layer’r SHOT body spray ads reached your TV

Two advertisements released by Layer'r SHOT for their body spray have been accused of distasteful innuendo. They have been pulled down from all platforms.

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New Delhi: A major furore erupted last weekend after a controversial advertisement for a body spray — by the brand Layer’r SHOT — was aired on television. People called the brand out for “promoting rape culture”.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry), and the Delhi Commission for Women criticised the advertisement, after which it was pulled down from every platform.

YouTube and Twitter complied with the request sent by the government to take the ad down as well.

The company released a statement Monday apologising for the ad, but also highlighted the fact that they had sought all relevant “approvals” and that their idea was “wrongly perceived by some”.

The controversy and the brand’s statement have raised questions around the “approvals” that brands need to take before airing an ad on television.

Speaking to ThePrint, a source working at a reputed advertising agency, who wished to not be named, shed some light on the matter.

Organisations, the source said, don’t require approvals from any external body before airing their ads. Only ads by chewing-tobacco and alcohol brands — which often employ surrogate advertising — have to go through a Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) approval process.

Brands whose advertisements are played in theatres have to undergo a screening by the statutory body that comes under the I&B Ministry.

If an ad has courted controversy, only then does the ASCI, which has a consumer complaints council (CCC), come into the picture to take action.

According to Manisha Kapoor, Chief Executive Officer and Secretary General of the ASCI, “The consumer complaints council adjudicates on complaints as an independent jury comprising industry and civil society members where civil society is in majority. All decisions taken by the CCC are independent of the board. All decisions are on the public record.”

But before it hits the televisions, how is a TV ad conceptualised, made and finally approved? Who is responsible for making sure the ad is effective and suitable to air? ThePrint spoke to industry insiders to understand the ad-making process.

Also read: I&B ministry tells YouTube, Twitter to remove ‘inappropriate’ Layer’r Shot ads, stops TV telecast

How is an ad made? 

According to the source mentioned above, after a brand decides to put out an advertisement, they either partner with an ad agency or build a team internally to brainstorm ideas and themes around their product.

If an ad agency is involved, a storyboard is prepared, illustrating how the main objectives would be delivered, and use of the product and design, among other things.

Once the theme and script are decided, a production company is hired, actors or models are brought in, and the shooting begins.

After it is shot, the ad will either go through a CBFC screening or be shown to the client brand. Most brands in India have an internal team that scrutinises the pitches made by their ad agencies, so approvals also come from these teams.

“For this particular brand [Layer’r SHOT], approvals could not have been sought from any external stakeholder since they did not even employ an ad agency. But having said that, close to 20 people from several departments are usually involved in the decision-making until an ad is aired on TV or on any virtual platform,” the source said.

“Every process needs approvals from a superior in an organisation. There is no legislation that the ad world is governed by and even the CBFC is keener on the visual experience of an ad. Excessive skin show and overt sexual gestures are some examples where they could find a reason to object,” the source added. “Some companies send their ads [to the CBFC for approval] without a voiceover and hence it is not a priority to catch sexual innuendos that are injected in the script.”

Also read: From Zoozoos to Byju’s, Swiggy, Cred — how IPL ads tell us who’s watching cricket in India

What are the ASCI’s powers?

The ASCI’s consumer complaints council consists of jury members who take decisions based on complaints every couple of months.

Once a controversial ad is taken to this jury, they can either warn the makers or use their special powers, wherein they could suspend an ad until a probe is conducted.

Speaking to ThePrint, ASCI’s Kapoor said the “ASCI has a compliance rate of over 95 per cent across all media”.

“In this specific instance [Layer’r SHOT], we were alerted to an advertisement that seriously violated the ASCI Code regarding indecent and offensive advertising,” Kapoor added, referring to the ASCI Code for self-regulation.

“As per the ASCI process, we provide an opportunity to the advertiser to put forth their arguments before a recommendation is provided on the ad, but in this case, we immediately invoked a special process called ‘suspended pending investigation’,” she said.

The ASCI also highlights the need for self-regulation whenever there are controversies.

“Advertisers need to do their due diligence. In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and its continuation is against the public interest, then ASCI would, pending investigation, direct the advertiser to first suspend the advertisement and then give the advertiser a reasonable opportunity of hearing,” said Kapoor.

Advertisements in the past that have promoted ‘lighter skin’ and brands that have used women just as props were admonished by the ASCI in 2014. Guidelines issued for fairness creams sought to emphasise that people with a darker skin tone should not be depicted as inferior.

Kapoor said “advertisers need to be responsible while being creative”.

“The ASCI supports responsible advertising via our services such as ‘Advertising Advice’ through which possible violations of the ASCI Code can be identified at the pre-production stage,” she added. “Advertisers and brands can avail of the Advertising Advice service which can…help the brand save time, money and reputation.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: Daisy Dee bra ad a hoorah for Indian TV commercials. Just hope a minister isn’t offended


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