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Indians offended by ads mocking men, hurting religious sentiments: Report

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), an industry body representing the ad industry, has identified six types of ads that are offensive to Indian consumers months after Fem Bleach, Amul Macho and Fabindia were vehemently attacked on social media platforms. The ads ‘mock men’ and hurt religious sentiments. ASCI analyzed 1,759 complaints against 488 advertisements over the past three years to identify trends in advertisements deemed offensive in a report entitled ‘What India Takes Offence To’.

A deep-dive was performed by ASCI in order to identify trends of objectionable messaging, as well as the mechanism in which the complaint was articulated and the action requested. Among the ads covered are those which may not have violated ASCI codes, but nevertheless offended people/groups. This report provides a pulse on consumer sentiment to various stakeholders.

The use of offensive representations for commercial gain emerged as one of the top trends. In some advertisements, depictions of society were used to promote unhealthy practices or beliefs solely for commercial gain. In the field of education, ads that promote stereotypes such as fair skin, a certain body shape, or ones that place undue pressure on parents and children. Unsuitable ads for children have also been identified. Most advertisements in this category aired during prime-time, which appeared to encourage children’s curiosity about ‘adult life’, particularly in the area of sexuality and physical intimacy. Most complainants were embarrassed or concerned parents.

Some find offensive advertisements that mock men in a negative or poor light, even if it is humorous or introspective. Another trend was ads that appeared to be cross-cultural barriers. In the ads, it appears that the depictions of sacred things in our culture were crossed or mocked. Individualist depictions, especially of women and youth, were key triggers. People also considered some ads that depicted intergenerational dynamics in non-traditional ways problematic.

Consumers were also offended by campaigns that hurt religious sentiments. Advertisements depicting mixed religious narratives, new interpretations of religious traditions, or the use of religious and cultural motifs in a humorous way became a triggering factor. Concerns were raised about the ads’ intent and the need to guard against conspiracy theories. Ads depicting unpleasant realities were the last trend. The reality, as portrayed in an out-there manner, has triggered complaints from consumers who prefer a more sheltered and ‘civilized’ version. Those who complained about displaying death, raw meat, and blood had their hackles raised.



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