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New ASCI guidelines for ‘fair’ advertising

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At a time when toothpaste selling ladies appear on the TV and judge you for not having enough salt in your toothpaste and companies drop every semblance of logic to convince you that their brand of deo will make you a female-magnet, it becomes easy to forget just how much influence advertising has on our lives.

From forming an ever-changing collective image of physical perfection to keeping on perpetuating that image, it nourishes not-always-so-sunny social constructs around body image like a mama hen. And one of the places where it out-does itself is when it plays with the your-skin-can-never-be-light-enough complex that south Asians harbour.

India’s obsession with fair skin has given fodder to a million social scientists’ research papers and has pumped in billions into the bank accounts of cosmetic companies. The cosmetic industry in India, currently sizing up to $950 million a year, is estimated to grow to $2.68 billion by 2020, a growth lead by the skin lighting creams hoarding up the market. From Virat Kohli vending creams meant to make the Indian male’s skin lighter to ‘intimate washes’ to make the female nether zone ‘fairer and tighter’, the companies have successfully cashed on the Indian’s insecurity about skin tones. When people see Priyanka Chopra winning her one true love back by daily layering of her face with the skin-whitening magic lotion, ad-makers only hope that mortals will squirm in their seats and finish one jar of cream after another.

At a time like this when the whole advertising industry seems to be conspiring to keep the country forever in their post-colonial hangover, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has come up with guidelines to ensure that the absurdity surrounding the obsession with fairer skin in India can be contained a little. The guidelines come as commandments for both the cosmetics and the advertising industries to make clear what should have been duh-ah obvious to them all this while; Thou shalt not make it seem that having a darker skin is a bad thing.

This means that Shah Rukh Khan can no longer tell you that the distance between you and Bollywood stardom is the length of a tube of fairness cream. Which is a good thing, because 44% of the fairness creams in India contain mercury, which is illegal and can cause your liver and kidney to blow up out of proportion. While this is one step forward towards the destruction of impossible beauty standards, it should also be simultaneously embarrassing that there should be any need for such guidelines. They come as a nod of acknowledgement from ASCI that the situation is not rosy, that things can’t go on as they are. This is in keeping with the signs of gradual, subtle change in Indian advertising that are becoming more and more visible in the last few years.

Be it subtle support for Queer people or showing a single (not to mention dark) mother getting married for the first or second time, depending on one’s interpretation. The Indian ad-world is slowly, almost too slowly, growing up and hopefully with these guidelines in place, the ad-makers will now finally sell things without making the buyers feel bad about themselves.


Image source: Getty images

Pallab is a second year Literature student at Kirori Mal College who likes to believe that idealism still matters in the world, even though he himself finds it impractical at times. He likes to hoard more books than he can possibly read and wishes that writers begin to earn zillions by the time he becomes one.

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