DEBATE: Will the new advertising guidelines kill creativity?

Industry leaders on whether guidelines would end up stifling creativity in advertising

A bitter pill to swallow but the need of the hour.
A bitter pill to swallow but the need of the hour.

Earlier this month, the Union consumer affairs ministry issued a set of new advertising norms, covering areas such as surrogate advertising, gender stereotyping, advertising to children, and celebrity endorsements. Christina Moniz asks industry leaders if these guidelines would end up stifling creativity in advertising.

Tista Sen, Regional creative director, Wunderman Thompson South Asia:

‘A bitter pill to swallow but the need of the hour’

If you want to be a creative person in advertising, you already have a leash around your neck. Chances are as you manoeuvre through the labyrinth of creative corridors and hierarchy, the leash kind of gets tighter. However, that is what you signed up for.

The industry is currently too ridden with anything and everything masquer-ading as advertising content. And frankly, like our news channels, some of it is pretty much noise. So why does the creative industry raise its head and with all outrage question this new book of rules?

Unfortunately, when most run amok, we need to pause and deliberate. Celebrity endorsement, in a country that survives on Bollywood, can be used to mislead. Surrogate advertising to promote what is obviously harmful is not cool, whichever side of the debate you are on. We are a susceptible nation with an overdose of patriarchy and misogyny. It does not help when advertising fuels these stereotypes and therefore there is an urgent need to ask some tough questions.

So yes, a bitter pill to swallow but the need of the hour. It’s a bit like exam rules, boarding an airplane, Covid protocol. Can we adhere is the question.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO & secretary general, ASCI:

‘Responsibility and advertising creativity are joined at the hip’

Crafting responsible messaging is never a hindrance to creative freedom —they’re not mutually exclusive. In fact, responsibility and advertising creativity are joined at the hip. After all, advertising is not meant to be unbridled creativity— it’s a commer-cial undertaking done to achieve a certain brand purpose. Reasonable regulations present no threat to the creative process. Rather, they raise standards by pushing the industry to work harder at being creative and more persuasive. As the advertising space evolves, the code dynamically keeps pace too.

It is important to realise that ASCI guidelines are not just for the protection of the consumer but also in the long-term interest of the industry and honest advertisers. A recent exercise that ASCI undertook with Kantar, revealed that brands were able to unlock much higher marketing return on investment through the use of progressive gender portrayals, which are a part of our guidelines.

Responsible advertising will always help advertisers find better ways of being creative and earn the trust of consumers.

Varun Alagh, Co-founder & CEO, Honasa Consumer (Mamaearth):

‘Will encourage discerning communication’

While there’S BEEN a lot of resistance in the market towards the guidelines, it is just the initial friction, like any machinery experiences. I am glad that we have a body that will act as a centre for control and scrutiny for all advertising content. But will this restrict or hamper creativity? I don’t think so. In fact, it will push brands and marketers to think differently and be more creative while being within the guidelines. It will encourage responsible and discerning communication in an otherwise fast-moving world of content dissemination where speed sometimes takes over sensitivity and empathy. That’s going to be the real test for us.

Brands that can pivot their thinking will be able to adapt quicker. Our consum-ers are evolving faster and adapting to the changing industry dynamics. They can distinguish organic from paid content, so there is no fooling them. The audience is questioning brands about their offerings, beliefs and initiatives. At our company we have a culture of consumer centricity where we seek consumer inputs and conscious assessment of every piece of content from multiple lens. It will be challenging but wouldn’t it be boring without them?

Garima Khandelwal, CCO, Mullen Lintas:

‘Ideas will need to make an impact’

With these guidelines for what is relevant (for children, for example) in place, there will be a greater need for targeted advertising, especially where the target group is designed for conversion and context. This is something advertising has been used to for a while, and moving forward, it will have an even greater role as each rupee we spend will have to work harder. The guideline on gender stereotypes is something that need not have been imposed. Instead, we need to be mindful of having greater sensitivity and responsibility for the creative content to ensure that it is not downright offensive or does not promote a culture that is regressive. While toeing the fine threshold of humour, we must know what is funny and what is not.

Unfortunately, with the span of ads being of 10 or 15 seconds, humour is in fact the emotion one can rely on in that time limit. Emotional storytelling takes time and longer format of stories are becoming predictable.

Advertising is going through a time where it has become incredibly sanitised, the dependence on celebrity endorsements has been at an all-time high but it is still the ideas that will have to cut through all of this to make an impact, any impact.

Read Also: The connected customer is pushing media companies to build new strategies: Three trends to watch this year

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