MIB’s directive last month about a ban on airing condom ads (with sexually explicit content) on TV during daytime received mixed reactions from all sections of societies, bringing with it a debate on ‘sanskaar’, restricting creative liberty and even the issue of population control. BrandWagon speaks with four stakeholders to get a sense of what has prompted these reactions.
‘It is important to normalise talking about sex’: Vithika Yadav member, Global Advisory Board for Sexual Health and Wellbeing
A recently released study reveals that there are 1.6 crore abortions a year in India. What is more alarming is that 81% of these abortions are done at home. Let us look at the condom ad ban in this context. Not only is this move by the ministry regressive but also makes it difficult to address the issue of safe sex and unplanned pregnancies. A better option could have been to come up with guidelines on responsible advertising rather than announcing a ban. And these guidelines have to be realistic.
It is high time we acknowledge that human beings are sexual beings and sex is a part of our lives. It is important to normalise talking about sex, promote safe sex, sex that is consensual and pleasurable — this is a really important component when we address sexual health and well-being of people. It is also important to notice how brands like Durex have been able to communicate that women have the negotiating power in the use of condoms through its advertisements. This is crucial. There is so much more we should be able to communicate on responsible sexual behaviour through content on various media. This is the need of the hour.
‘After all, creative liberty is a privilege’: Abanti Sankaranarayan chairman, Advertising Standards Council of India
ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) received a slew of complaints on condom ads asking for a complete ban. However, the CCC did not uphold these complaints, given the product context of such ads. ASCI approached MIB recommending a restraint on the time slots when these ads are aired. MIB has acted on ASCI’s recommendation of allowing the telecast of these ads to watershed hours; watershed hours being a well-established norm among broadcasters globally. Overtly sexual content shown in condom ads is what creates discomfort for viewers, especially in the presence of children when aired during family-viewing hours.
The efforts of restricting only such ads to watershed hours help minimise their adverse impact on children. A condom ad which is educative, informative and focussed on delivering a larger public service message highlighting the benefits of condom usage for audiences of all age groups, would have no timing restrictions. Lastly, as a self-regulatory body, ASCI must advocate and uphold the virtue of public decency in advertising; after all, creative liberty is a privilege that is not devoid of social responsibility.
‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’: Pranesh Misra chairman, Brandscapes Worldwide
There is no such thing as absolute freedom. Take the tobacco advertising ban, for example. As it has been scientifically proven that smoking is a health hazard, banning tobacco advertising may be considered both beneficial and acceptable. Condom is not tobacco — perhaps just the opposite. It helps control population and protects against communicable diseases. So, restricting condom advertising can neither be considered beneficial nor acceptable. Instead, we should learn from Thailand’s ‘Mr Condom’ Mechai Veravaidya.
Using several unorthodox methods — including condom blowing competition in schools (for teachers and students), getting primary school students to distribute condoms in their localities — he achieved in making condoms accepted as ‘a girl’s best friend’ and its human impact speaks for itself: population growth rate went down from 3.3% to 0.5% in two decades; average children per family from seven to 1.5. If our challenge is vulgarity in some condom advertising, leave it to ASCI to self-regulate the content. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
‘I am in favour of this directive’: SONAL DABRAL group CCO & vice chairman, Ogilvy India
It is not a regressive move. Television is a family-viewing platform, and if you look at the quality and content of some of the contraceptive ads in this country, you would be ashamed to see it alone, leave aside watching it with your family. Some of the detractors of this ban are also saying that such a ban will undo progress on sexual and reproductive health discussions in the country. Take a look at the contraceptive ads we have and name even one that takes the discussion forward!
For me, it is not the ban but the content of some of these ads that is regressive and needs serious consideration by the advertising and marketing teams responsible for these. The ban essentially is because the content is deemed unfit to be viewed by children, just like you have films with adult or restricted certifications, not being shown on TV. To me, it is okay to have restricted viewing hours for ads with adult viewing content not just for contraceptive but any other product category the ads are for. I am in favour of this directive.
— Compiled by Shinmin Bali