Indian ads poking fun at people’s body type, sexuality and mental health will now be actioned

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In order to keep up with the times and make the country’s advertising landscape more inclusive, the Advertising Council of India has updated its advertising code of conduct to prevent insensitive depictions of gender identity and sexual orientation, physical and mental health conditions, body types, or even age in advertisements.

The self-regulatory body, Advertising Standards Council of India – or ASCI as it is commonly known – had would have prevented ads from making fun of people on the basis of race, caste, creed, gender or nationality. But now, learning about the new targets of discrimination and derision, it has updated Chapter 3.1(b) of the Advertising Code to include a wider range of harmful portrayals.

Like Sharad Vadehra of the Global Advertising Lawyers Alliance Explain, ads violating the code would be subject to removal, if ASCI finds that its content does in fact violate the code. With this update, ASCI has, in short, enabled people to access the proper legal avenues to seek redress.

“We’ve seen consumers call out ads that make fun of or ridicule people, or portray them in an unfavorable way. And it’s normal for advertising to become more inclusive and sensitive to that. It’s not okay, for example, to d “associating characteristics such as slowness with a certain body shape. Similarly, making fun of someone with a physical or mental illness, or their gender identity, would now violate the ASCI code,” said Manisha Kapoor, CEO and General Secretary of ASCI, said. “With this change, ASCI hopes to ensure that advertising becomes more inclusive and aware of all sections of our country, and does not perpetuate certain portrayals that have no place in a progressive society.”


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To identify what is considered “offensive” by Indian consumers, the advertising watchdog undertook an analysis of 1,759 complaints against 488 advertisements made over the three-year period between 2019 and 2021. January of this year, The report entitled, “What India takes offense to» observed six themes which offended the majority of plaintiffs – mainly relating to the mockery of men and the questioning of “Indian culture and values”. According to the report, the depiction of “unpleasant” realities like menstruation was also offensive to many.

Fortunately, ASCI then noted that the media need not necessarily bend to people’s will, and while “some thoughts and depictions may seem shocking at first glance, not all of them are harmful. Indeed, some might actually help establish more progressive and equitable narratives.

The current embargo is not a divergence from this point of view. Unlike the advertisements deemed offensive in the report, mocking individuals based on their gender, sexuality, health and body type is actually harmful, as it reinforces unhealthy stereotypes. “Stereotypes are harmful because they are unfair and unfounded assumptions. We should get to know people as individuals before we develop beliefs about what that person is…People are complex and often stereotypes reduce us to a small part of our complex identity,” Remarks an article from the Diana Award Anti-Bullying Program.

“Depictions are welcome, we would like more diversity and inclusion in advertising, but we don’t want them to be disrespectful. The idea is not to make people look cartoonish and to put in ads just to make fun of them,” Kapoor noted.

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