AdStand: Of Fairness and the Celebrity Code

This has been an interesting week. One celebrity took on his entire fraternity over a category they endorse, and Advertising Standards Council released a code of conduct for celebrities who endorse brands.  The trolling of one celebrity and the code of conduct coming in same week are disconnected events, but have set new roles of engagement for the brands.


The Abhay Deol Troll War

India has a major fascination for fair skin. At roughly 30 billion, Skin Fairness is possibly the largest category in India. The earliest brand in this category was Afghan Snow. Way back in 1950s they had Miss India’s endorsing the brand, though the brand directly didn’t say fairness cream, it alluded to making skin fair and giving it a ‘snow’ like feel. Surprisingly, The brand is still available on Amazon. Fair and Lovely slowly ambushed Afghan Snow by building a huge guilt trip in would be brides by stressing that fair skin gets better grooms. In 70s, that was a big appeal and slowly Fair and Lovely started to gain acceptance. Today across companies there are many celebrities who do endorse a ‘skin whitening’ cream for both men and women.

In 2014 the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has issued guidelines on the advertising of fairness and skin-lightening creams in an effort to curb the spread of misleading ideas and discrimination.

The new guidelines specified that advertising cannot communicate any discrimination based on skin colour nor can it use post-production visual effects to exaggerate product efficacy, amongst others.

In light of these guidelines the Abhay Deol attack on all his compatriots is a stunning attack. He has raised all the issues that the ASCI has laid down, because despite the guidelines, most brands do flout them and these are large brands that rule the category.

Beyond ASCI guidelines, Abhay Deol has raised the issue on the very existence of the category. His point that should the category even exist as fairness category is worth debating. Fairness is not a fair category, but can the category be really curbed? Thanks to years of cultural imperialism, it is fair skin that is a big definer of beauty in India. So much so that when one odd brand uses a ‘dusky’ model, it becomes big news. This is one war that will need more than a lone voice.

Will ASCI guidelines for Celebrities work?

The new ASCI guidelines that have been put down for celebrity endorsements are very tough.

First, who is a celebrity?

That is defined as someone who receives payment in lieu of appearing in advertising. The definition goes beyond entertainment and sports personalities, but does stop short of ‘influencers’ in social media, may be the code should get upgraded to include anyone who gets paid to propagate brand message.

The second part is what is expected of the celebrity. The Celebrities should do due diligence to ensure that all description, claims and comparisons made in the advertisements they appear in or endorse are capable of being objectively ascertained and capable of substantiation and should not mislead or appear deceptive.

This is far reaching. This means when a celebrity female star plays the role of mother in instant noodle commercial which claims that she feeds her children the noodles because it has nutritional benefits, then she has to believe that the claim is true. Till this point it is still doable. Brands do have tests and data that can be substantiated on many counts. But how will a male film star be convinced that use of a deodorant will have him inundated with female adulation? Or that a particular undergarment is so lucky that it will change his fortune, or that particular slippers’ straps are so strong that he can save girls falling off the cliff or that fairness creams open a world of opportunities, or the film star can jump off a cliff to grab a bottle of cola?

The previous guidelines that ASCI put down for fairness creams have not been followed in true spirit, will we in advertising really follow what we believe are the correct way of using a celebrity? And will we as people who create the appeal for brands extend it to influencers too?

May be we need more Abhay Deols.

Original published here:

The Power of Silent Majority

There is a pitched battle being fought currently. The Molotov cocktails are being hurled across the fence; the fire is raging and becoming a raging inferno. Words are used as cannonballs, and are being hurled at ferocious pace. The strategy employed is of shock and awe to subdue the offending side. The other side is not sitting idle either. It is fighting hard to defend its territory, but the marauding army has overrun them. The defenders don’t have the power of numbers on their side and their words are not diffusing the incessant shelling of words from other side.

The war has been triggered by India’s biggest celebrity’s opinion on the current political situation. The uproar has been massive, ugly and partisan. The war will continue till the fighting class finds a new subject that upsets them, but even after that the fire may remain smouldering under the ashes.

Aamir Khan is not just a cinema star; he is also India’s most desired brand endorser. Samsung, Titan, Godrej, Tata Sky, Coke and Snapdeal have used the power of the star to drive their brands’ acceptance. For most brands, his association has been a fairly long one, and is fair to assume that it has worked for the brand.

Not surprisingly, the marauding army of offended netizens targeted Snapdeal with the strangely worded #AppWapasi campaign. The hashtag is strange because the app of Snapdeal was not gifted; they sought it out and downloaded it because they believed Snapdeal is a good place to transact. What were they returning? In times of inflamed anger and blood lust, such small details do not matter. Godrej, Coke, Samsung too faced the backlash. The first reaction of these brands was to disassociate with the statement that the actor made and hope that the furore will subside and it would be business as usual.

I think the brands missed a trick, by not being upfront and supporting the actor. The brands have commercial interest in mind, and it’s for pure commercial interest they should have supported the actor.

Consider this. There are an overwhelming number of people who have been offended by the actor, there is a small number that has not been offended, and they have fought the pitched battle. But there is a vast majority out there that is watching this fight with derision. This silent majority is the one that doesn’t find it worth their while to join the mob on either side. They will continue to patronize the brands, as long as the brand fulfils its promise of quality, service and whatever else they seek. This un-measurable silent majority is the reason for the success or failure of any brand.

If I can digress for a moment, the reason why the measurement of the recent Bihar elections went awry was because the silent majority didn’t speak out, they went about doing their work, the vocal minority was heard and the opinions formed from that noise was not worth anything.

The same is happening today with this battle. The vociferous mob will move on to the next offending statement and fight the battle there, the silent majority will continue to transact with the brands.

Snapdeal, Godrej, Coke, Titan, Samsung would have found new fans if they had stood by their existing or past brand ambassador in times of mob frenzy. Snapdeal faced the fury of people giving the app single-star rating on Play Store, but it also had a small number of people giving it 5-star rating, and I am not sure if it saw a significant dip in transactions across the two days. Godrej publicly stepped away from Aamir; what if it also made clear that while they don’t have Aamir as the endorser, they feel Aamir still embodies their brand values?

It takes one sane voice to quell the mobocracy, that sane voice could have been that of the brands. The silent majority is a powerful force, far more powerful than the small vocal mob. Brands must tap into the power of silent majority.

Original published here: