Of late, the debate on the issue of skin colour has been gaining momentum in India. So, the Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) decision to release a draft of their guidelines for advertisements on fairness and skin lightening products is a welcome move.
The council, that is making these guidelines available for circulation until June 15, says, “This is to help advertisers advertise their products responsibly and to not contravene any of the provisions of the ASCI code.”
The ASCI already has a code in place that states that advertisements should not openly discriminate against any particular “race, caste, colour, creed or nationality”. Yet, given the appalling and alarming portrayal of dark skin in advertisements, and the widespread reach of fairness products, it felt the need to frame these guidelines in more specific way, particularly for this category.
The regulations broadly refer to four main points that it wants manufacturers of fairness and skin lightening products to follow:
1. Advertising should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour. These ads should not reinforce negative social stereotyping on the basis of skin colour. Specifically, advertising should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned. These ads should not portray people with darker skin as at a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.
2. Advertising should not use post production visual effects on the model/s to show exaggerated product efficacy. The pre- and –post product usage visuals of model/s using special effects should not be dramatised or exaggerated so that efficacy depicted is not drastically different than what can be delivered by the product . Further, the expression of the model/s pre and post usage of the product both in the real and graphical representation should be the same.
3. Advertising should not associate darker or lighter colour skin with any particular socio-economic strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity.
4. Advertising should not perpetuate gender based discrimination because of skin colour.
The guidelines are tough and quite explicit, and if enforced as they have been drafted, they will make it difficult for manufacturers to sell their products.
However, on its own website, the ASCI describes itself as “a self regulatory voluntary organisation of the advertising industry”, and is committed “to the cause of Self-Regulation in Advertising, ensuring the protection of the interests of consumers”. It works towards getting advertisers to conform to such guidelines voluntarily. There are no laws to ensure these regulations are implemented strictly. Whether these regulations will be adhered to be blatantly ignored remains to be seen.
On Wednesday, August 20, the Advertising Standards Council of India released its final guidelines for the advertising of skin lightening and fairness products. Industry observers believe these guidelines could go a long way in correcting the impression given by advertisements of fairness products.
Speaking about these guidelines, ASCI chairman Partha Rakshit said, "Setting up these new guidelines for the skin lightening and fairness products will help advertisers comply with the ASCI code which states that advertisements should not deride any race, caste, colour, creed or nationality."
He added, "As a self-regulating body, it is important to have the advertisers' buy in to the guidelines, and we are happy to note that both the industry and the consumer activists' groups have welcomed these guidelines."
First published on June 10, 2014. Updated on August 22, 2014.