ASCI cracks the whip on ads for fairness products

Courtesy –
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has reacted to the widespread outrage over the advertising message of fairness products, and proposed a tough new set of guidelines for advertisers

It wasn’t just Nandita Das or the “Dark is Beautiful” group that was outraged. Most people found it unsettling that fairness products are sold by showing darker skin as inferior.

If you wanted a good catch in the marriage market, a great job or to feel more confident, you needed to rub a cream into your skin to become fairer, they said. While this premise clearly sells – based on the proliferation of new products in the market – it also led to complaints. Most often, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)’s complaints committee found merit in the complaint and upheld it. The advertisements were withdrawn and a few months later, there was another, which sent out the same message.

It is another matter that India has not become a fairer nation despite millions of tubes being sold to the gullible. But the rising irritation at the tone and message of the advertising did turn on the heat.

A few months ago, ASCI set up a committee to frame new guidelines, which have been put up on its Facebook page ( ) for discussion.

The self regulatory body says, “…There is a strong concern in certain sections of society that advertising of fairness products tends to communicate and perpetuate the notion that dark skin is inferior and undesirable. Yet given how widespread the advertising for fairness and skin lightening products is and the concerns of different stakeholders in society, ASCI therefore felt a need to frame specific guidelines for this product category”.

Here are the new guidelines for advertising fairness products will say –

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 dramatized 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.

On the face of it, the guidelines seem tough enough. If issued as drafted, they will make it tougher for fairness product companies to sell their stuff. However, one can only wait and see if ingenious advertising whiz kids work around the draft.

One of the earliest and most systematic protests against fairness product campaigns, now extended to men was started by Chennai-based Kavitha Emmanuel, founder-director of Women of Worth, in 2009. She launched the ‘Dark is Beautiful” campaign that gained momentum last year when well-known actor Nandita Das lent her voice to it.

The outspoken actor had always lambasted India’s obsession with fair skin. “I started getting tonnes of emails from young women pouring their heart out about how they were discriminated against. Some wanted to commit suicide because they couldn’t be fair,” she told a news agency at that time.

ASCI says its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) continues to receive the highest number of complaints from the health and personal care category every month

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