Arati Rao
Sep 07, 2012

Live Issue: Untold rules in subtlety for a sensitive India

In the wake of the 18 Again storm, Arati Rao wonders what's the best creative approach for such products

Live Issue: Untold rules in subtlety for a sensitive India

The campaign for 18 Again, a new vaginal tightening and rejuvenation gel, has generated quite the furore, drawing criticism from the government and consumers alike. To some extent, the offence seems to be on the part of the now pulled-off television creative, which shows a middle class woman dancing with her husband, crooning that she now “feels like a virgin”. Later, there was a press ad that took a more straightforward approach, highlighting the benefits of the gel with a gynaecologist’s testimonial.

Arvind Sharma, chairman, India subcontinent, Leo Burnett, and vice chairman of ASCI, says, “When you start dealing with intimate products, and put out mass advertising, you have to communicate in a way that your target audience understands the benefits within the limits of what society finds acceptable. That has been done well for years in the case of products like sanitary napkins, and even condoms. 18 Again obviously chose to ignore the social context and there was reaction from many segments of society including the government and people at large, and the Consumer Complaints Council had to make sure such advertising is not running.” Asked about the difference between the print and television creatives, he says, “I cannot have a nephew in the third standard watching TV or going through a newspaper and asking me what is vaginal tightening. There were two print ads – the second version that ran on 26 August uses the same phrases and language that were found objectionable in the TVC. I’m sure the CCC will find it unacceptable. If you use subtle language, then it’s okay.”

Is subtle and underplayed the way to go then, in categories such as these? Priti Nair, director, Curry-Nation, the agency that created the 18 Again campaign, says, “Print is subtle, TV has to be engaging. The point is that people have to watch the commercial. It raised so much of a hue and cry, but it isn’t really poking at any sensibilities, according to me. Though, obviously, it has.” The campaign will be toned down the next time around, according to Nair.

Amer Jaleel, national creative director, Lowe Lintas, who has worked on campaigns for Freedom 5, a contraceptive device, says, “To get a clever take across on print is difficult. Plus print willy-nilly has become a medium of information. With television or film, there is music, emotion and a story available to you. In the intimate product category, it helps to soften the message by having an entertaining story.” He adds, “I think naughtiness is acceptable; you can wink, nudge, and hint, but stated openly like that may be an issue.” 

Could simply airing commercials like these in the late-night slot be a solution? Habeeb Nizamudin, chief growth officer, Lodestar UM, says, “Putting an ad in the late night band gives no assurance that the audience you want to prevent from viewing the ad, isn’t watching it. We always recommend creating communication as per the audience. India as a market is evolving and you can create communication for select audiences, map media and air relevant communication at relevant times. It also reflects responsibility on the part of the brand.”

Does it all really just boil down to Indians not being open to seeing sex in advertising, though they’ll watch bold scenes in mainstream cinema? Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy, believes, “I think there is this mythical view that Indians are prudes. You should just go to the Midwest or Deep South in the US to understand what conservatism is.” Giving the instance of the i-pill ads, he says, “The i-pill ads were handled well and spoke sensitively. It spoke about the possibility of a pregnancy and whether 18-year old kids use it or not, is a separate issue. I think the question is are you being sensitive and is it a matter of good taste.”


Creative agency

Priti Nair, director, Curry-Nation

“I don’t think Indians are open to seeing sex in advertising. Also, they have never had an issue with men’s products being advertised when children are watching. Everything has to be said behind the curtains, when it comes to a progressive product for a woman.”



Creative agency

Amer Jaleel, national creative director, Lowe Lintas

“I don’t think it’s about women’s products; ads for lingerie, sanitary napkins, and contraception have been around for a very long time. It’s about the concept of pleasure for a married woman coming out into the open, that has affected people more than anything, I feel. This has opened the category, soon somebody else will advertise. I remember a simila  r sort of brouhaha for an Indian deodorant, where a woman in a sari was shown seducing somebody. The minute that comes, you’re ready for the next step.”



Creative agency, ASCI

Arvind Sharma, chairman, India subcontinent, Leo Burnett, vice-chairman, ASCI

“The CCC view on late night timings, based on data, is that timebands don’t make a difference. But tomorrow if digital platforms offer password locked options that allow only adults access, that will be a real change in the environment.”



Media agency

Habeeb Nizamudin, chief growth officer, Lodestar UM

“You could have different communication at 8pm and something else at 10.30 or 11pm, where the approach would be different. Communication should be designed for an audience plus the specific content environment.”



Brand consultancy

Anand Halve, co-founder, Chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy

“There are products that are best kept to a discussion between a medical practitioner and the individual who is suffering from that. In those cases, what communication needs to do is make people sensitively aware of the solution to the problem. It is not about a middle-class woman turning into a sexual tornado. ”

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