Guest Article: Sanjeev Agrawal: Redefining offensive advertising

By Sanjeev Agrawal , Independent, Mumbai | In Advertising
Last updated : April 13, 2012
What really defines offensive advertising? Sexy, crass, sexist or outdated beliefs - the offense depends largely on individual perceptions.

I have been wondering as to what constitutes offensive advertising. In the pursuit of offensive advertising, I came across some of the controversial advertising of the past. Sample some of these:

The one that started it all was one of the first ads for Kamasutra Condom, featuring Pooja Bedi and Marc Robinson, which came out in October, 1991. Later, in 1993, an ad for MR Instant coffee (Real pleasure does not come in an instant) featured Malaika Arora and Arbaaz Khan. And, the most controversial of them all, the ad for Tuff Shoes that featured Madhu Sapre, Milind Soman, two pairs of shoes and one shy python (1995). Then, there was an ad featuring Bipasha Basu and Dino Morea for Switzerland-based underwear manufacturer Calida - both of them in innerwear and Dino pulling Bipasha's with his mouth (1998).

Sanjeev Agrawal

So, what's controversial about these ads? They are plain simple sexy. Not for Indian moral standards. They became controversial also because they had celebrity models. Some of these were crass and some more tastefully done - but all of them sexy to the hilt.

I couldn't find an acceptable definition of offensive advertising. I guess because each one of us have different ethical standards and we judge everything by our own standards. Therefore there is no agreement and no definition. To me, fairness cream advertising is offensive. The ones which promise marriage because of fairness have been more offensive than others. I do understand that the insight is from real life. With the society progressing, the fairness advertising moved from marriage to jobs. The more sexist one said that it helps one to become an air-hostess. Worse ads feature celebrities, with the more recent ones being fairness creams for men, which have SRK and Virat Kohli endorsing them.

But this one takes the cake! Have you seen this ad for Clean and Dry intimate wash?

It's clearly the worst on being offensive. Fairness for intimate parts? Maybe there is a consumer insight on this one. I have not done consumer work in this area and therefore would stay away from the insight. But, I find the promise almost repulsive. What is the depth that marketers and advertisers can slip down to? I really want some of you to help me understand if I am the only one?

Before this particular ad the most offensive ad that I felt belonged to I am sure you all have seen this ad.

However, this one is so sweet compared to the Clean and Dry ad. And, even the ad (where the air hostess slaps the passenger because he has not bought the ticket from Goibibo) is grandmotherly-sweet, reminding one of the air hostesses of Air India. See the ad if you have not seen it till now.

Maybe it is time to redefine our sensibilities regarding offensive ads. and are nice commercials based on 'consumer insights'.

The author is ex-Joint CEO at Future Value Retail. Follow @agrawalsanjeev on twitter.

First Published : April 13, 2012

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