Shreyas Kulkarni

ASCI and Futurebrands partner for a study aiming to shape positive gender depiction in advertising

One of the aims of the study is to make advertisers less dependent on stereotypical gender depictions says ASCI sec-gen Manisha Kapoor

“The objective is to give future-facing insight that advertisers will find useful,” says Manisha Kapoor, general-secretary, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

She was referring to the study on gender depiction in Indian advertising ASCI was launching this year in association with Futurebrands, a brand management consultancy. The study is the first of several initiatives ASCI will undertake in 2021 as part of a year-long focus on gender.

The report, to release in September 2021, is expected to be a seminal piece of work in understanding the depictions of women in advertising. It uses several starting points of inquiry. To begin with, there will be semiotics and cultural decode of Indian advertising over time, across categories and regions.

In addition, advertisers, creative voices, policymakers, gender experts will be met for their inputs. Ad clinics will be conducted across 10 centres with consumers for their views and feedback on gender depiction in advertising.

The study will draw an understanding of the larger cultural shifts in India through Bharat Darshan, a proprietary study done by Futurebrands over a decade, and across more than 200 towns. GenderNext is a first-of-its-kind study and expected to be of significant value to advertisers and creative agencies, as well as academia, policymakers and advocacy bodies.

Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI, said: “As a self-regulatory body, ASCI wants advertisers to embrace more responsible advertising. The idea is to not just limit ourselves to being a complaints management body but also to help advertisers navigate through complex issues and contribute to the creation of positive advertising. ASCI will support brands and advertisers to “get it right” in various ways, and this is one such initiative”.

Santosh Desai, MD & CEO, Futurebrands, said: “We are excited to be part of a study that will track the changing gender narrative in advertising and help advertisers with insights to craft their strategies better. The study – a synthesis of primary consumer feedback, opinions of a wide range of stakeholders and commentators, and a wider reading of cultural changes – will build on the extensive cultural tracking work Futurebrands has been engaged in over the past decade.”

Kapoor told us (afaqs!) one of ASCI’s two main roles is “to encourage people to adopt more responsible ways of advertising.” Speaking about gender depiction which is complex, multi-faceted and has no single solution.

“As an industry body looking at advertisers create responsible narratives, we felt this would be a good place to explore what could be a more positive way in which gender could be depicted, what could be a starting point for advertisers where they are less reliant on stereotypical depictions,” remarked the general secretary.

When asked if the guidelines and insights that emerge from the study will be a part of the ASCI code, said Kapoor, “The starting point is not for it to become part of the code… We will make it available to a larger body of advertisers, academia, industry, policymakers, government, and social activists because it’s a topic that concerns a lot of stakeholders.”

And responding to a possibility that advertisers may find these guidelines intrusive or interruptive to their process, she said that we (ASCI) are not going to be prescriptive and say these are the dos and don’ts. The objective is to give future-facing insight that advertisers will find useful. They (advertisers) are well at liberty to not take these but we are powerful they will find these powerful enough to consider them in their advertising narrative.

On Sunday (28 March 2021), ASCI announced on Twitter that it is now a founding ally of the UN women’s programme, the UNstereotype alliance – a platform that aims to remove negative stereotypes around women in the media.

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