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ASCI’s recipe to help brands in India be creative with responsibility

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By Amit Bapna | Editor-at-large

June 15, 2022 | 5 min read

The Drum speaks to Manisha Kapoor, chief executive and secretary-general of The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the leading self-regulatory organization on the plans to make Indian advertising responsible and sensitive with the launch of its new guidelines, around gender stereotypes

Building a responsible and inclusive advertising code

Building a responsible and inclusive advertising code

Gender portrayal is a complex and nuanced issue, and it needs constant upgrades in terms of the guardrails within which marketers and agencies need to look at their narratives.

Recently ASCI launched its new set of guidelines on harmful gender stereotypes with the idea of laying down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals and encouraging Indian advertisers to create more progressive gender depictions.

The set of guidelines was released by the Union Minister for women and child development, Government of India, Smriti Irani.

The guidelines, encourage advertisers and creators to deploy the SEA (self-esteemed, empowered and allied) framework that guides stakeholders in evaluating portrayals of gender in their advertising by building empathy and aiding evaluation.

Elaborating on the framework, Subhash Kamath, chairman, ASCI said, “The new guidelines were created after extensive consultation with many partners - both from industry, as well as civil society organizations, including the Unstereotype Alliance and UNICEF.” These guidelines are a big step forward in strengthening ASCI’s agenda to shape a more responsible and progressive narrative, he added.

Key takeaways for marketers from the new guidelines

Gender stereotypes are harmful because they lock individuals in certain roles and perpetuate dynamics that are harmful to society. Says Kapoor, “Advertising, through subtle and implicit depictions, can reinforce harmful stereotypes and overlook the aspirations of individuals and groups.” A recent study by Kantar shows that 64% of consumers believe that advertising reinforces rather than helps eradicate harmful gender stereotypes.

The guidelines provide guardrails for gender depiction and can prove to be extremely useful for marketing and advertising professionals to improve RoI, she adds.

ASCI aims to prevent harmful gender stereotypes and lay down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals. Says Kapoor, “These guidelines seek to encourage advertisers to evaluate the portrayal of gender and build empathy by giving them a well-defined checklist to guard against implicit stereotypes that creep into advertising.”

At the top of the list that marketers should do for a future-ready inclusive portrayal, is to deploy the SEA (self-esteemed, empowered, allied) framework that will guide them in imagining and evaluating portrayals of gender in advertising by building empathy and aiding evaluation.

In addition, Kapoor points out, “there is also the 3S framework, which provides a checklist to guard against tropes and implicit stereotypes that creep into advertising.”

To elaborate, the three 3S framework spans subordination (the woman is positioned lower in the decision-making hierarchy and awareness), service (the woman is seen as serving others), and standardization (the woman is molded into portrayals that blur individuality)

Emerging gender depiction codes in advertising

With the changing times, it is imperative that brands actively look to create more progressive gender depictions

Diversity has to be inclusive and sensitive at all touchpoints. For instance, says Kapoor, “don’t mock those not conforming to gender stereotypes, even if in a context that is intended to be humorous, hyperbolic or exaggerated.” For example, don’t belittle a man for carrying out stereotypically female roles, she says.

As society evolves, the collective advertising consciousness also needs to keep pace and continue evolving and it is critical that harmful stereotyping of all genders need to be avoided.

So, while advertisements have and may continue to depict people undertaking gender-stereotypical (a woman cleaning the house, a man going to an office), according to Kapoor, “we hope that such roles or characteristics are not always uniquely associated with a particular gender or shown as the only options available to a particular gender.”

Building a future that is more inclusive and less confrontational

All parties – including advertisers, brands, endorsers and even consumers would need to be a part of the change.

Points out Kapoor, "The updated ASCI code reflects an evolved way of thinking that is more holistic, keeping in mind the points of view of various stakeholders."

If advertisers follow it, we will have a just and equitable advertising landscape, she adds.

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