The latest Pan Bahar commercial featuring actor Pierce Brosnan has been on the line of fire since its launch. After receiving brickbats on social media, it’s now the turn of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to crack the whip.
Reports suggest that the Board has issued an order citing laws that restrict content promoting pan masala, tobacco and alcohol from being showcased on electronic media. We tried reaching out to Pahlaj Nihalani, Chairman of CBFC for a comment on the recent issue, but there was no response till the time of filing the story.
However, according to few brand consultants and broadcasters whom we spoke to, this decision by CBFC is only for ads shown in cinemas and on Doordarshan. For private owned channels, they take into account, advertising watchdog ASCI’s ruling.
Advertising done under the mouth freshener category is allowed on TV: Brand
Commenting on the recent development, Vikash Shukla, Brand Manager at Ashok & Co-Pan Bahar Ltd said, “It is too early to comment on what action we will take against CBFC because no communication has been made to us directly. However, what we are advertising is under the mouth freshener category and it is allowed on TV. Also the manufacturing of pan masala is done keeping in mind the government rules and the food safety regulations and we haven’t violated anything.”
The brand had earlier stated that the furore is the result of lack of awareness about the product Pan Bahar being endorsed by Brosnan. It is a film for a pan masala (Indian mouth freshener) brand which has betel nut, lime, catechu, cardamom seeds, sandal wood oil, and kewara in it and there is no tobacco or nicotine content in this product.We reached out to DDB Mudra, the agency which conceptualised the creative, but no response was elicited from them as well.
ASCI code of law for pan masala ads
Speaking about the recent development of Pan Bahar, Shweta Purandare, Secretary General, ASCI said, “We can’t comment on any particular brand as such. Moreover, it is too early to say anything. It has been only a week since the Pan Bahar ad has been released. However, talking about the pan masala category advertisement, there are certain ASCI guidelines which have been introduced. While products like Pan Masala and Supari are not banned for sale or from advertising by law, their ads should not feature personalities from the field of sports, music and cinema for products which, by law, either require a health warning in their advertising or cannot be purchased by minors. Also it is important that the advertisers as well as celebrities are aware of this clause of ASCI code and sensitised to this issue so that they can advertise in a responsible manner.”
In the last one year, there has been a sudden surge in Bollywood celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar, Govinda, Sunny Leone and others endorsing pan masala brands. Most of these brands, which operate under the mouth-freshener category, are actually surrogate forms to promote zarda, tobacco and gutkha and that they subtly endorse their consumption. According to Purandare, currently none of the pan masala ads featuring celebrities are running on TV.
Why did other Pan Masala brands not face similar flak like Pan Bahar?
At the start of this year, the Delhi government had written to Bollywood stars not to endorse pan masala brands as they contain potential cancer causing agents, and requested them to join its Anti-Tobacco Drive. Even in November 2015, Bollywood actors--Shah Rukh Khan, Govinda and Manoj Vajpayee were served notice by the regulator-- Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), for endorsing Pan Masala brands.
Commenting on this, Harish Bijoor, brand-expert & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc said, “This is a strange development. Pan Bahar hit the big league in advertising eye-balls with Pierce Brosnan and it gets banned. The key point is why did the others not attract similar flak? CBFC standards seem to be different for different brands. Different strokes for different folks!”
N. Chandramouli, CEO, TRA (a Comniscient Group company) said, “I have not seen the order, but prima-facie; it looks that the grounds on which Pahlaj Nihalani has commented is quite flimsy. It is not clear at all, why they have banned the ad, is it because it has Brosnan, or is it because it has tobacco? I feel pin-pointing on one particular ad is wrong and is not acceptable, if the product Pan Bahar is injurious then ban the product and not the ad. It is completely a wrong way of approaching it.”
Elaborating on the kind of creative which can lead to a ban, KV Sridhar, who has recently stepped down as Chief Creative Officer from Sapient Nitro pointed, “It totally depends on the content of the commercial on how blatant it is. If they are crossing the line, it will get banned. It actually depends on two factors, legality and morality. On the grounds of morality, no one should advertise, but on the grounds of legality, there are certain loopholes, like you can advertise about supari, saffron or saunf.”