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The Big Debate on Condom Ads: Self-regulation vs Blanket Ban

13-December-2017
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The Big Debate on Condom Ads: Self-regulation vs Blanket Ban

Raunchy condom ads that had been leading to some awkward moments in the living rooms of Indian families watching television together are now a thing of the past. According to the I&B Ministry, from now on condom ads can only be aired between 10pm to 6am, the widely accepted watershed for the Indian broadcasting industry. Watershed or safe harbour period refers to parts of the day that are suitable for television channels to broadcast mature or adult content. The raging debate is whether a blanket ban on condom ads, which undeniably raise awareness about safe sex, the best solution? Or is it just the vulgar content most of these ads show that should have been attacked rather than all condom ads.

Most ad agencies and condom brands spokespersons we spoke with say that a blanket ban on condom ads during the day is not the solution and what should have rather been addressed is indecent ads. “Not all condom advertising is indecent. So a blanket ban would be inappropriate. We follow ASCI’s code on advertising and subject ourselves to deep internal scrutiny,” said a spokesperson from Kamasutra. 

Some have called the move regressive and condemned this latest advisory from the I&B Ministry. However, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry justified the move, saying condom ads are “indecent especially for children” and could lead to “unhealthy practices” among them. 

It is interesting to note that in 1991-1992 when the first Kamasutra ad went on air, condom ads were deemed fit for consumption all day long on TV but ads for sanitary napkins could be broadcast only after 10pm. Sanitary pads advertising has (thankfully) come a long way since but it seems a while before India, despite its alarmingly burgeoning population, gets comfortable about watching condom ads with family.

We Don’t Need No Regulation!

The move has also initiated a discussion about the need to speak about sex openly instead of ignoring the reality that ours is a country with the third largest population with HIV and the second most populous country in the world after China. Condoms are universally seen as perhaps the most popular birth control device that also promotes safe sex.

Ashish Khazanchi, Managing Partner, Enormous Brands, said, “Condoms ensure safe sex. Unlike cigarette advertising that needs regulation, condom ads do not need that kind of regulation. No one is harmed by using condoms.” Calling the move counterproductive, Khazanchi said that there is in fact a need to talk about sex and safe sex in a country like India where the population has reached the 1.3 billion mark. “This move is a tad regressive,” he said. He noted that Doordarshan used to air mature content in its early days, “People were smart back then. This move assumes that people are stupid.”

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

This move by the I&B Ministry is also being seen as a saviour for parents who have had to field questions about flavoured condoms and the like from their children, as if the overtly raunchy content wasn't awkward enough. Noting that some of the recent ads for condoms have been erotic in nature, Prathap Suthan, ‎Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer - ‎Bang In The Middle, said, “Some public filters are necessary in the case of ads that have a sexual flavour.”

Commenting on Indian culture making sex-talk a taboo subject, Bobby Pawar, ‎Managing Director, Chief Creative Officer - ‎Publicis Worldwide, said, “I get that, but this culture is changing. These products are available freely, people are using them. And more than condoms being about sex, they are about safe sex. It is better that kids, who are beginning to experiment with sex earlier than the previous generations, are aware of these products.”

Recognising that some ads sure are inappropriate for children, Khazanchi said that ASCI needs to play a stronger role in regulating those ads instead of the Ministry imposing a blanket ban on airing condom ads through the day. Echoing similar thoughts, Pawar felt that “all of us need to be respectful that kids are watching. And it is completely fair if the regulators stipulate that condom ads should not be titillating.” The spokesperson from Kamasutra noted that all ads must be subjected to self-regulation, as he said,“Indecent advertising whether from the condom category or otherwise should be subjected to greater self-regulation.”

Increased Digital Presence

This move also comes at a time when condom brands are increasingly using the digital medium to promote themselves,and spread sexual education and safe sex practices. Durex's Do The Rex campaign in 2014 featuring brand ambassador Ranveer Singh was a purely digital campaign that went viral on social media. Durex recently launched a new service called “RexBot” a Facebook chatbot that can answer questions about anything to do with sex. Manforce condoms too recently created a long-format digital ad to alert couples about the dangers of filming sex acts.

Now that condom brands can only air ads after 10pm, Suthan said that we can expect a flurry of condom ads post 10pm. The brands which are are already active on social media and various digital platforms will also step up their digital play, some said. Given that condom brands are already active on digital platforms, Pawar wondered how children can be protected in the digital world where there are no time regulations. “Increasingly people are accessing entertainment on their mobile devices. How do you make sure that such advertisements do not appear during the day?”

Spokespersons from Manforce Condoms and Durex did not respond to queries from exchange4media.

How did we get here?

Condoms are positioned as products that enhance sexual pleasure. This insight is steeped in market research that showed that people in India considered condoms to be “dirty rubber”. The only condom available back then was Nirodh. So, when noted ad-man Alyque Padamsee was tasked with creating the Kamasutra condom ad in 1991, he wanted to position Kamasutra as a sexy condom. The slick ad starring Pooja Bedi and Mark Robinson was rejected by DD.

KV Sridhar even documented how Padamsee got his ad on air in his book 30 Second Thrillers.  The Chairman of ASCI had reportedly been upset with Padamsee for communicating the Kamasutra condom as a tool of pleasure. Padamsee had retorted: “Through this ad we are just saying that our condom has a certain appeal; it offers safety with pleasure. I believe this will change the entire scenario of family planning and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in India.” The ad finally went on air on satellite television, which had just started in India back then.

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