Dipstick: Are ads – and thus creativity – crossing the Lakshman Rekha and becoming overly suggestive?

There has been some criticism of late that television commercials are becoming increasingly suggestive with strong overtones of sexuality. While some call it a selling tactic, others call it plain creativity to drive the message home. So is there is a dividing line?

Ananya Saha | Delhi | June 18, 2012

Sex sells. And suggestive ads sell too. Or so it seems. Of course the primary purpose of advertising is to help sell, sell, sell. But is it necessary to get sexually suggestive in ads to reach out to the youth to induce/titillate them to buy a product? Sample the Micromax ‘Aisha’ TVC, the Fastrack campaign (Blame Fastrack), and the highly suggestive deodorant advertisements catalysed by the Axe Deo campaigns. All of them are vividly suggestive and high on the sexuality quotient. Is it the only way to drive the message home?

BestMediaInfo talks to marketing honchos and creative leaders for their views. And the opinions and rationale they have put forward provide a fascinating insight of what drives creativity.

Abhijeet Avasthi


Ogilvy & Mather

“I think Lakshman Rekha is decided by society. What is conceived as progressive in France or the US might not be acceptable in India. And even within India, what is considered acceptable in Mumbai might not be acceptable in say a town like Bhagalpur. Marketers, advertisers and the agency have to keep these sensibilities in mind. Having said that, segmentation and TG also matter a lot. Fastrack, for instance, gets away with a lot of things since it targets youth which is a fun phase of life. But you cannot use the same sensibilities to sell insurance.

“I have another observation to make that bothers me a lot. Lot of people have started viewing advertisements and a commercial movie with different lenses. If a girl wears a short skirt in an ad, then people ask why an ad is promoting such values. But if a feature film shows an actress wearing skimpy clothes in an item song, it is acceptable. Movies come out with multiple themes where big actors romance various girls but that is acceptable because of the big star cast! It is unfair to view ads and cinema with different lens when people clearly have the option of flipping the channel through an ad break.”

Anisha Motwani

Director & Chief Marketing Officer

Max New York Life Insurance

“Advertising has always kept in tune with the times and is often an easy surrogate for the prevailing consumer culture. While one can question if suggestive ads represent the mainstream or niche culture, the fact is that our society is becoming more comfortable with the subject of sexuality. Even our movies, programming content or the most family-oriented dramas are peppered with it.
“The question therefore to ask is how relevant is the suggestive situation in connection to the product being advertised. If the brand and the benefits sought by the consumer from it have no relation whatsoever with sexuality, then it’s just a gimmicky, attention-drawing tactic. My belief is that brands need to invest in powerful ideas and in strong consumer insights that build trust and values now and in the long-term. One-off shocking tactics are like bubbles – they’ll get lost in thin air before you know it!”

Satbir Singh

Managing Partner & Chief Creative Officer

Euro RSCG India

“There is nothing wrong in being suggestive or incorporating adult content in advertising. What is important is that they be confined to time slots where chances of exposure to underage viewers is minimised. If advertisers do not take such measures, governmental agencies might impose stronger controls and that wouldn’t be a happy state of affairs.

Most of the stuff is downright distasteful even by adult standards.”

Anurag Hira


One by One Design

These commercials mirror what the youth thinks today and reflect their state of being… one that is quite open about their sexuality. If you ask me, we’re the ones who are caught in a time-warp – not knowing whether to accept them as a part of an evolving age or be stuck up about our (im)moral policing notions, in a manner of speaking.

“Is the Fastrack ad under a knife because it’s about a girl who is running back home after a night out with her (or, er… a) guy? And the Aisha ad is about every guy’s dream (including mine!) coming true – nothing so shockingly sexual about it at all. It’s another matter that this one is quite mindlessly silly, but then these ads appear to play on the sentiment of the youth and there is nothing immoral about it, so where’s the question of any Lakshman Rekha?

“Try asking the youth what Lakshman Rekha is? They’d probably come up with stuff like ‘Are they the names of someone’s domestic help?’”

Vivek Srivastava

Joint MD

Innocean Worldwide India

“The jury has been out forever on the subject of overtly or mildly suggestive ads. Unfortunately it’s becoming a sort of a pastime for failed opinion leaders, subjugated activists and clueless politicians to try to control or create a brouhaha over things that represent the will and forces of free market and consumerism.

“Yes, there are a few given ways of communicating a brands message. And sex is a part of the syntax in one of these. The relevance and appropriateness can always be questioned and defended. The fact is that a marketer and his agency take this educated call knowing the prevailing consumer psyche and the market turf characteristics. It’s up to the consumer whether he wishes to entertain overtures of an explicitly sexual messaging by a brand. The ones who do not approve of it will shun it regardless of rekhas.

“On a more macro social plane, the occurrence of such messaging is also indicative of the coming of age our society, especially when it comes to taking about sex. It’s high time we spoke, discussed and laughed about these issues openly rather than having a bottled up bunch of people who resort to all sorts of under-the-radar sexual perversion just because we as a society still pretend to be steeped in medievalism. In my view this threat perception of an overt sexual tenor in our advertising is a mere bogey.

“Advertising merely mimic social trends. Sometimes they get bold and represent some emerging or latent traits. This is in no way a devious trick or a plan. The proliferation of Internet, the decibels of TV debates and the ensuing freedom of expression are a real phenomena. The language of each generation is different and the permissible levels of suggestiveness are dynamic on the continuum of time.”

“To me there are no formal Laksman Rekhas except when it comes to sovereign issues. Sex isn’t a sovereign issue yet – thankfully! Marketers anyway have a Lakshman Rekha that works way better than any other – the line of consumer preference. Whoever finds any messaging distasteful can choose to draw his own line and assert his choice in front of the brand and its shenanigans. That’s the only line that matters.”

Harish Bijoor


Harish Bijoor Consults

“Ads today are most certainly crossing more than the Lakshman Rekha of societal acceptance. But the point to remember is that the Lakshman Rekha on this was drawn decades ago! Today, however, society is on the morph. Consumers today find the boundaries of their acceptability norms being shifted and rejigged. In the old days, the word ‘sexy’ was considered taboo in itself. Not any more.
“Suggestive advertising finds its genesis in suggestive cinema. The innuendo is today a big item of usage in advertising that is suggestive. The innuendo in Indian cinema is old hat. Dada Kondke started it all in Marathi cinema and occupied an iconic status with his innuendos. This has now finally moved into advertising, decades later.
“Advertisers need to however stay careful and appreciate the fact that mass media is really mass. It is consumed by all age groups, the two dominant genders and, most importantly, by the innocent child audience of the country. The 420 million children of India eat the same advertising that the rest of the adults eat through mass media. It is therefore important to get sensitive. Let’s not fast track the growing up period of the child in India today with doses of suggestive advertising. Let them nourish and cherish their childhood, just as long as we did in our times.”


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