Anti-Skin or Anti-Women?
Every advertisement, whether it is deemed acceptable or unacceptable by certain parties, has a concept behind it, which has usually been picked apart and streamlined by an advertising agency. So it’s easy to assume that advertising agencies have insight into what makes an ad offensive or palatable. But advertising executives are mostly perplexed by the recent scrutiny their work has generated.
“I would say that 90% of our advertisements wouldn’t offend anyone,” says Saher Khan, creative director at Circuit. “Of course, different groups and individuals have different standards of acceptability – some people feel that showing pictures or faces is immoral. But we cater to the mainstream.”
Saher stresses that as far as lawn campaigns are concerned, much of the backlash exists because people are not familiar with fashion photography and highly conceptual shoots. “Advertising for fashion shouldn’t be conventional – that negates its purpose,” exclaims Saher. That said, she feels that the recent boom in lawn advertising is the real issue, not the content itself. “And as far as other companies are concerned – I haven’t seen anything more risqué than a sleeveless kameez in a lawn ad,” she says.
Having said that, Saher also questions whether groups like Tanzeem-e-Islami are targeting vulgarity – or women. “There is nothing wrong with a woman appearing in an advertisement, making a living as a brand ambassador. It’s a job, and nothing more should be made of it.”
Sami Shah, writer, comedian and creative director at a leading ad agency believes that the issue that groups like Tanzeem-e-Islami have with ads these days has less to do with empowerment and more to do with local cultural sensitivities. He does feel that the amount of skin shown in some lawn advertisements may make conservatives uncomfortable – but points out that most lawn manufacturers don’t employ established ad agencies to promote their lawn, and so are not representative of the advertising industry’s general standards.
“For example, my agency handles only AlKaram and Gul Ahmed – both large brands. Most lawn advertisements represent the fashion industry, not the advertising industry. Designers will get their photographer friends to conceptualise and shoot their ads, which are then put up around the city by agents who rent out billboards. It’s pretty unsupervised,” he reveals.
Shah feels it is usually global campaigns which push the limits of cultural acceptability – not local ads. “I would say the current Veet campaign featuring Katrina Kaif and the Slice ad that ran a little while ago were more provocative than anything we’ve come up with at home.”
Seema Taher Khan, co-founder of Interflow, is also of the opinion that Pakistani ads generally err on the side of caution when it comes to content. She also points out that women are featured in advertising more often than men because women make key consumption decisions for the household – not because they are meant to beguile or entice the viewer. “Featuring a woman to sell a product is not unethical; after all advertisers understand that she is the nucleus of their communications, she is the consumer, she influences the purchaser and is the end beneficiary. In any case, exploitation and injustice to women is a national issue and does not have direct links to advertising.”
In the past, monitoring authorities like PEMRA have not stringently overseen advertisements. Saher cites a recent ad campaign as an example: “IFG ads regularly feature women in bras now – something we couldn’t have done 12 years ago.”
Seema Taher Khan also suggests that the government and local authorities are not very interested in laying down standards or formulating a code of ethics for advertising. However, she stresses that formal protests against advertisements are rarely launched by the general public, which is why advertisers just keep doing what they’re doing.
On the Tanzeem’s part, the group’s spokesperson says they haven’t approached the government very seriously about their claims. “We wrote a letter to the PTA about this issue once, but wedon’t really trust the government. We are doing this out of our own sense of obligation to Islam.”
This article was originally published in the July issue of Newsline.
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