A New Effort to Combat Stereotypes in Advertising

Interesting story out of India this week, as the Advertising Standards Council of India (a non-government, voluntary industry group that sets guidelines for advertisements) issued new guidelines aimed at combating colorism in the country. :

The Advertising Standards Council’s guidelines seem to directly target the trend in skin lightening ads that portray darker Indians as unemployable or unlovable until they decide to purchase a bleaching agent.

For generations, Indian television and print ads have portrayed lighter skin tones as desirable and the market for skin-whitening creams has grown to a $500 million industry. Ads for the creams – which frequently star big-name Bollywood stars – regularly portray light skin as the key to finding happiness.

Amongst the guidelines is the statement that advertising “should not directly or implicitly show people with darker skin in a way which is widely seen as unattractive, unhappy, depressed, or concerned.”

When I first read about this, I felt that if you can’t show people as being depressed, you can’t show the full range of their humanity, and it is that broad spectrum that we really need, rather than patronizingly happy/perfect/magical portraits. At the same time, however, we’re not talking about all programming on television, but rather advertising, which often tries to create a problem and then offer a solution to it. If the problem it’s trying to create is that you were born with dark skin, obviously that’s something that needs to be addressed.

I wonder what racial stereotypes in advertising we would get rid of if we had a similar council here.

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