It is close to two weeks since the Layer’r Shot ads—aired on June 4— received massive nation-wide backlash for promoting ‘rape culture’. The ad was eventually pulled off the air and the brand offered what many thought was a sorry excuse for an apology. But, the discussion does not end here. Digital marketing agency Kinnect’s senior creative director Abbas Mirza took to LinkedIn—on June 16—to share how his actor friend Saurabh Verma had declined the offer when he was approached by a casting agent to audition for the ads.
In a long post, Mirza details how Verma had proposed a change in the script as he went through its content. And when his request was denied, he ‘politely’ refused but not before pointing out the actual problem over a WhatsApp chat. “And for the people who work in advertising, and are aware of the production-house or actor power equation, they will understand how audacious the demand is,” says Mirza.
As the WhatsApp screenshot along with Verma's photograph has been made public by Mirza, Verma’s reply to the agent reads, “No hard feelings but the script is derogatory and demeaning for women. I have not seen anything like this before for advs. So will skip this one.”
Mirza adds, “If only others involved with the project had the spine to do the same, the two ads (there were three in all, but the third was never aired) would not have seen the light of the day or darkness of the night!”
The ad was airing on television when a Twitter user pointed out the obvious issues with the ad. Another user tagged Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), to take action. ASCI were prompt to respond that it breached ASCI codes, was against public interest, and called for its suspension.
Within a few days after the backlash, ASCI launched a set of guidelines on harmful gender stereotypes which was put together after looking into more than 600 ads. Out of the list, one such guideline highlights, “Advertisements should not indulge in the sexual objectification of characters of any gender or depict people in a sexualized and objectified way for the purposes of titillating viewers. This would include the use of language or visual treatments in contexts wholly irrelevant to the product.”
Further, one of the guidelines also stresses that “no gender should be encouraged to exert domination or authority over the others by means of overt or implied threats, actual force or through the use of demeaning language or tone.”