Indian Ad Council Bans Racist Skin Lightening Commercials

August 22, 2014 | Sophie Weiner

India’s Advertising Standards Council has issued new regulations banning advertisements that portray people with darker skin negatively “in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects.” Skin lightening is a $600 million dollar industry in India, and though ads have become less obviously prejudiced in recent years, the advertising council believes they are still promoting racism towards people with darker skin. The new regulations could get such ads off the air, but they do not apply to infomercials, which contain some of the more egregious examples of the phenomenon. 

“Because of the proliferation of products — more than a dozen brands and even for men — there was a need to say something specific about ads not being disparaging to people with darker skin,” ad council chairman Partha Rakshi told the Wall Street Journal.

So-called fairness creams, skin bleaches and lotions have flourished in India. Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan and cricket heartthrob Virat Kohli are both big promoters of men’s fairness products.

An Indian pharmaceutical company even markets a feminine hygiene product called Clean & Dry Intimate Wash, which it says “restores discolored skin, giving it a fair, glowing look.”

commercial for that product depicts a woman being ignored by a man. But after she starts using the wash — the results of which are illustrated with a drawing showing shadows disappearing from a woman’s crotch — he can’t keep his hands off her.

“I have always believed you can sell a beauty product to a woman without making her feel less beautiful,” Zenobia Pithawalla, the executive creative director at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather told the WSJ. “When you sell a fairness product, what you are really selling is hope.”

The Dark Is Beautiful campaign, started by Bollywood actress Nandita Das, applauded the actions taken by the ad council. In a recent post for Indian Independence Day, they wrote on their Facebook page, “each person is unique and intrinsically valuable irrespective of their shape, size, caste, gender or SKIN COLOUR! Happy Independence day India! Let’s enjoy our diversity!!”