Everything is “fair” in Advertising!

Advertisement A- A girl goes for an interview to become a photographer. However, on the spot, her dark complexion gives her a complex and she doesn’t perform well. Her father gives her a fairness cream. She applies the cream and re-appears for the interview, and this time her confidence (due to her glowing radiance) impresses the interview panel immensely. She achieves great success and the world is at her feet, all thanks to ABC fairness cream.

Advertisement B- A girl goes for an audition to become an actress with her father. But because of her dark complexion, she is rejected and her father is humiliated. However, she comes again later after applying XYZ fairness cream and gets selected. She becomes a subject of adulation while her father is congratulated and respected.

These are just two samples out of several fairness cream ads that are on air currently. Irrespective of what specific product, each brand tries to advertise, there are some commonalities to all of them. Most of them have a plain Jane protagonist who is struggling to achieve success and fulfil her dreams but her dark complexion acts as an obstacle. However, the moment the girl starts using a particular fairness cream, miracles occur overnight and she reaches the highest pinnacle of success. In simpler terms, fairness therefore becomes quintessential to achieve success in all endeavours.

Such ads raise a very critical question-why is our society so obsessed with fairness? Why does white skin seem so attractive to us? White skin is considered ‘beautiful’, ‘superior’ etc. Experts have always argued that more than complexion, one should have a healthy skin. However, in this mad rush to get fair skin, such an argument finds few takers.

The obsession for fair skin is best reflected in matrimonial ads. Most ads are inviting “fair and beautiful” brides or “fair and handsome” grooms. This is why there have been several fairness cream ads where dark girls have been rejected for their fairer counterparts. The underlying principle in these ads is that whether it is getting married or making a career, fairness is the key to happiness it alone leads to success.

Conventionally, fairness ads used to have women as their focal point. Interestingly, a new trend has emerged as there are now fairness creams extensively for men. As we grow increasingly modern, trends like these should have declined, however, with a boom in the male grooming industry, this trend has only gotten more solidified. So, now these ads have men-who-are-not-so-fair trying to chase a girl but the girl refuses to look at them. However, the moment they apply XYZ fairness cream only for men, they start radiating like 100-watt bulbs, which brings them more attention than they could imagine or even handle, for that matter. Basically, the fairness cream emerges as the prime catalyst in the transformation from being a dud to a cool dude.

Trends like these also raise several questions over the role played by the advertising media. While ads are supposed to mirror the trends of the society, many critics feel that such ads reinforce and reiterate the preference for fair skin. They feel that such ads encourage prejudices and discrimination on grounds of skin colour. It is true that ads which are different from what’s happening in the society don’t find acceptability easily but at least, they are the first step to change the mindsets of people.

Advertising has always been at the forefront of the debate of promoting a product at the cost of ethics. But isn’t it time that we give a thought to why fair isn’t always superior?

Sarah Zia