Protection is Not Pleasure

Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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On the reaction to condom ads being banned on television from 6 am to 10 pm

THE PROBLEM WITH any advertisement for a condom is that the use of the product itself, in terms of the purpose for which it was created, is somewhat difficult to show. The message must thus be metaphorical. The earlier advertisements of Nirodh, the condom manufactured by the public sector unit Hindustan Latex Ltd, pitched the product in staid family planning terms, or couples holding hands, or closer for what looks like a hug, all symbolising sex of course. In the marketing era of private condom manufacturers, the boundaries of the metaphor were pushed to bring in the idea of pleasure. The sensuality quotient was ratcheted up. Sex was no longer a hint in a condom ad. Most parents, however, don’t really want to watch sex on TV along with their children. Thus the complaints that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry cites to ban condom ads from 6 am to 10 pm.

It is getting flak for this and much of it is has to do with the words it uses in the order. Like children being exposed to ‘indecent’ and ‘unhealthy practices’, which again alludes to sex. This is the language in which the bureaucracy interprets the grievance of parents. If they had said ‘discomfort of parents’ as a reason, it might have sounded less silly.

The condom has the very limited function of contraception, and while it is time tested at that, as an assurer of pleasure, it is really not Viagra. Whatever more is added in an advertisement is just a sales pitch. Just as someone is shown drinking a cola and then diving off a mountain, the equivalent of the mountain in the condom ad is another kind of fantasy with, say, Sunny Leone in the middle of it while a voice in the backdrop reminds you about the product that brings her to you.

There is probably nothing wrong with this either, if not for how the question gets framed in debates on the ban: that it is a component in the sexual education of children on the importance of protection. As ad guru Alyque Padamsee wrote in The Print webzine, speaking of being called before the Advertising Standards Council of India about a slogan (‘For the pleasure of making love’) his ad agency had created for a Kama Sutra campaign. ‘The obvious question that we raised was, what else is a condom used for?’ he wrote. But the condom is not used for pleasure; only those in the advertising world like him can possibly claim that. Now if he was alluding to sex toys, it would be different, but much as condom manufacturers would like to think of what they are selling as sex toys, it calls for a leap of faith.

Condom ads should run at all times because kids have access to far worse online even before they touch their teens. But to palm off a marketing tactic as a virtue for the benefit of children is equally daft. Any boy who sneaks in after 10 pm to see condom ads and lives by that future expectation is in for disappointment. That’s something they should teach him during sex education classes in school.