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Why Advertising In India Is Indeed A Legalized Form Of Lying

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By Shweta Madaan:

“An advertising agency is 85 percent confusion and 15 percent commission” – Fred Allen
Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have for something they don’t need” – Will Rogers
“Advertising is legalized lying” – H. G. Wells


I think the ‘hidden’ meaning of advertising is clear to most of you after going through these quotes. Advertising is a form of marketing in which visual, graphic and monographic effects are used for presentation of products in an attractive manner, making it capable enough for grabbing the eyeballs of viewers. It makes us aware that a product or service is available in the market and we can acquire it for our use. New and improved products are developed all the time and we cannot keep a track of these developments ourselves. So, in a way, an advertisement is really a very helpful tool. We are grateful to advertisements because they keep us up to date on the improvement of existing products and the creation of new ones. But unfortunately, many advertisements, despite rigorous guidelines, rules, laws and consumer awareness organizations, tell us a product or service is good which after purchase, we find out that it is not good at all.

It is sad to say that in the Indian scenario, the quality of advertising is not so good. Though, some ads create awareness and impart knowledge but some of the ads are simply unpalatable. For e.g. the ‘Stop Not‘ snack ad on soldiers created a huge furore; one of the ‘Cadbury’ ads were not very pleasing as the kid in the ad was portrayed as selfish and obstinate; the ‘Axe effect’ is completely absurd; the ‘HCL’ ad’s “499 Lao Computer le jao’’ induced laughter for all the wrong reasons; and ‘Rupa Macho Man’ had gone too far as it was vulgar and simply unsuitable. The list is quite endless.

The companies claim that their products are the best and they keep in mind their social responsibility while creating ads but in actuality, all this proves to be a white lie and nothing else. If the manufacturer is creative, he executes the ad in such a sophisticated manner that viewers get wholly convinced that what they are being shown is genuinely a great product. Ads sometimes stoop to such a low levels that people are left deceived when it gets revealed that the product is made out of substandard materials, made from leftovers and rejected materials. These could be dangerous to children and could also be made out of animal byproducts. The sentiments of people also get hurt in this way because sometimes non-vegetarian food products are not labelled with red mark, the consumption of which is a highly sensitive and religious issue for most of the vegetarians in India (Hindus in particular). It will be rather depressing if we go into the history of making of these products. But these things are never brought to reality in advertisements.

Such advertisements also deteriorate the thinking of the society. It is well known fact that in most of the Indian advertisements, women are represented as sex objects, whether it is a deo ad, a bathing bar ad, a talcum powder ad or even an acrylic paint ad. She is depicted as a servant of her family and is shown to be merely a toy for her partner, which is not likeable. In simple terms, they promote sexism which imparts a wrong message to the adolescent viewers.

There are many misleading and objectionable advertisements which take consumers for a ride. These are related to cure a dreadful disease, increasing one’s height, pills that can be used for any purpose, be it a headache, neck pain, constipation or to boost your sex life. And this really is unintentionally funny and then there are shoes which can make you slim. And, the most popular ones, people are most familiar with are those of fairness/beauty creams which can turn a dark person (no offence meant) into a fair and charming person; and reduce wrinkles in one minute. These are usually targeted at women but men also seem to be affected these days. No cream can do such a miracle. Advertisements set a standard that a certain type of body is perfect; a certain type of look is appealing, which as a result puts an unavoidable pressure on people.

Bad advertisements are invading the territories of the market meant for children. Children are the keen observers by nature. Such portrayals are obviously corrupting their mindset which can result in serious repercussions in the long run. Advertisements are meant for creating awareness and not for deceiving people, so, things need to be changed. The government is considering setting up special machinery to look into the issue, but the problem with government is that it always considers things, it does not act.

However, the Indian advertising industry is always criticized for such ads but it continues to follow the same route. Indian advertising needs to be more conscious about its content, censor rights, regulatory rights and its responsibility towards society because ads definitely have a direct impact on society. Customers should also become more alert, keep their eyes open, and pay close attention to the product so that they can get exactly what they are paying for. Misleading advertisements are a major problem and consumers must start taking actions against these cheaters .These defaulters should be punished by law as they do not have any right to mislead people and take them for a ride. We have certain rights and it is time that we put them to good use.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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