The advertising media crossed the line so long ago; it’s barely even visible from where we’re standing now. No wonder most consumers approach ads quite skeptically; it means the innumerable unethical advertisements in India. Other topics of relevance are Black Hat Marketing, which makes your company famous overnight and Surrogate Advertising in which, for example, alcohol advertising is done through say club soda by the same brand. Needless to say, unethical ads trump examples of ethical advertisements in India.
Advertisements, chiefly aimed at commercial profits, stress materialistic value systems as opposed to spiritual values. Phrases such as— buy before the stock closes, you can afford one more TV, go for a bigger refrigerator, own a posh flat in the suburbs, or this designer luggage is what you would like to be seen with— all these clickbait advertisements simply emphasize adding more and more to one’s possessions. It’s like the Troye Sivan song, where we’re “buying happy(ness) from shopping carts.”
In this rat race of collecting things, people neglect certain finer elements in life — spiritual pursuit, appreciation of nature, poetry, listening to music, being polite, and empathy. Companies that propagate such mentality through their unethical ads fail to understand that— “Good ethics is good business in the long run.”
Yet not everything is lost. There is light at the end of the tunnel as several Indian marketing communications haven’t quite deserted us and the greater good. Over the years, India has produced some gems in terms of ads.
I have listed below my top 15 favorite examples of ethical advertisements in India!
1. Lifebuoy: Use Any Soap
Clearly, safety is above and beyond brand name or preference, and for this, Lifebuoy wins ethical brownie points! Everyone in-country must have by now seen the latest Lifebuoy ad that shows us how to wash our hands. At the end of the exercise, the ad declares that we can use any soap, the emphasis being on the ‘any.’
Other recent ads on print media and social media by Lifebuoy have also named other brands showing that the company does really care about the safety of consumers in light of the seriousness of the current situation and does not merely seek competitive advantage over its peers. Read here to know more.
Source: Lifebuoy India
2. The Hindu: Parliamentary Behavior
This is a good addon to the examples of ethical advertisements in India. A class opens to a debate with the teacher’s instruction to maintain strict parliamentary behavior by the groups involved. What follows is both funny and sad— the students create a ruckus within the classroom— from pulling at each other’s hair to throwing books. The background score of Indian classical music does a cathartic job of driving home the point, and the tagline follows:
Behave Yourself, India.
The Youth Are Watching.
Source: The Hindu
3. How Well-Informed Are Our Youths: The Hindu’s Likert Scale Case Study?
Another ad by The Hindu makes our list, but this one surpasses itself in upholding the journalistic value system amongst the examples of ethical advertisements in India. On asking young people on the street the simple question— “what does ATM stand for”, the answers received range from inadvertent to wildly incorrect. When asked the question— “which actress is associated with size zero,” the same young people confidently give the correct answer.
The next question asked is— “which newspaper do they read” to which the beeps (purposely) do not hide the obvious answers given by each of those youths if one were to read their lips. Not shying away from aiming barbs at the customer base of another leading daily, the commercial ends with the sartorial tagline:
Stay Ahead of the Times.
4. Abbott Shoes: Fly High
A boy and a grandmother go to the outskirts with a bicycle. In an unexpected turn of events, we see that it is the old lady who is being taught how to ride the bike by the child. The child is apprehensive, but the grandmother is confident of following her wishes. She finally is shown riding on her own without the physical support of her grandchild.
Overjoyed, she exclaims: “I am flying,” and the little boy’s frown changes to a smile. This is in harmony with its tagline and makes it one of the prime examples of ethical advertisements in India:
Live life to the fullest!
5. Dove’s ‘Real’ Models
Dove soap ran a widely seen ad campaign featuring ‘real’ models. The ad was meant to promote realistic body images and encourage girls to love the way they looked even if they were not supermodels. This was in stark contrast to previous Dove ads, which featured stereotypically beautiful models whose images had been altered to hide imperfections.
We can see that Dove’s advertising campaign is one of the examples of ethical advertisements in India in one and completely unethical, by its own standards, in the other, and both ads run simultaneously. One is bound to wonder whether the ‘real models’ ad merely is a marketing strategy to cater to a target audience? Nevertheless, this illustrates how difficult it is to follow marketing ethics and do the right thing in all circumstances.
5. Nestle: Good Food, Good Life
Being a global trade association, Nestle places a high value on its public relations by catering to the demography and homogenous customer base. You can know more about this here.
To cut to the chase, I am sure everyone can recall the heart-warming, wholesome 2014 Nestle ad, which begins with showing us how a couple adopts a little girl to the utter indignation of their son and ends with him accepting her as a younger sister. The ad wins brownie points as one of the examples of ethical advertisements in India since the little girl adopted is from the North East. The ad, ergo, becomes layered as the brother represents an India that refuses to accept its North Eastern’ sister’ state.
Vishesh— the little boy shoves off his newly adopted sister from his mother’s lap on their ride back home from the adoption center. Later, he pushes her hand away when she imitates him playing the keyboard. He watches her attempt to climb a tree in their backyard, and the longing of joining her is visible on his face, yet he resists. Further on, he yells and snatches away ‘his’ drawing book from her.
Her response throughout is one of disappointment, yet she doesn’t give up or retort in a similarly rude manner. Maybe that is why he stares at her when she sleeps by his father’s side, trying to process her sudden intrusion into his family. It is in the backyard again that her laughter pulls him, and he watches in awe as she catches and keeps little earthworms in a glass box. Then she rushes towards the house only to look back and gesture apprehensively at him to follow her.
Her smile is the best thing in the ad as soon as he stands up to follow her inside. They secretly open a jar of cookies (yes Nestle) and jabber and laugh away to the voice in the background that reminds us:
When goodness is shared over food, life smiles.
We mix goodness with everything.
Source: Nestle India
6. Domino’s Pizza: Mom’s Don’t Forget
A man leaves his mother at an old-age home on the pretext of being too busy with his family. A sad mother still worries about him, talks to her other resident friends about his likes and dislikes, and tries to call him, but he doesn’t respond. She makes some money tailoring clothes, and with the money, she orders a Domino’s pizza for her son as he loves cheese and pizza.
The tagline is “a mother doesn’t forget,” and this one of the examples of ethical advertisements in India was specially featured on Mother’s Day. This one is a tear-jerker and wins full points for its sensitive depiction of the harsh reality of the modern world.
Source: Domino’s Pizza India
7. Google Search Reunion
Revolves around two individuals who want to reunite their grandfathers—Yousuf and Baldev— childhood friends separated due to partition of India and Pakistan. When Baldev Mehra relates tales of —how both the friends would fly kites and then steal sweets from his friend’s shop— to his granddaughter, she uses his inputs to search on Google the exact location of her grandfather’s long-lost friend from Lahore.
She is able to locate the sweet shop in Lahore with the aid of Google and talk to the grandson of Yousuf. He then connects her to his grandad (in the image above), who is shown managing the cash counter. She tells him the stories that she had heard, and he clearly feels nostalgic. His grandson then searches ‘visa applications to India’ on Google.
Amidst all this playing out in the front, an endearing song and background score invokes nostalgia coupled with the hope of an impending reunion between the parted friends. A few more Google searches later, Yousuf arrives in Delhi to wish Baldev a happy birthday. This 3-minute 32-second one of the examples of ethical advertisements in India can truly be called a cinematic masterpiece.
Source: Google India
8. The Red Label Tea of Communal Harmony
Yet another one of the examples of ethical advertisements in India, that shows communal harmony, this Red Label Tea ad fearlessly addresses the unspoken existing in our society. An elderly couple has misplaced their house keys and stand bickering at their front gate. A Burqa clad-woman and her little girl also wearing hijab pass them by to the next door. The young Muslim lady earnestly invites them to wait at her home, but the Hindu couple refuses politely.
One can see that despite being neighbors, the families do not share a rapport, rather are apprehensive of each other. The Muslim lady says that she is making tea for everyone and goes inside. The Hindu lady tries to coax her husband by saying that usually, a good smell of tea emanates from their house. It is finally the pleasant smell of tea that the husband cannot resist, and the families interact and mingle over tea.
It ends with the endearing request of the husband for another cup of tea. The tagline voiced at the end goes:
Brook Bond Red Label: the taste of oneness
Source: Red Label India
9. Glam-up: Respect Your Skin Color
An ad that I remember moved me as a young teenager was the Glam Up ad. A dusky complexioned girl wakes up and makes her way to the mirror. The voiceover in the background tells us that she is the party type, the fun type, the career type, the ambitious type, not the stereotype, the short skirt type, he bold type, the selfies type, and NOT the fairness type. Instead, she is the ‘glam type.’
What struck me was the unapologetic attitude of the girl who does not fear judgment from a society that labels women— as either good or bad— at the drop of a hat. She truly respects her skin color.
Dark skin (which is nothing but extra melanin) is viewed as a curse by every society in the subcontinent. It is succumbing to this pressure that women buy fairness creams and always try to look a tone fairer than they naturally are. This ad hits the right home and helps build self-esteem in women.
Source: The Womb
10. Surf Excel: Stains Are Good
No one can forget the ruckus that followed after Surf Excel released its Holi ad. The 1-minute ad on “colors bring us together” features two kids— a little Hindu girl and a Muslim boy (in the image above). The girl dressed in a white t-shirt chooses to get stained in Holi colors to protect her Muslim friend, who has to go to a nearby mosque.
Detergent brand Surf Excel known for its heartwarming advertisements faced flak and backlash in 2019 over this ad. Many people protested and called for a boycott of the detergent, and on the hand, the ad has received thousands of thumbs-up on YouTube. One can see the ad herself/himself to decide whether it is an innocent promotion of Hindu- Muslim harmony or a biased one.
Source: Surf excel
11. Vogue Empower: Boys Don’t Cry
Vinil Mathew, through his ads and short films, has always brought out a slice of life and something different. This ad runs with the hashtag “Start with the boys,” starring Madhuri Dixit at the end.
Since the birth of a boy, he hears the same phrase reiterated— “boys don’t cry.” Be it as an infant, on the first day of school, when in pain, when he wins a trophy, when he is heartbroken, or when he is physically hurt— everyone surrounding him whether parents, grandparents, coaches, friends, or siblings— irrespective of gender preach that it is girlish to cry and that boys don’t cry.
In the end, the grown-up is shown with an indignant expression beating up his wife. One can see that he has learned not to show emotions. The film ends by showing the bruised face of the girl.
Source: VOGUE India
12. Airtel’ Boss’ Ad
Another Vinil Mathew masterpiece, this Airtel ad, bends the rules where gender is concerned.
A boss gives extra work to one of her employees. She then leaves for home and, on the way, calls her husband to ask him what he wants to have for dinner. The guy sitting in the office, too, receives a call from his wife and tells her that he would be late as the boss has given him a lot of work.
His boss is shown at her home cooking dinner. Then the employee gets a video call, and it turns out that his wife and the boss are the same.
This one of the examples of examples of ethical advertisements in India will be remembered for normalizing relationships between women who are above their husbands in the office hierarchy.
Source: Airtel India
13. Birla Life Insurance: Safeguard Your Dreams
Before Vinit Kumar Singh blew us away with his role as Danish Khan in Gangs of Wasseypur part 1 and 2 and as Shravan Kumar in Mukkabaaz, he appeared in an ad film for Birla Life Insurance. Playing a single dad to a boy diagnosed with Autism, he struggles to keep his child happy in a world that snubs him for his condition. He works tirelessly during the day at a plant and caters to his son’s needs the rest of the time.
He comes across a course that would help his special son, but it is expensive. Nevertheless, he asks the teacher to enroll him. The next day he loses his job as his factory shuts down. He comes home, and we expect him to lose his temper at his son, who complains that his father is late.
Instead, he answers that he will not be late anymore as now he would be staring his own business of Cycle Repairs, and the son would be going to his special school. The optimism in the ad is infectious. Addressing major topics otherwise unspoken in our society such as— Autism, sudden job layoffs, the struggles of entrepreneurship, the father-son relationship, and love and courage in the face of untoward circumstances, this ad is one of the cardinal examples of ethical advertising in India.
It ends with a voiceover saying that- “You cannot stop what is bound to happen, but even circumstances cannot stop you.” This had to be there under examples of ethical advertisements in India.
The tagline for the insurance company at the end is in sync:
Safeguard your dreams.
Make yourself strong.
Source: Café Viral
14. Ziggy: We Understand Responsibilities
A woman takes care of her mother in law’s medicines despite having divorced her son. This ad is as progressive as can be. It nips the stereotype that a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law can never get along, right in the bud. It only helps that the ad stars the enigmatic Sayani Gupta and the veteran Zarina Wahab.
Crisp, yet clear, I’m sure this ad would feature in everybody’s list of examples of ethical advertisements in India.
What also needs addressing here is that in the healthcare sector, advertising is a grey area.
In the health care sector— Dentists, and other health professionals tow the grey area as far as advertising is concerned. The business itself is not unethical. On the one hand, dentists may secure respect and a strong customer base by providing excellent customer service and demonstrating their clinical skills.
A warm welcome, a pleasant atmosphere in a dentist’s clinic, and the observation of simple etiquette, frequently results in relationships leading to maximum benefit. On the other hand, little advertising does not harm.
While Indian culture and law do not regard advertising in the medical profession as ethical, in recent years, there has been a change in the attitudes of dental professionals to the issue of advertising, and there have been examples of ethical advertisements in India in dental care and hygiene. In some countries, dentists have the right to advertise their practices within legal limits, but in India, the rules against advertising by dentists are quite definite.
In the Dentists (Code of Ethics) Regulations 1976, advertising, “whether directly or indirectly, to obtain patients or promote his own professional advantage,” or “acquiescing in the publication of notice commending or directing attention to the practitioner’s skills, knowledge, service or qualifications, or of being associated with or employed by those who procure or sanction such advertising or publication through press reports” is defined as unethical, equal to the “conniving at or aiding in any kind of illegal practice.”
Under the code of ethics, any advertisements by dentists should be limited to the announcement of the opening of practice, a change of address, a change of ownership, or the introduction of a new associate or partner.
Read here for details.
15. Nescafe Ad: The Stammering Stand-Up
Last but not least, my personal favorite of the examples of ethical advertisements in India— the Nescafe Coffee ad. A stammering boy named Rishi ventures into stand-up comedy. Here, the hashtag used for the energy drink is “It all starts.” The beauty of this ad is that we see a patient audience waiting for a punchline. Rishi addresses his issue of stammering through stand-up comedy. One is reminded of Marvelous Mrs. Maisel saying that comedy comes from being oppressed.
Source: NESCAFE India
So, these were the top 15 ads that made it to my list of examples of ethical advertisements in India. Which one is your favorite?