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Current Issues in Indian Advertising

In this issue, we have several original contributions exploring current issues and cultural contradictions in Indian advertising. In the first essay, Natasha Shevde sketches the historical background and recent commercial trajectory of fairness creams, a growing category in India. Looking first at the caste system that grew from the original Aryan invasion of India—which instituted a color code along with class stratifications—then at the British colonial period, she identifies a long history of preoccupation with fairness as the pre-eminent beauty feature among women. Then, she sketches the introduction of Fair & Lovely, the leading fairness cream in India, noting its popularity not only with intended users among the middle class, but also among the rural poor.

Kavita Karan's essay, "Obsessions with Fair Skin: Color Discourses in Indian Advertising," goes further into the topic of fairness creams by analyzing a representative set of television commercials, then reporting on focus groups held among Indian women. Here we see key themes traced through a set of spots, showing not only traditional ideas about marriage and parental approval put forward through the creams' promises, but also newer models of success being incorporated into the aesthetic of fairness. The responses of viewers are illustrated in their complexity and contradiction by the focus group report that follows.

One of the most ubiquitous products in India—and throughout Asia—is Lux, a toilet soap still advertised with the same campaign that brought it success in the American of the 1920s. Screen stars, this time from Bollywood, tout the soap from every street corner, but a new face has recently been added: Shah Rukh Khan, a popular leading man. In an interview with JWT's Nandita Chalam in India, we learn about the strategy and consumer response to changes in one of Asia's most prominent campaigns.

Julien Cayla follows with an analysis of the rise of Shah Rukh Khan, from likeable Bollywood star through multiple advertising endorsements to his current status as a kind of Indian "Everyman." SRK, in addition to endorsing Lux (as well as many other products from Pepsi to Hyundai) has broken convention by endorsing Fair and Handsome, a fairness cream for men. Yet the controversy resulting from those two campaigns has hardly diminished his power—which now extends to political advertising.

Linda M. Scott
Editor