Second thoughts : Should the morning-after pill ads be pulled off air?

10 Sep

ipill2_copy1The single dose emergency contraceptive pill levonorgestrel has been controversial all around the world. In July, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority allowed its first such ad – of Bayer Schering’s Levonelle – to go on air after reviewing 112 complaints that it encourages promiscuity among young people.  You can see the ad here. The pill, to be taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex or failure of protection or forced sex, is available over-the-counter in India as well. And, it has been advertised by three companies – Cipla (brand i-pill), Mankind (brand Unwanted-72) and Intas (brand Mis-take).  The Mint reports today that “authorities are threatening to pull the ads” of at least two of them – the i-pill, and Unwanted-72- since they do not project the message that this is an emergency contraceptive and not a regular one.

First of all, I think there is a marked difference in the two ads. The Cipla ads – here ‘s one – do a better job than Mankind’s commercial. Qualitiatively, I would rank the i-pill ads higher because they are subtle and don’t trivialise the issue. The Mankind ad has the tact of a battleram, and I think is rather flippant.

Now for the concerns. They are both clearly referred to as emergency contraceptive pills. But a line that explains that they should not be popped all the time and that they are not alternatives to regular contraception would definitely take it higher up on the responsible advertising scale.  Here I would rate the Bayer commercial quite high — it’s a cartoon film which shows the lead character wake up after an interlude during which her partner’s condom has split – clearly suggesting that Levonelle is the fall-back option and not the first choice. Also, I didn’t get the message that the pill does not always work from any of the ads.

I think perhaps the Mankind ad is what’s really got some people upset though I can’t be sure. (Mint reports that the Advertising Standards Council of India got 5 complaints but doesn’t say against which of the ads).  The tagline could actually mislead people into thinking that Unwanted-72 is some sort of panacea to have unprotected sex and avoid pregnancy. Worse, the trauma of a woman faced with the prospect of an abortion doesn’t come through. The lead actor has all the emotion of one who’s discovered a zit on her face before a night out!  And the solution is presented with the gravitas accorded to a pimple-buster.

I think it would be right for the Drugs Controller’s office and ASCI to review the ads and suggest improvements with the goal of helping put them back on air.  That such a pill is available over-the-counter and advertised is by itself a revolutionary thing for the country’s women.  They will no doubt see more value in knowing the right things about it than they would about the latest shampoos, or well..pimple-busters.

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