D Shivakumar: ASCI is about persuasion, compliance; never about naming and shaming

A deep dive with D Shivakumar, Chairman of ASCI, the body, but for which, we would have been having an even bigger deluge of ads with misleading/false claims. And even though advertisers know that if they don’t regulate themselves, the government will, the number of complaints looked into by ASCI’s CCC has nearly doubled in just two years

image-D Shivakumar -Chairman ASCI - in conversation with MediaBrief Pavan R Chawla-1

In 2015-16, the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) looked into 1389 complaints against advertisements; in 2017-18, the number nearly doubled to 2641 complaints – rate of increase that’s particularly alarming in a society that’s growing increasingly more active and aware on, and thanks to, social media. What happened to brands living up to expectations of good brand behaviour?
And wait – look at the sectors that have been the most errant. Of the 2641 complaints, the worst transgressor brands and service providers combined that slung out advertisements with misleading/false claims at unwary consumers, came from these sectors, and this order:
Education, with 729 complaints; Clinics with 518 complaints; Drugs & Medicines with 356 complaints; Food & Beverages with 298 complaints, and Personal Care with 278 complaints. And the brazenness continues unabated.
Every day, week, month, ASCI is unceasingly and relentlessly vigilant about advertisements with false and/or misleading claims. Are such advertisers any better than the con artists and scamsters who run ponzi schemes? Can a good, upstanding brand, be allowed to say a misleading or false ad was the innocent error of some enthusiastic junior or relatively inexperienced youngster in the marketing department? Obviously, no.
But sadly, ads and campaigns across text, images, video and audio keep getting issued across all media. The untruthful claims register themselves in the minds of the people who consume the ads, creating misleading and patently false perceptions of leadership or superiority. And then, after the horse has bolted, a report appears, listing ads that ASCI got pulled off, and identifying the brands behind them.
Now don’t get me wrong. So far, if it weren’t for ASCI, we would have had a far bigger misleading-ads deluge – one of biblical proportions. Thank God for ASCI, which keeps working to keep the errants in check.
What is being done, and what more can be done, to arrest this epidemic of brazen misleading of the Indian consumer? What is the size and scale of this unabating persistence with misleading consumers through inaccurate claims in false ads?
I caught up with D Shivakumar, Chairman (ASCI) (and Group Executive President – Aditya Birla Management Corporation) on this and more, including what more can be done to deter transgression and to take the obstinate repeat transgressors firmly to task.
Excerpts.

ASCI - FEATURE WITH D SIVAKUMAR ON MEDIABRIEFFirst, let’s talk about the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). It has been around for 30 years now – as an industry body with history, and has actually, due to its proactive work, kept at  bay any governmental interference or regulation of advertising in India. Would you sum up ASCI’s role and contributions over the years. We’d like a bit of a historical deep dive, for the benefit of the younger professionals in Advertising, Marketing and Media.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), established in 1985, is a Self-Regulatory Organization committed to protecting consumer interests. ASCI was formed by the industry with the support of all four sectors connected with Advertising – Advertisers, Advertising Agencies, Media (including Broadcasters and the Press) and others like PR Agencies, Market Research Companies etcetera.

Since its inception, ASCI has come a long way in meeting its objectives, and in the past few years, has achieved quite a few milestones.

We are very pleased to share that the compliance numbers for the advertisements looked into by ASCI are very healthy. For TV advertisements, the compliance rate is close to 100%. Based on the NAMS tracking and direct confirmation from advertisers, for the year 2017-18, the overall compliance for advertisements wherein the complaints were upheld was 89.1%.So while advertisers by and large do abide by the ASCI’s CCC recommendations, there is of course scope to improve further

Please list a few…

Today, ASCI’s Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising is part of the advertising code in the Rules under the Cable TV Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB), in January 2019, also issued an advisory for a scroller to be carried by all broadcasters in support of self-regulation for grievance against objectionable advertisements that refers to ASCI. It reads: “Objectionable ads? Complain to The Advertising Standards Council of lndia (ASCI) 7710012345 ascionline.org”.

The Insurance Advertisements and Disclosures Regulations 2000 issued by IRDA states that all insurance companies are advised to follow the code of conduct prescribed by the ASCI.

ASCI’s role was further acknowledged by various Government bodies via their MOUs.  ASCI signed MoUs with The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) 2015, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) 2016 and the Ministry of AYUSH 2017 to curb misleading advertisements.

In January 2017, the Supreme Court of India, in its judgment (Common Cause), has also affirmed and recognized the self-regulatory mechanism as an effective pre-emptive step to statutory provisions in the sphere of advertising content regulation for TV and Radio in India.

The Supreme Court Committee on Road Safety decided that ASCI and the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturing (SIAM) to work out a mechanism to telecast only advertisements conforming to road safety.

ASCI is represented in several committees of the Government of India…

Yes. In several committees of the GOI working on matters related to advertising content. Notably, ASCI is a representative of the Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) of MIB which examines complaints regarding TV Content and Advertisements as well as the Inter-Ministerial Monitoring Committee (IMMC) of the DoCA that looks into Grievance against Misleading advertisements (GAMA)  as well as a committee constituted by National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) along with NCERT, SCERT to regulate the content of automobile advertisements.

ASCI’s work been recognised by the government, judiciary and regulators over the years and its efforts are constantly documented during Parliament sessions.

On the international platform, ASCI is a part of the Executive Committee of International Council on Ad Self-Regulation (ICAS).  ASCI’s membership of the ICAS ensures that it can even influence at an international level.

Among several awards bestowed by the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), ASCI bagged two Gold Global Best Practice Awards for the Mobile App “ASCIonline” (in 2016) and for reducing the time taken to process complaints (in 2013).

Self regulation works best when the members first practice it themselves.  Charity begins at home. Members of ASCI practicing the guidelines in the spirit of the rules and regulations will help ASCI the institution stay above board, have respect and earn trust

ASCI has iterated in detail the best practices for advertising content. Could you share a very brief overview?

ASCI believes in advertising with conscience and that creativity should be within boundaries forming the base to “Self-Regulation is the Best Regulation”.

The four pillars of ASCI form the best practices of self-regulation for the advertising industry and require that all advertisements need to be:

  1. Truthful & Honest – Truthful, fair and non-derogatory to competitors. Advertisements should not be misleading and plagiarized.
  2. Non-Offensive to public – Within the bounds of generally accepted standards of public decency and propriety.
  3. Against harmful products/unsafe situations – Not used indiscriminately for the promotion of products, hazardous or harmful to society or to individuals particularly minors, to a degree unacceptable to society at large.
  4. Fair in Competition – Ensure that Advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumer’s need to be informed on choices in the market place and the canons of generally accepted competitive behaviour in business are both served. (Click here for more on the ASCI Codes)

I believe that professionals must contribute to institutions that have an impact on their industry and society. I am deeply honoured to be the chairman of ASCI and this is my small contribution to a great institution whose relevance is getting stronger by the day

Typically, there are three avenues for complaints against ‘false or misleading’ advertising that reach ASCI’s CCC for evaluation: Complaints from consumers, intra-industry complaints (against competitors), and suo moto complaints filed by ASCI. What is the relative percentage of each slice of the complaints pie?

For the year 2017-18, ASCI’s Consumer Complaint Council (CCC) examined complaints against 2641 advertisement.

ASCI’s Suo Moto surveillance through National Advertising Monitoring Services (NAMS) contributed to 61% of advertisements (1607) complained against.

The rest, i.e. 39% advertisements (1034) were complained against by consumers, or consumer organizations, or were intra-industry  complaints, or were complaints forwarded by government departments. Of these 1034 advertisements, 63% were complaints from consumers, 11% were intra-industry, 24% from Consumer Organizations and 2% from Government agencies.

ASCI tracks 32 national Newspapers across all their editions – which contributes to over 80% of national newspaper readership — 50 magazines and 425 TV channels across the country in 14 languages

Do you believe that brands and sectors at large can be trusted to do self-regulation on the advertising they release about themselves?

Advertising is an imperative and genuine means for brand owners to engage with their consumers. The responsibility for the compliance to the Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising lies with all who commission, create, place or publish an advertisement, or assist in the creation or publishing of the advertisement.

All advertisers, advertising agencies and media are expected not to commission, create, place or publish any advertisements which contravene the ASCI Self Regulation Code. This is a self-imposed discipline, and ASCI encourages all Advertisers, Media, Agencies and allied professionals to self–regulate their advertising in order to maintain/ build on the trust consumers have in their product or service.

And what has the compliance been like?

We are very pleased to share that the compliance numbers for the advertisements looked into by ASCI are very healthy.

For TV advertisements, the compliance rate is close to 100%. Based on the NAMS tracking and direct confirmation from advertisers, for the year 2017-18, the overall compliance for advertisements wherein the complaints were upheld was 89.1%.

So while advertisers by and large do abide by the ASCI’s CCC recommendations, there is of course scope to improve further. We believe that through increasing awareness about ASCI, this would be possible.

Please share some numbers: From your records over the years to date, what is the total number of different brands or entities that have issued misleading or false ads?

Please see a sector wise tabular representation of complaints against advertisements looked into by the ASCI CCC over the last three years below:

Sector-wise complaints against advertisements looked into by the ASCI CCC over the last three years

Sector 

2017-2018 2016-17

2015-2016

Astrology

1

13

3

Automotive

46 36

36

Banking/ Finance

28 22

24

Clinic

518 411

95

Drugs & Medicine

356 372

118

Durables

104 76

67

E-commerce

39 53

54

Education

729 479

288

Food & Beverages

298 319

188

Home Care

28 69

110

Media/ Channels/ Periodicals

40 50

52

Other

15 24

60

Personal Care

278 165

122

Realty

17 15

20

Services

88 107

74

Surrogate Brand Extension

6

Telecom Products & Internet Providers

56 89

72

TOTAL

2641 2300

1389

And from the past 12 months, can you share how many brands have been found out as pushing false/misleading claims in their ads? And identify the number of brands and the names of the ones most persistent with ads with misleading or false claims? The percentage of listed and private companies in terms of brands that have issued misleading ads? 

We at ASCI do not comment on any specific brands. However, we issue a monthly press release wherein details of all advertisements wherein a complaint was upheld by CCC is provided with all the details.

As a policy, we wouldn’t be able to name any particular advertisers. But feel free to look up any specific details you require, from our monthly CCC Recommendations press releases published here: http://ascionline.org/index.php/press-releases.html

There has been a huge increase in the number of complaints received from Consumers — averaging to more than 300 a month. The number of advertisements complained against by consumers has steadily increased over the years — from less than 200 in 2011-12 to more than 2600 in 2017-18, which speaks for itself regarding the success of ASCI initiatives and ASCI’s ever increasing consumer awareness

In 2007, there used to be around 10 to 15 complaints against ads, received by ASCI – or around 150-200 ads a year. Today, you have around 300-500 complaints a month. What are the special initiatives that ASCI has undertaken to try and spread awareness about the ASCI code of conduct?

As you rightly mentioned, ten years ago, the number of advertisements that ASCI looked into were under 200. We did a multi-pronged approach to overcome this issue.

In a bid to strengthen the process of limiting misleading advertisements which harm of consumers’ interests, in 2012 ASCI launched a path-breaking initiative with National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) to keep continuous track of advertisements nationally.

As per the arrangement, AdEx India, a division of TAM, with support from ASCI-trained personnel, checks on all newly released TV and Newspaper print advertisements, specifically for violation of ASCI’s advertisement code (Chapter I) related to unsubstantiated, misleading or false claims in the advertisement.

ASCI tracks 32 national Newspapers across all their editions – which contributes to over 80% of national newspaper readership — 50 magazines and 425 TV channels across the country in 14 languages.

This Suo-Moto Surveillance is highly effective in screening a large number of misleading advertisements from amongst about 45000 new print ads and 1600 new TV ads. This is reflected in the total number of advertisements looked into by the CCC on a year-on-year basis.

To encourage more consumers to reach out to ASCI, we have taken significant steps in the last few years to make ASCI more accessible to consumers, starting with the launch of an online complaint mechanism in 2012-13, launch of Mobile App in 2015 and launch of a WhatsApp number in 2016.

As a result, there has been a huge increase in the number of complaints received from Consumers — averaging to more than 300 a month. The number of advertisements complained against by consumers has steadily increased over the years — from less than 200 in 2011-12 to more than 2600 in 2017-18, which speaks for itself regarding the success of ASCI initiatives and ASCI’s ever increasing consumer awareness.

By introducing a WhatsApp number to register a complaint, ASCI has truly empowered the consumer to raise their voice against objectionable advertisements. To the best of our knowledge, this is a first-of-its-kind initiative by an SRO.

ASCI provides Advertising Advice to industry members on their proposed concepts or storyboards. The main purpose of ASCI’s Advertising Advice service is to prevent problems before they happen

What PR and Social Media Initiatives does ASCI undertake?

ASCI has initiated several awareness-building campaigns through print, radio and social media.

Our most important and breakthrough initiative happened this year when, as I said earlier, MIB issued an advisory to all TV broadcasters to run ASCI’s scroller: “Objectionable ads? Complain to The Advertising Standards Council of lndia (ASCI) 7710012345 ascionline.org”.

In 2017-18, there have been more than 2200 news items pertaining to ASCI and its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) recommendations in leading national dailies along with coverage in electronic media.

Besides press release-induced news on  its initiatives, ASCI received a number of organic mentions on topics related to misleading advertisements and celebrity endorsements, recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee, depiction of safe road practices in advertisements, mentions in Parliament questions, etcetera. Important press coverage is available on the ASCI web-site for further reference.

“Snap and WhatsApp” and “Swacch Ads Abhiyan” are other Social Media initiatives to build consumer awareness and to educate consumers to raise their voice against “Bad Ads”.  ASCI’s ongoing campaigns across social media handles combined with the ASCI scroll aired on television, has resulted in significant consumer contact on the ASCI WhatsApp number with more than 150 contacts a day.

ASCI’s work has been appreciated by Voluntary Consumer Organizations (VCO) like Mumbai Grahak Panchayat (MGP), the largest VCO in Asia. In their monthly magazine ‘Grahak Tituka Melwawa’, MGP added ‘AD Watch’ – a dedicated feature on ASCI’s activities and action taken against misleading / objectionable advertisements. Such cooperation and support by VCOs such as MGP enhances ASCI’s profile among key stakeholders and wins consumer trust in self-regulatory mechanisms.

With these measures, ASCI is able to effectively engage with thousands of consumers who act as ASCI’s eyes and ears and keep a check on erring advertisers.

In exceptional cases ASCI does provide for ‘Suspension Pending Investigation’ (SIP). In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and its continued transmission  through any medium causes or has the effect of causing public harm and or injury or its continuation is against public interest, then the ASCI would, pending investigation, forthwith direct the advertiser / the advertising agency / the media buying agency and the media concerned to suspend the advertisement

And what is ASCI doing to try and reduce the number of misleading / false ads issued by companies?

The ASCI code keeps evolving to keep up with the changes in the world of advertising and to address the urgent needs in any particular sector or issue as seen in India.

As you may know in the recent years, the ASCI code has been expanded to include several new guidelines such as Guidelines for Fairness Improvement products, Guidelines for claiming New / Improved, Guidelines for Disclaimers, Guidelines for Celebrities in Advertising etc.

ASCI provides Advertising Advice to industry members on their proposed concepts or storyboards. The main purpose of ASCI’s Advertising Advice service is to prevent problems before they happen.

ASCI also launched an e-learning program some three years ago…

Yes, it was launched in April 2015 for advertising and marketing professionals. The E-Learning program is designed in 13 modules, giving a clear comprehensive understanding of the codes, guidelines and processes, which the users can complete as per their own pace within a six-month window.

Each of these modules consists of engaging multimedia content followed by a test. The modules include examples of actual complaints processed by ASCI.

Prominent personalities from the field of Indian advertising are featured in this program wherein they provide their endorsement and wholehearted support. On successful completion, the user is awarded with a certificate of completion.

We believe that people who enrol to the program are better equipped and aware of the codes they need to adhere to while making advertisements. The process hence strengthens self-discipline within the industry.

For year 2017-18 almost 10% of the advertisements were promptly withdrawn or corrected through such voluntary action.  This goes on to show how responsive the advertisers are getting regarding their corporate reputation on Social Media. As ASCI is about taking advertisers along the path of self-regulation by persuasion and time-bound compliance, naming and shaming is not necessarily an ideal option

How has the e-learning program been received?

It has been well received. Major corporates such as Hindustan Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, Godrej, Grey, L’Oreal, Himalaya, Suzuki, Dabur, Bajaj, Cavincare, Yahoo etcetera have availed of the e-learning program for their employees, over and above individual registrations.

ASCI has been participating very actively in industry events and gatherings to help spread awareness and enthusiasm for ethical and responsible advertising amongst industry professionals. Can you list a few?

On 20th March 2015, working towards our cause of promoting the spirit of self-regulation among the creators of advertising, ASCI hosted a one-of-a kind festival of debates – Creativity for Goodness’ Sake! Through this event ASCI created and presented an engagement platform to uphold creativity, which is not only exciting and memorable but also with a conscience.

This was based on the premise that there is a critical need to create awareness, belief and advocacy for the very concept of self-regulation in advertising.

The festival saw global speakers of repute like Sir John Hegarty, Founder, Creative- BBH, Marc Matheiu, Senior Vice President, Marketing – Unilever, Shantanu Khosla, Managing Director – P&G and Rajkumar Hirani, Filmmaker.

At the centre of the festival was a debate on “Should Creativity Be Restricted” which included industry stalwarts like Santosh Desai, MD & CEO, Future Brands, Sanjeeb Chaudhary, Global Head of Brand and CMO, Standard Chartered Bank, Bobby Pawar, Director & Chief Creative Officer, Publicis Worldwide and Paritosh Joshi, Director, Provocateur, moderated by Anish Trivedi, renowned theatre, literature and radio personality. Shri Keshav Desiraju, Secretary to the Government of India, DCA, expressed his strong support for the self-regulation mechanism via his video message. This event was witnessed by more than 250 delegates from different companies and fields in the industry.

In 2016, Narendra Ambwani (Ex-Chairman and ASCI Board Member) was an invited speaker as ASCI representative at the FICCI’s Massmerize 2016, for a session titled “Responsible advertising, Key to maintaining consumer trust”. He shared this platform with important Government stakeholders, including Mr Hem Pande, Secretary, DoCA.

ASCI has participated in the GoaFest one of the most popular event of the advertising industry. ASCI got great traction at the recent GoaFest 2017. ASCI leveraged this platform to propagate its e-Learning Course with activation of a 60 seconds video contest on the theme – “An Advertising Brief is incomplete without the ASCI code”. Sponsored by Eenadu, this contest saw encouraging response from many, including educational institutes like IIT Bombay, MICA, TATA Institute of Social Sciences, Chandigarh Institute of Film and Television, KJ Somaiya Institute of Management and Research, Indian Quality Centre, etc.

ASCI’s Secretary General was invited for a presentation at the CII’s Marketing Committee meeting, 2017. The session helped CII members appreciate the important role being played by ASCI in championing self-regulation at various fora and getting strong support from various regulators. This further enhanced CII’s confidence in ASCI’s efforts and they urged their members to adhere to ASCI’s Code for self-regulation in advertising. ASCI also participated at the CII’S NATIONAL MARKETING SUMMIT, in Mumbai, expanding its network among Industry stakeholders

At the recent IAA World Congress at Kochi, D Shivakumar emphasized the need for self-regulation for a better advertising ecosystem, especially with the emergence of Digital Media.

Additionally, ASCI leverages events and conferences to spread knowledge and expertise among industry professionals. For students in particular, the E-Learning program is offered at highly discount price.

ASCI also plans to have an outreach program for colleges conducting courses in communication, advertising and marketing at media and management colleges.

A lot of complaints against misleading advertisements are seen to be against ads by TV broadcasters, based on leadership through ratings. Would ASCI consider making it mandatory for advertisers to furnish a certificate from BARC about the accuracy of viewership ratings quoted in each ad? BARC could be paid a certain fixed amount for each such certificate it issues after verifying its data. (Just as ASCI charges a nominal fee for Fast Track Complaint requests from members). Should it make that mandatory for ROs to be issued and accepted?

We do receive a few complaints on channel leadership claims. For such claims by broadcasters, ASCI does refer to the BARC guidelines. ASCI also engages with technical experts who examines whther there has been any violation of the BARC guidelines. In case there is impermissible use of the BARC data in contravention of the BARC Guideline, such complaint is upheld.

We’ve seen how persistently brands have been flaunting the ASCI code. Should there be stronger deterrents against false and misleading advertising? 

ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organization. It operates on the principles of persuasion and cannot force anyone for compliance; except report non-compliance to the concerned authorities who can take action as per law. ASCI informs the advertiser, the media concerned about the advertisement against which a complaint is upheld. ASCI also keeps the self-regulatory bodies of the concerned media such as the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (Electronic Media) and the Indian Newspaper Society (Print Media) informed of the CCC recommendations.

For advertisers that do not follow self-regulation and do not comply with the CCC recommendations, ASCI refers their advertisements to the respective regulator / government bodies to take further action. You would agree that the Regulator actions can have significant impact to encourage better and timely compliances.

ASCI’s self-regulatory mechanism is performing quite well. The success of self-regulation shows with the ~90% compliance rates wherein advertisers are modifying or withdrawing their advertisements as per ASCI’s CCC recommendations. The only challenge is the remaining 10%. Our increasing strong relations with the regulators through the various MoU and recognitions from government bodies helps bridge the gap in dealing with the remaining 10%.

It is important for advertisers to know if they don’t regulate themselves then Government will!

This is a long question, but bear with me. Obviously, ASCI would like nothing better than that there be no advertisements making false and misleading claims. But that keeps happening. Right now, after the ASCI CCC decides about the errant ads, they are supposed to be pulled off within 7 working days from all platforms, and that is the end of the complaint. Isn’t that like locking the stable after the horse has bolted?

And what about a company that may have issued full-front-page ads in the top newspapers across languages? It will, in effect, do nothing to correct the misinformation to consumers by its misleading ads. They have no deterrent.

Should there be a correction mechanism required by law, under which  an errant brand should correct the consumer disinformation with the same prominence and in the same media outlets, through a corrigendum campaign, as it were? If such a thing does not happen, a big part of the ASCI mission, to keep consumers informed and protected, fails.

ASCI has to conduct due diligence and provide due process for the advertiser to address objections raised in the complaint. Many a time the claims are of technical nature and an expert opinion is required to be sought. Post a complaint getting upheld, the advertiser has a right to appeal against the decision by providing grounds for review.

Therefore, pulling an advertisement off media overnight is not practical.

However, in exceptional cases ASCI does provide for “Suspension Pending Investigation” (SIP). In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the ASCI Code and its continued transmission  through any medium causes or has the effect of causing public harm and or injury or its continuation is against public interest, then the ASCI would, pending investigation, forthwith direct the advertiser / the advertising agency / the media buying agency and the media concerned to suspend the advertisement.

Most advertisers believe in what they do to the best of their knowledge and do not offend anybody. An advertising campaign is an expensive affair, involving heavy amount of money, time and efforts. When a complaint against an advertisement gets upheld, it does tamper the investment of money, time and efforts gone behind that ad, also causing damage to the reputation of the brand, even if this happens after a few weeks of the ad being published.

In the era of Social Media, the repercussions of a “bad ad” are quite serious.

You are absolutely right in stating that Government would step in if self-regulation fails. However, at ASCI we see that year on year, more and more Government departments are relying on ASCI’s self-regulatory model for content in advertising

Let’s talk about some more possible deterrents. Does  ASCI put up a list of the brands, or the press release of each CCC fining, prominently on the home page and not buried under the Press Releases section of an inside page of the website?

The ASCI web-site is quite informative and navigation through various tabs is quite easy.

Our press release is carried by several prominent publications and online portals and the media updates are regularly posted on our Media coverage sections as well as Social Media pages very prominently.

These get reflected on our home page as well.

How aggressively does ASCI use Social Media to warn consumers that they had been misled?  Do you list and name each such errant misleading brand, and tag all its corresponding social media handles?

ASCI’s Social Media presence is quite dynamic. We are present on all popular Social Media handles (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & LinkedIn).  We do listen to Social Media chatter and for consumers complaining about any objectionable advertisement, we ask them to register their complaint with ASCI.

Many a time we find that the advertisers take note of such informal feedback and go for correction in the advertisement or withdraw the advertisement as soon as having received the complaint.

For year 2017-18 almost 10% of the advertisements were promptly withdrawn or corrected through such voluntary action.  This goes on to show how responsive the advertisers are getting regarding their corporate reputation on Social Media.

As ASCI is about taking advertisers along the path of self-regulation by persuasion and time-bound compliance, naming and shaming is not necessarily an ideal option. 

What happens when it comes to listed companies indulging in misleading advertising? Do you notify SEBI and other regulatory authorities?

ASCI treats all advertisers equally and any non-compliance is referred to the concerned regulator.

The ad campaigns always or most often include the issuance of a press release / media announcement to various publications across platform-types. Those releases also contain the same misleading information. Does ASCI mandate proven transgressors to send out correction releases withdrawing the false / misleading claims made?

ASCI does not mandate the advertisers to send out correction releases but the advertisers do confirm in writing to ASCI that they have either withdrawn or modified the ad appropriately.

Having said that, continued non-compliance — i.e. same claim / same advertisement being carried — is referred to the concerned regulator.

We do not find such an issue with most of the reputed advertisers.

Republic TV, in the last CCC release, has erred five times by issuing an ad that violates BARC’s guidelines of not using a single event as the basis of an ad. I remember, Republic TV has been issuing a similar trade industry ad flyer every week over more than a year since it came into being.  So, the obvious suggestion is: Please find a way to not just flag repeat transgressors, but also a way that helps the industry and peers cure such repeat transgressors of their habit.  What do you feel ASCI needs to do to bring such entities in check and protect consumer interests?

As mentioned before, as a policy we cannot comment on a specific advertiser.

However, do note that  reference to BARC guideline is generic. Each advertisement has to be seen in its context, claim/s made therein as well as visual representation.

In that sense each advertisement could be unique and is evaluated if it has violated the BARC guidelines.

The worry is: if such repeat violations occur unchecked, the government may decide to step in with some kind of regulation, which would be a terrible thing. But then, how would an industry body run by the most wonderful professionals, explain that for more than 33  years now, they have not been able to help stop such repeat transgressions?  Pls comment.

I have covered this in the answers so far. With the compliance rates speaking for themselves, the problem of non-compliance is not as big as made out to be!

You are absolutely right in stating that Government would step in if self-regulation fails. However, at ASCI we see that year on year, more and more Government departments are relying on ASCI’s self-regulatory model for content in advertising.

In fact, the Parliamentary Standing Committee in their recommendations with respect to the new Consumer Protection Bill, appreciated the work done by ASCI and suggested that ASCI should be given more teeth.

The Secretary MIB Amit Khare at a recently conducted event re-affirmed that MIB believes in self-regulation, as opposed to the state acting as monitor from Delhi.

And now, by your leave, let me shift to a couple of personal questions. Here’s the first: How do you feel, serving to protect consumer interests by working for a voluntary body like ASCI to help corporates and entities uphold advertising standards? 

I think many professionals contribute a lot to their company, and a few contribute a little to the industry they work in.

I believe that professionals must contribute to institutions that have an impact on their industry and society.

I am deeply honoured to be the chairman of ASCI and this is my small contribution to a great institution whose relevance is getting stronger by the day.

What have been your major learnings at ASCI, and how are you working to make sure that in both, the industry and your own company, young professionals are made more aware of ASCI guidelines for responsible advertising that protects consumer interests?

We have taken a number of steps to raise the awareness of ASCI. The MIB guidance on TV ads is a great example.

Self regulation works best when the members first practice it themselves.  Charity begins at home. Members of ASCI practicing the guidelines in the spirit of the rules and regulations will help ASCI the institution stay above board, have respect and earn trust. The work done in the Goa fest is a good example of connecting with young creative talent.

Your thoughts, please