Mumbai: In May 2020, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) investigated complaints against 251 advertisements, of which 23 were promptly withdrawn by advertisers. ASCI acted against 222 advertisements on a suo motu basis and its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) upheld 209 cases.
Of the complaints, other than those against the withdrawn advertisements, the CCC evaluated 228 advertisements. Complaints against 221 were upheld. Of these, 162 belonged to the healthcare sector, 47 to education,1to food and beverages,1to personal care, and 10 to other categories.
As the lockdown was enforced across India, several advertisers, especially in healthcare, made false claims about COVID-19 cures and preventions. The Ministry of AYUSH sought help from ASCI to alert it about such advertisements. In the months of April and May over 100 such cases were flagged to the regulator.
This period also happened to be the run-up to the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, coming into force on July 20. The law marks a new era of consumer rights in India, providing for jail terms and steep fines for errant marketers. Welcoming it, ASCI is hoping to collaborate with the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) for effective co-regulation.
The CCPA, it has been announced, will be headquartered in New Delhi and its members have been named. We are delighted with how fast the government is moving on this matter and we welcome the newly-named CCPA members.
ASCI already has a successful MoU with the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA). It hopes to work closely with the CCPA on advertising codes and complaint redressal.
In 2015, ASCI and the DoCA tied up to launch the Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) initiative, a portal on which complaints against errant advertisements could be lodged. ASCI manages the back end, judging every complaint received as per its codes. When advertisers do not assure compliance, it is escalated to the regulatory authority. Since the launch of GAMA, ASCI has looked at over 15,500 complaints on the portal. This is a perfect example of co-regulation.
Rohit Gupta, Chairman of ASCI, said: “We believe in the effectiveness of co-regulation – essentially self-regulation acting in alignment with government laws and guidelines. The new law is a tremendous opportunity for the advertising industry and brands to raise their standards even higher and to put the consumer firmly at the centre of their efforts. It paves the way for advertising that is more informative and honest while introducing serious disincentives for violators.”
As an advertising self-regulator, ASCI has succeeded over the past 35 years to establish and maintain consumer trust in advertising, acting swiftly and effectively against misinformation. With the new law in place, ASCI is strengthening its monitoring mechanism by including digital media in it. Its National Advertising Monitoring Service already tracks potentially misleading ads nationally for suo motu action.
On the impact of COVID-19 on the advertising industry in general and ASCI in particular, Gupta said: “The past four months have been extremely challenging as we got familiar with virtual processes of monitoring advertisements and the functioning of the CCC. All teams are now well aligned to ensure smooth processing and timely action.”