On September 22, 2021, the Advertising Standards Council of India (“ASCI”) has launched an ‘Advertising Advice’ service for aiding the self-regulation of objectionable advertisements. The service is intended to provide a means to all relevant stakeholders (including marketers, brands, and advertisers) to determine from the pre-production stage of their advertisement campaign that no deceptive or inflated claim is made with respect to the product or service sought to be advertised; to ensure that proposed advertisements are un-objectionable, and to avoid violation of ASCI codes or guidelines. This paid service will be offered to both members and non-members of ASCI.
As part of this service, an Advertising Advice panel will be constituted to offer advisories to advertisers. The panel shall include a team of technical experts specialising in different fields and would examine the claims made in advertisements vis a vis evidence provided in support of the claim, to determine if the claim is objectionable. If found to be objectionable, the panel will provide further assistance and examine the objectionable claim and evidence and offer technical claim support.
Importantly, ASCI has clarified that its new service must not be perceived as any form of pre-clearance by ASCI or a guarantee against complaints in the future. The essence of the advisory is limited to the mitigation of the risk of misleading, offensive, unsafe, or unfair advertising. Advertisers who avail of the service may use the advice provided to them in the manner they deem fit. ASCI will continue to process complaints through the normal process. The Advisory Panel shall have no overlap with the ASCI complaints mechanism to avoid any probable conflicts.
ASCI’s Secretary-General, Ms. Manisha Kapoor stated that strong claims may continue to be made in advertisements without compromising boundaries of honesty, decency, fairness, and safety. She added that the advisory panel will help brands in better planning of advertisement campaigns, whilst maintaining their competitive edge. It is important that scrutiny be conducted by the experts at the pre-production stage only, as post the release of the campaign, stoppages to the same may severely cause economic disruption to an advertiser. However, if such measures are taken by advertisers whilst at the formulation stage of advertisement campaigns, the risks associated with the campaign are mitigated and this is beneficial for both the advertisers and the consumers, as consumers are exposed to less problematic advertisements.
Further, ASCI’s Chairman, Mr. Subhash Kamath similarly stated that promotion of self-regulation will take centre stage for ASCI moving forwards and that the advisory will help ensure that brands take the requisite steps to ensure that regulatory norms are not flouted while consumer interests are protected as far as possible.
Compliance with ASCI’s advisory clearly has benefits for all stakeholders involved. Early determination and self-regulation not only promote adherence to the ASCI codes or guidelines but effectively aids advertisers to save on campaign costs, time, efforts and to avoid a potential loss of reputation once the advertisement is out in the commercial market. On the other hand, as regards the public at large, consumers are also shielded (to some extent) against objectionable or misleading advertisements.