ASCI pulls out 232 ads for not being ethical and hurting consumers. We need a statutory code
Ad guru Leo Burnett once said how advertising does not just circulate information, it penetrates the public mind with desires and belief. And at a time when lifestyle choices are aplenty and we seek to govern our lives with the right one, advertisements, especially those helmed by celebrities and their gone-in-60-seconds wisdom, have a profound impact. Artful lying it is, but when it is deceptive, then there is a problem. That’s why the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) has decided to verify tall claims made by companies in mass media campaigns, especially after the fiasco of biggies advocating Maggi as healthy, and banned 232 ads for violating consumer rights and interests. Most of these campaigns were by topline brands and found to be selling mistruths concerning crucial sectors like healthcare, personal care, food and beverages and education, in short our everyday life and well-being. The ASCI said the most common reason for pulling out ads was their unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims that exploited the consumers’ lack of knowledge. Besides, some of the products made unverifiable leadership claims, improper use of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) logo in contravention of the FSSAI advisory and labelled products organic without fact-checks. It also came down heavily on celebrity campaigns, considering their mass popularity and impact, suggesting that each brand ambassador should, while endorsing products, at least ensure that all description, claims and comparisons made in the advertisement are genuine. Quite rightly, the ASCI took down the HeroMotoCorp ad where cricketer Virat Kohli is seen driving rashly in normal traffic conditions, in violation of traffic rules and safety. Dangerous driving is a deep-seated malaise in all our cities and when an icon like Kohli depicts such a behaviour on screen, it legitimises reckless youth behaviour on the streets, one that has resulted in an ever rising graph of road accidents and fatalities. Similarly, products that falsely claim doctoral research or clinically-proven results have been pulled out, be it enriching clay shampoos, chemical-free hair colours or pure atta noodles, all of which have concentrates and ingredients that they claim to have done away with. For example, atta noodles have maida or refined flour too and 100 per cent dandruff-free shampoo is never a possibility. Consumer awareness and rights are anyway not scaled up in this country and without questioning, such products are not only misleading and overrated but cheating the consumer of his expectation and right to a good and healthy life. Going by the list, most of the products prey on the consumers’ health insecurities instead of addressing them through scientific corroboration.
Of course, there are consumer laws and various codes about advertisement in general to curb malpractices. And though food safety norms have made labelling with details mandatory, the same does not extend to other product categories with equal seriousness. However, the absence of a single statutory, regulatory body further aggravates the problem. It is time for a comprehensive law/regulation on advertising in all forms of media which could provide clarity in the matter and act as a one-stop window for addressing controversial matters. Disclaimers should run as tickers on both audio, print and video campaigns. The core of the advertising industry is based on tempting the consumer, capturing their mindspace and then driving up sales. True, it is hard to expect the creators to be “conscience-oriented,” but given the social cascade of information flow, they have to be self-regulatory, considering they rule cultural sensibilities.
Tuesday, 05 March 2019 | Pioneer
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