Srinivasan K Swamy, popularly known as Sundar, Chairman & Managing Director, RK Swamy was recently elected as the Chairman of the Board of The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). Swamy takes over from Benoy Roychowdhury, Executive Director HT Media who will continue to be a part of the Board.
A month ago, Swamy was honoured with the prestigious AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 in Mumbai. He has been active in various industry bodies working towards the growth and development of the advertising industry. He was president of the AAAI for three consecutive terms (2004 - 2007) and continues to take active interest in the activities of the AAAI. He is also a board member of the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
Swamy is serving his fourth term as the president of the India chapter of International Advertising Association (IAA) and was recently elected as senior vice-president of IAA, the global body. He is the vice-chairman of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA), and was earlier, the chairman of the Confederation of Asian Advertising Agency Associations (2008-10). Swamy is also actively involved with socially relevant institutions for the improvement of society.
We caught up with Srinivasan K Swamy for a quick chat. Swamy spoke of his plan of action as the Chairman of ASCI and the current challenges in his new role....
Congratulations on your new role. What is your plan of action and how do you plan to take it forward?
ASCI is a 30+ years old body, so we are fairly well-known, complaints are being tracked across the country through National Advertising Monitoring Service. We also have the Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) portal of the Government of India. I think there is no concern in terms of tracking complaints, but I feel people are generally not aware of how ASCI functions. There is something called Consumer’s Complaints Council (CCC) whose composition, purpose of the body and what they do is clearly not understood.
The Board of governors have very little role in actually determining whether the ad is offending or not. CCC predominantly has their member from the civil society and that nobody is aware of. I want to see, how we can communicate to people the decisions which you get from ASCI is actually from consumer activists and society members who determine what should run and what should not run. ASCI board has very little role in that, we do have minority representation from the advertising profession, but majority of the people are from the other side of advertising, those who are consuming advertising, rather than developing advertising. So I want to focus on CCC, their role and how they are trying to make a difference to the functioning of ASCI.
What will you do to increase the awareness level of ASCI? Are people aware of the work which the body does?
Every major advertiser or every major agency has been hit by ASCI. Basically there is no problem of ASCI in being known for what it does. But how it is done, who is doing it, is something which they are not clear of. Therefore, generally the blame goes to the Board of Directors of ASCI, but I want to say that it is not the Directors who have anything to do with it, it is people like you, who are going to be a part of the CCC to decide whether the ad is offending or not.
What are the current challenges which you will have to deal with in this role?
Challenges are there is any organisation. Advertising is an important aspect of a major advertiser and their business is at risk, if we tell them that the claims which they have made are wrong and to stop making such claims. It then affects their business; therefore, there are people who take you to Court because it bothers them. The challenge for us is actually to defend those court cases and ensure that justice prevails. We want to make sure that advertising is fair, truthful and honest, in doing this, some marketers may be aggrieved about it and therefore, they take us to court.
Do you think celebrities should be held accountable for products which they endorse?
I think the only person who should be held accountable for a claim being made is an advertiser, because it is his brief, his product, and his research; therefore, they know what is right and what is wrong. Celebrities are just promoting it, having said that, all good celebrities also do their bit of due diligence. They don’t merely stand in front of the camera because they are being paid huge money. But that doesn’t absolve the advertiser from briefing their celebrity correctly. So, I feel there is no point in hanging the celebrity for what he is being told to say!