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Examining the state of self-regulation in the advertising industry

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Examining the state of self-regulation in the advertising industry

At ASCI’s 'Creativity, For Goodness' Sake!' event in Mumbai, a panel discussion was held to discuss the need for self regulation in the advertising sector.

The panel consisted of Bobby Pawar, CCO of Publicis, Santosh Desai, MD & CEO of Future Group, Paritosh Joshi, Director of Provacateur Advisory, Sanjeeb Chaudhuri, Global Head of Brand and CMO of Standard Chartered Bank. The session was moderated by Anish Trivedi, novelist and former investment banker.

To start of proceedings, Trivedi asked Paritosh Joshi, who is also a member of ASCI, whether self regulation is actually working. Joshi agreed that this was one of the basic criticism of ASCI. “People miss the first word in the term; ‘self’. We are not somebody outside or someone different from the people being regulated,” he said.

Trivedi further asked Joshi that another point was that most of the times the rules were being broken by the same organizations and agencies and these were the biggest brands or agencies in the country. Joshi disagreed that it was true. He did say that since the largest advertisers process the most ads than any other brand a few might likely slip through the net. “The CCC which actually looks at violations has said that repeat offenders should be punished,” he said.

On being asked whether it was time to get someone else to regulate the advertising sector, Joshi said that this has been debated earlier too and there were even suggestions to get a bureaucrat. “Is this what we really, really want? Our way of looking it is that it is an iterative process and we have iterated. When I started off we had one meeting a month, now we have four. The number of complaints is rising all the time. I don’t think we can build a self-regulatory system which is static. I agree that we might not get something right but using that to say that we need a body above ASCI is not correct,” he said.

The panel was then asked whether consumers are actually pro-active in sharing their opinions about ads. “Should we actually leave it in the hands of the consumer especially when you have things like Twitter and Facebook,” asked Trivedi. Bobby Pawar replied by saying that complete creative freedom would never occur. “Increasingly social media will matter and it does even now. Nothing gives you the freedom to abuse your rights but there has to be some freedom. Whose decency are we talking about?” he said further questioning whether there can be one moral code for every part of the country.

“Any public communication will run into the fact that your audiences will respond differently. The thing about advertising is that it comes with certain constraints also some special characteristics. One is that there is a grossly unequal relationship between brands and audience. Unlike other art forms, which you can chose not to see, advertising makes it a point that you see it and when the advertiser wants you to see it. The whole question of what responsibility that advertising should have becomes more important than for other art forms,” said Santosh Desai.

He also agreed that an external regulator for a very subjective medium like advertising would always struggle. But the problem, according to him, is that the ‘self’ does not want to regulate. “The ‘self’ wants to push and squeeze and get the maximum out of everything. Today it is putting up a noble face because it has to, because there is pressure and we are running scared,” he opined.

Trivedi then asked Chaudhuri whether being a very regulated environment has made BFSI brands much more responsible advertisers. To this question, Chaudhuri said that the most important factor was that the consumer or the audience has become smarter and continues to be increasingly driven by peer information in his buying decisions. “The consumer is increasingly a very well educated, knowledgeable and discerning audience. They have ways of comparing what they buy, what they are being told. They are their own regulators,” he said.

The speakers were debating at ‘Creativity, For Goodness’ Sake!’, a festival of debate organised by ASCI in partnership with exchange4media, in Mumbai on March 20, 2015.

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