As the debate over misleading ads heats up and self-regulation by advertisers is being questioned, the government is said to be taking preventive as well as corrective measures to resolve the issue, according to recent media reports. The preventive measure may also extend to ads on health, housing, education and agriculture sectors. Print, audio-visual and OOH are also said to come under the government scanner. In March this year ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) upheld Complaints against 68 out of 108 advertisements. Advertisements in Personal and Healthcare sector category again emerged as the category which accounted for a majority of Advertisements (44 out of 68) against which complaints were upheld.
The CCC found numerous claims in health and personal care product or service ads of 44 advertisers, released in the press to be either misleading or false or not adequately/ scientifically substantiated and hence violating ASCI’s Code.
Some of these cases include Hindustan Unilever, Vaseline Healthy White Lotion showing exaggerated claims of ‘instant whitening’ on skin,Wipro (Glucovita Bolts) which claims that ‘Glucovita has iron & Glucose which gives energy to the body & brain in 10 seconds. Glucovita acts in 10 seconds,’ & Hamdard Laboratories India (Hamdogen Herbal Revitaliser for Men).The product claims to be a herbal vitalizer for men.
Some of our industry leaders share their views on if they think government regulation is a much needed step at this point.
“I do believe the Government has been pushed to this point of working on a set of regulations. This has happened due to a whole set of marketers possibly not sticking to the best practices of responsible advertising,” said Harish Bijoor Brand-expert &CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc.
Naresh Gupta, Managing Partner, Bang in the Middle echoes his sentiment and says, “Yes, while we have a system of self- regulation, it is just not working. The process of taking up a complaint and taking a decision and taking corrective action is too long. By the time the process ends, the campaign is over. The only way to ensure this happens is strong legislation. After all, the Government was successful in controlling tobacco ads, it can do the same with over claim or misleading claims.”
Self-Regulation vs Government Regulation
Industry leaders feel as opposed to inviting Government intervention, we need to focus on revving up self-regulation.
“ASCI as a nodal body that has been doing yeomen work in this space. I would encourage a dialogue between the government and ASCI on this. In a country with a democratic frame-work that is as vibrant as ours, self-regulation is certainly better than government regulation,” opines Bijoor.
Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman and Managing Director, RK Swamy BBDO feels that there are far more important issues that require Government attention and regulation than advertising. “To my mind ASCI and its CCC are doing a great job. The fact that a good number of advertisements are found ill-appropriate based on ASCI's self- regulatory codes itself tells you that the self- regulation is working well. Unsubstantiated claims, or some exaggerated claims may be on the edge of violating ASCI's code and the decision could have gone either way. To think that the Government will be better policemen and bring about better compliance is expecting too much. We all are witness to many claims made by way-side doctors and health clinics promising to solve all kinds of ailments bordering on miracles and the Police and other government functionaries are mute spectators to these,” he says.
Healthcare advertising a cause for concern?
“The issue with health is that it can never be absolute. There is nothing that is absolutely honest and nothing that may be absolutely wrong. The issue of health brands is to manage the balance between claim (which comes from reality) and benefit (which comes from perception). Claims can be verified (recommended dosage of Vitamin, Iodine in salt, and such things) but perception (instant relief from acidity: what is instant?) is a big grey area. TV advertising plays on the perception. That any law cannot prevent,” shared Gupta.
Arvind Sharma, former Chairman of ASCI, feels that when one steps outside of major metros, one finds an unacceptably large number of ads making fantastic health claims. Many of them are in blatant violation of the Magic Drugs and Remedies Act. “This problem probably has always been there. Now the issue is getting highlighted because of extensive monitoring of ads by ASCI under its National Ad Monitoring Service- NAMS. No advertisers should be releasing these ads. These advertisers, however, are often small and not always easy to locate. On the other hand, media should also not be carrying these ads. Our strategy is to work closely with media associations and owners to move towards far better compliance.” He feels.
Other sectors …
If the healthcare sector comes under the government scanner, other sectors also need the same treatment, say industry leaders.
“Take the Hero Motor Corp ad where the guy dresses up on a fast running bike, is that even fair to shoot and show? While ASCI upheld the complaint, I guess the run of the commercial on TV was over anyways. Take the VI John deo ad, while it may or may not be misleading, it is in extremely bad taste and really demeans women. There are lots of brands that test the limit of legality, including a lot from alcohol,” shares Gupta.
Swamy too shares this outlook. He said, “Take a look at real estate ads; or automobile ads; or even consumer durable ads. They all make claims which positions the products/service as the most coveted one. And consider the wild claims made by certain educational institutions. Many gullible students pay handsome fees but do they get value? Do they get the promised placements? All in all, a balanced view is needed and Government can take action under many Civil and Criminal laws in the country. We don’t need another one that governs advertising alone. “
As Harish Bijoor concludes many brands may have misleading communication and most lie in the realm of false or fast-track claims. “It is important for brands to show responsibility on this score. Responsible brands advertise responsibly. Let's remember, we are not in the realm of a magic remedy. We are all about products and services that aid consumers live a better and more comfortable life. A life they want to live!”