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Tit for tat: Now, Patanjali Ayurved to drag ASCI to court

13-July-2016
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Tit for tat: Now, Patanjali Ayurved to drag ASCI to court

A week after advertising watchdog Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) again pulled up yoga guru Baba Ramdev-led Patanjali Ayurved for running “misleading” ad campaigns that disparages competitors’ products, the company is getting back at them. It is planning legal action against the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), citing a Bombay High Court order that last year declined to recognise the body as a regulator. Patanjali's legal team is expected to use this verdict to present its case of the body lacking the legal backstop to pull up advertisers.

According to Patanjali Ayurved’s managing director Acharya Balkrishna, its legal team is still working on this matter, as reported by other media. Last year in a case filed by Teleshop Teleshopping against advertising industry self-regulator ASCI Bombay High Court had called out ASCI's conduct in dealing with that company's ads as ‘high handed, unlawful and unilateral.’ The order had even mentioned that ASCI wasn't a statutory body or government regulator, and that it didn't have the powers to restrict any commercial advertisements of the petitioner, who wasn't a member of ASCI.

This was not the first time. Last year the Delhi high court had stayed an order passed by the ASCI against Havells India directing the electrical equipment maker to modify or withdraw its advertisement carrying the tag line “wires that do not catch fire”, on the grounds that it was misleading.

If one looks at the body, ASCI is a non-profit company whose principal members are its sponsors. They are mostly firms within the industry in India which includes advertisers, media, advertising agencies and other professional /ancillary services connected with the advertising practice. It regulates all advertisements including print and radio without the backing of any law. As per ASCI’s website, its code of self-regulation “is quite comprehensive and covers all media including the internet or digital media.” The definition of advertising in ASCI code establishes that “media are any means used for the propagation of advertisements and include press, cinema, radio, television, hoardings, hand bills, direct mail, posters, internet, etc”. From the above two instances it’s clear that ASCI’s interference with non-members has been criticized occasionally by courts.

In Patanjali’s case the Consumer Complaints Council of ASCI,  in July, found that Patanjali’s claim for its ‘Kachi Ghani Mustard Oil’ that rival makers are selling mustard oil “adulterated with oil made by solvent extraction process with neurotoxin containing Hexane”, was not substantiated. It also failed to substantiate its claims for Patanjali Fruit Juice and cattle feed 'Patanjali Dugdhamrut' where it had claimed rival brands doesn’t focus on quality. Then its ads for toothpaste 'Patanjali Dant Kanti' were also held for being misleading as it did not substantiate claims of it being effective against pyorrhoea, swelling and bleeding of gums and yellowing of teeth.

Before this in May ASCI had pulled up Patanjali Ayurved for "false and misleading" claims in its various advertisements, including its hair oil and washing powder brands, while issuing list for month of March.

But in the long run ASCI’s actions seem to have little or no effect on Patanjali Ayurved’s brand popularity. The company continues to aggressively work on doubling its turnover from Rs 5,000 crore last year to Rs 10,000 crore this fiscal. Marketing and advertising will continue to be company’s preferred tools to leverage Baba Ramdev’s equity and push the sale of their products. According to reports Rs.360 crore was spent on advertising between November 2015 and March 2016 alone. TV audience measurement agency Broadcast Audience Research Council India reported that the company was one of the biggest advertisers in terms of total insertions of commercials.

So whatever comes out of the legal hearing, Patanjali Ayurved will continue to be robust in its expansion and its popularity will be unfazed for the time being. 

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Prior to joining Madison PR in 2012 Chaudhary was Group President Corporate Communications at Reliance Industries Limited.