How ASCI rebooted itself in 2021 to fit in a digital-first world

ASCI Chairperson Subhash Kamath quips that the self-regulatory body was working towards adding more value to the industry and building thought leadership on areas of critical importance

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Updated: Dec 9, 2021 9:25 AM  | 5 min read

When BBH and Publicis Worldwide CEO Subhash Kamath took on the charge of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as its chairperson in September 2020, questions about the self-regulatory body’s relevance were many -- especially in the wake of the establishment of Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) by the government. However, Kamath maintained that both parties can work together to better regulate the advertising industry in the country. He, along with his associates, embarked on an ASCI 2.0 mission, essentially to make the council more relevant and comprehensive for a digital world. And the year 2021 did see a slew of positive initiatives taken by ASCI to not just regulate but support the Indian advertising industry. 

Kamath tells, “When I took on the charge as ASCI chairperson in September 2020, we started working on ASCI 2.0 strategy, which aimed to make the council more than just a body to look at negative and misleading campaigns. Our idea has been to make ASCI a more engaging platform that can deliver some value to its partners and the advertising industry at large.” 

Here’s a look back at how ASCI stepped into a reformed version of itself, as Kamath mentions, to be more digital-savvy, sleek, smart, and a better partner for the industry.

Focus Digital

Kamath says that ASCI was always strong on traditional platforms but realised that it needs to be better equipped to deal with the digital world, which has been growing exponentially over the years. Therefore, in November 2020, ASCI introduced some guidelines for real-money online gaming in November 2020.

Following that, the regulatory body announced draft influencer marketing guidelines in February 2021, inviting comments and suggestions from influencers, agencies, brands, and the general public as well. A comprehensive set of guidelines along with a website were launched in May 2021 and the regulations were made applicable from June 2021.

As per ASCI, the regulations were welcomed positively by the industry and all A-list influencers were quick to follow the rules regarding marking the content as ads or sponsored posts across digital platforms. Also, people were quick to rectify any mistakes or make necessary changes in the posts when flagged by the regulator. Kamath notes that ASCI got around 400-500 complaints during the year.

The regulator is also actively working on curating a set of advertising guidelines for crypto platforms to protect consumer interest.

Building Thought Leadership

“If you aim to curb the killing of elephants in an area, you just don’t try to stop the poachers but also educate the public against it,” Kamath quips explaining why ASCI put an increased focus on initiatives that could curate thought leadership within the advertising industry. Two key initiatives taken under this directive were the launch of ASCI’s ‘Gender Next’ report and the launch of ‘Advertising Advice’ services.

In October 2021, ASCI with Futurebrands launched the ‘Gender Next’ report to highlight the progress in the portrayal of women in ads and also gaps between how ads portray women and how women see themselves or want to be seen. The report was created on the basis of a detailed analysis of 600 ads and broke down the findings on the basis of categories and most prominent stereotypes.

Advertising Advice was launched with the aim to help brands check code violations right at the pre-production stage of campaigns before they end up spending huge amounts of money for an ad that might potentially be flouting the ASCI norms.

Kamath shares, “While we always had this service to guide brands and agencies on scripts and formats of ads, people were not aware of it. That’s why we announced it this year as ‘Advertising Advice’, in September, to add value to the industry. We have had a positive reception since and have been consulted for 19-20 campaigns.”

ASCI 2.0

In August this year, ASCI also unveiled a new brand identity to reflect the agenda of becoming more inclusive and future-facing. The regulatory body came up with a new logo, designed by Nihilent Ltd, depicting the idea of creativity with responsibility in a digital world, which is ever-evolving and dynamic.

ASCI is also currently beta testing its new website, which is expected to launch in January 2021, with features that will make it easier for people to know about ASCI services and regulations, reach out with complaints, check the status of complaints, and get advice on campaigns.

Kamath notes that going ahead, there is going to be a lot more activity on ASCI’s part, right from a heightened and improved digital presence to regulations around key emerging sectors like cryptocurrency and reports like ‘Gender Next’ around several other relevant topics like kids in advertising & industries that get most complaints like education, healthcare, and food & beverages.

He also thanked his teams, partners, and extended board members for their support and guidance throughout the year and re-electing him as the chairperson for a second term as well, promising better actions and insights from the regulatory body in 2022 as well.

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