Leading EdTech brands giving misleading ads: ASCI report

ASCI CEO Manisha Kapoor told e4m the education sector continues to remain a concern and that the regulatory body was pursuing a detailed report on the EdTech industry

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Published: Jun 29, 2022 8:17 AM  | 4 min read

The education sector has turned out to be the single-largest violative sector, accounting for nearly one-third of complaints about misleading advertisements at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) in 2021-22. 

The numbers are testimony to this: ASCI reviewed over 5,300 ads in 2021-22. Of these, one-third were related to education brands. There were multiple complaints against some EdTech brands.

Whitehat Jr (acquired by Byju's last year), Vedantu, SimpliLearn and Physics Wallah are some of the names on the list. Funded by venture capitalists, many of them have acquired unicorn status and are known for spending huge funds on advertising.

These brands have been accused of making false claims of being “India’s most respected”, “number 1” and “best institution”. Their advertisements make no reference to any third-party data while making these claims, the complaints note. 

Many of them also claim affiliation with prestigious institutions in their ad campaigns or having bagged "awards" from them. Online educator Think & Learn has been pulled up for claiming to have India’s “top teachers” and promising “better marks”. 

Alarmed with the situation, ASCI has decided to compile a separate report based on misleading advertisements by EdTech brands.  The report is expected to be released in the next two-three months. 

“The education sector continues to remain a concern and as part of this we are pursuing a more detailed report on the EdTech industry, which has a greater media presence,” Manisha Kapoor, CEO of ASCI told e4m.    

As per the ASCI report for 2021-22, some of the other violators are coaching institutions like FITJEE, PACE IIT & Medical, Chate classes and Vidyamandir Classes.

The list also names chains of schools like Delhi Public School, Ryan Group of Institutions (Mumbai, Pune), Jain International Residential School, Sri Vidyanikethan Educational Trust (Telangana), CHIREC International School, GD Goenka group, Apeejay school, Firstep Montessori School (Chandigarh), Hyderabad Public School, and Mody School.

Among higher education institutions accused of violating the ASCI code are KJ College of Engineering (Pune), SP Jain School of Global Management, Institute of Management Studies (Ghaziabad), VPM College of Engineering, Malegaon, DAV College, Modi University, and MET.  

The violators have been directed to withdraw their ads.

“Out of 96 EdTech cases that we have taken up, two were in non-compliance with ASCI recommendations and these have been escalated to the CCPA for further action as deemed appropriate,” Kapoor said.

The non-compliant ones include VisionIAS, Vision NEET Academy and Swami Keshavanand Institute of Management. 

Most of the ads needed some modification and were advised to do so. “Our overall voluntary compliance rate remains high at 94%, which is quite good,” Kapoor added. 

Digital ads under watch

Digital media came under ASCI’s scanner due to a surge in digital advertising during the pandemic. ASCI processed 62 per cent more ads in 2021-22 as compared to the previous year.

“Digital ecosystem takes centre stage - whether it is influencers who contributed to nearly 29 per cent of all complaints taken up by ASCI, the emergence of categories like crypto and gaming in the top 5 violative categories, or ASCI's own AI-based monitoring systems, this is where the action is!” noted the ASCI report. 

While traditional advertisers continue their strong run, it is the tech-enabled offerings that have entered the big leagues. Gaming, Crypto and EdTech sectors have seen some massive spending. Influencer advertising has also come into its own, the ASCI report points out. 

After a year affected by the pandemic, the Indian advertising industry reached a size of Rs 70,715 crore in 2021 growing at 18.6% when compared to 2020. The digital advertising industry reached a market size of Rs 21,353 crore in 2021 from Rs 15,782 crore in 2020, growing at 35.3%, owing to the accelerated business and consumer shift towards digital.

“As advertising increasingly shifts to digital platforms, the monitoring of advertisements for misleading content becomes more challenging. Ads are increasingly served and consumed on personal screens, making it difficult for regulators to truly understand the scale and impact of ads. The volume of advertising creative units has exploded, and it is estimated that an average person is exposed to 6000-10000 ads per day,” the ASCI report points out. 

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