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Viewpoint: Self Regulation in Advertising

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Viewpoint: Self Regulation in Advertising

Advertising is any paid form of non-personal presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, or services by an identified sponsor. In today’s fast-paced, high-tech age, businesses use advertising to make prospects aware of their products and services and to earn profits through increasing their sales and sales turnover. Advertising reflects contemporary society. The making of an ad copy, its message, its illustrations, the product advertised, the appeal-used all these have a social flavour. Advertising affects society and gets affected by it. It is, therefore, necessary to use this weapon with caution to avoid a corrosive effect on social values.

Can we escape from advertisements? Consumers are bombarded with more than 1,500 commercial messages a day. For most companies, the question is not whether to communicate, but rather what to say, how to say it, to whom and how often. To reach target markets and build brand equity in this cluttered market advertisers sometimes overstep social and legal norms.

Self regulation by the advertising industry
It is undertaken by the advertisers themselves on a broader perspective. Some advertisers feel that if some advertising is deceptive, it must be regulated and they owe a duty towards consumers. Thus, with the increasing criticism of advertising, advertisers have devised self regulation to ensure true and accurate messages. Moreover, with the advent of new communication and information technologies, the national policy makers have also become less willing and less able to intervene. Since print and audio-visual media exercise the essential freedom of speech and they are financed by advertising revenues, media has always resisted curbs, thereby constraining the capacity of national governments to influence media. Further, the business also realises that the long term profitability of the organisation depends on acting responsibly. Advertisers also feel that if they regulate advertising on their own, the government would stay away from them because if the government comes in between, the pressure would be more.

Agencies involved in self regulation
A number of agencies are involved. These can be classified into the following:
1. Individual companies and their Code of Advertising: For example, Mudra, an advertising agency of Reliance, has its own Code of practice, similarly companies such as Lintas, McCann Ericsson, O&M have their own code of conduct.
2. Advertising trade associations
• Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)
• Advertising Association of India (AAAI)
• Indian Newspaper Society (INS)
• Press Council of India
• Prasar Bharti
3. Individual media and media groups
• Code for commercial advertising on Doordarshan
• All India Radio Code for commercial advertising

Role of ASCI as Self-Regulator
ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organisation, registered as a not-for-profit company under Section 25 of the Indian Companies Act. The sponsors of ASCI, who are its principal members, are firms of considerable repute within the industry in India and comprise advertisers, media, advertising agencies and other professional/ ancillary services connected with the advertising practice. Thus, ASCI is not a Government body. It is a voluntary self regulatory organisation. However, ASCI is represented in all committees working on advertising content in every Ministry of the Government of India. ASCI receives and processes 120-140 complaints against advertisements, from a cross-section of consumers and the general public, and this covers individuals, practitioners in advertising, advertiser firms, media, advertising agencies, and ancillary services connected with advertising.

ASCI’s special guidelines or rules for a particular category?
ASCI has Guidelines on Advertising of Food & Beverages directed at children under 13 years of age. Children’s choice of diet (food and beverages) and level of physical activity, can impact their general health and well being. It can have a positive influence by encouraging a healthy, well balanced diet, sound eating habits and appropriate physical activity. Caution and care, therefore, should be observed in advertising of Foods & Beverages, especially ones containing relatively high fat, sugar and salt. For example, ASCI took a suo motu action against Cadbury’s Bournvita ad that “Real Achievers Grow Upon Bournvita” and the company was asked to substantiate its claim as it was highly exaggerated. The advertisement was discontinued in 2006.

ASCI also has Guidelines on advertisements for automotive vehicles.
Advertisements have a significant influence on people’s behaviour. As such, advertisers are encouraged to depict advertisements in a manner which promotes safe practices, for example, wearing of helmets and fastening of seatbelts, not using mobiles/ cell phones when driving, etc.

Specifically, advertisements should not portray violation of the traffic rules, show speed maneuverability in a manner which encourages unsafe or reckless driving, which could harm the driver, passengers and/ or general public, show stunts or actions which require professional driving skills in normal traffic conditions, which in any case should carry a readable cautionary message drawing viewer attention to the depiction of stunts. For example, the Suzuki Motorcycles advertisement showed a biker driving dangerously and overtaking between two trucks and rashly cutting the lane. ASCI asked the advertisers to modify the advertisement as it did not communicate good traffic sense and if emulated by immature drivers, it could cause injury to them.

ASCI’s Code of Self Regulation states: “Advertisements should be truthful and fair to consumers and competitors within the bounds of generally accepted standards of public decency and propriety. Not used indiscriminately for the promotion of products, hazardous or harmful to society or to individuals particularly minors, to a degree unacceptable to society at large”.

(Dr Sheetal Kapoor is Associate Professor (Marketing) at Kamala Nehru College and also a guest faculty at Delhi School of Economics. She has an experience of 16 years in this field. Dr Kapoor is also a consumer activist and has been involved in establishing the first Consumer Club at Kamala Nehru College and also representing consumers on TV, radio and writing for Hindi daily Hindustan.)

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