‘We don’t encourage ads which depict negative stereotypes’

In dealing with complaints against advertisements, The Advertising Standards Council of India focuses on whether the ads deliver what they promise and takes action if they are misleading, says secretary general Alan Collaco

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently undertook a campaign to educate people about advertising regulations so that they are not misled by advertisements. Encouragingly, there has been a very swift response from consumers, with complaints to the Council going up sharply over the past three months. ASCI secretary general Alan J Collaco talked to Moneylife about the campaign, the regulations and the response from advertisers to abide by the regulations. Excerpts from an interview.

Moneylife (ML): How many complaints have you received in the last three months? Is there any particular sector that attracts a large numbers of complaints?

Allan Collaco (AC): We have received around 100-120 complaints (on an average every month) against various advertisements recently. In the last three months we received about 300 complaints against 58 advertisements, most of these relating to the education sector and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) products. The complaints are of two types—one from consumers, and the other from within the industry. In the case of intra-industry complaints we first scrutinise them to check for any vested interest.

ML: According to your website, in around 82% of the complaints upheld against television ads, the channels/advertisers have agreed to abide by the decision of the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC). Could you give the latest statistics of channels/advertisers which have agreed to either modify or withdraw the ad altogether? Please give some examples.

AC:
That is the current statistics on channels/advertisers that have agreed to comply with ASCI’s guidelines by either modifying or withdrawing their ads.  For instance, recently the surrogate advertising of Mc Dowell’s No 1 Platinum slogan, “Get inspired by the rare and legendary”, was withdrawn for violation of the advertising code contained in the cable TV network rules as well as for violation of ASCI’s code.

ML: Many advertisements relating to educational institutes are often misleading. Students fall prey to such ads. But many of these ads continue to be printed or telecast. Is ASCI planning any special focus on education ads?

AC:
We issued guidelinesfor advertising by educational institutions in October. As per the guidelines, an advertisement offering a degree/diploma should be recognised or approved by an authority and it shall have the name of the authority specified on the ad. Another guideline requires that if any visual of the institution is shown in the advertisement it should be real and existing at the time of the release of the ad.

ML: What is your view on the stereotypes and clichés in advertising, mainly relating to beauty products, fat reduction and beauty surgical procedures? Experts from the ad world say that certain types of stereotypes are required—like a Goan with a guitar in hand? Do you agree with this view?

AC:
Ads are mainly a reflection of real life. In the case of beauty products, we look at whether they deliver what they have promised in the advertisement. Action is taken against them in case they don’t comply and violate the guidelines and if the ad misleads people. We don’t encourage any ad which depicts negative stereotypes.

ML: Are there any ads that clearly violate the norms of the Council and there has been no complaint by any consumer? In such case, does ASCI initiate sue motto compliant?

AC:
We do initiate suo motto complaints. After which we give them about 15 days time to respond. Their response is taken into consideration before taking final action. We don’t reveal the advertisement against which a suo motto complaint has been made and the action taken.  

ML: What has been the response from the advertising community?

AC:
The response from the ad fraternity has been encouraging and positive. Many of the major companies have accepted our guidelines.

ML: ASCI has also sought support from the Indian Broadcasting Foundation to make TV channels adhere to the guidelines and implement its decisions. Has this been beneficial?

AC:
We don’t have a partnership with them, although we send a copy of the complaint to the Foundation. This is done so that they can take appropriate action against ads not adhering to the law and to the guidelines.

ML: How has the response been for your awareness campaign and the helpline number? Is there an increase in the number of complaints?

AC:
Definitely, we have seen an increase in the number of complaints after our campaign. Previously, we received around 20 complaints against 12 advertisments on average monthly. After the campaign we have been receiving around 100-120 complaints against about 20 ads monthly. A lot of people are getting aware of the guidelines that are required to be followed by the advertisers and they are complaining in case they find that they are not.

ML: ASCI completed 25 years, recently. What are your future plans?

AC:
Drawing on the success of our earlier campaign, we are now planning another campaign to digitally engage the consumer. Social networking would be an area of focus for the campaign so we can also involve the youth. 

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