The Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has barred Muthoot Fincorp Ltd from showing its campaign 'Restart India’ for depicting wrong use of facemask during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. On 31 July 2020, I had filed a complaint to ASCI against Muthoot Fincorp for showing people wearing masks on chins instead of covering their nose and mouth with it, which is essential for arresting the spread of COVID-19.
In its order, ASCI says, "Given the nature of the complaint or objections raised, in the current pandemic situation arisen due to COVID-19, the CCC concluded that the improper use of the mask shown in the advertisement refers to an unsafe practice without justifiable reason, manifests a disregard for safety and encourages negligence. This visual depiction in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to lead to grave and widespread disappointment in the minds of consumers. The TV commercial (TVC), Facebook, and Twitter advertisement contravened Chapters I.5 and III.3 of the ASCI Code. This complaint was UPHELD."
I had filed the complaint online on ASCI's WhatsApp number +91 77100 12345 and submitted the necessary proofs, links and documents to substantiate my objection. I had said, "It (the ad) shows people wearing masks on the chin, which is dangerous to say the least.... Masks MUST be worn to cover the nose and mouth all the time. In this ad, almost all characters are shown wearing the mask on chin and not covering nose and mouth, which is required for protection from COVID19. This ad by the Muthoot Group under the name of RestartIndia is spreading a wrong message."
Muthoot Fincorp’s Restart India advertising campaign was created by OrganicBPS.
In its written submission, Muthoot Fincorp told the CCC of ASCI: "In the advertisement, there is no intention to mislead the public or encouraging the public to not wear any masks. In fact, most of the characters that are appearing in the video are wearing masks, though a couple of them have lowered the mask while being shown as doing their work. However, towards the end of the video all are wearing masks by properly covering their noses and mouths. The advertisement is focused on people and their zeal to overcome the aftermath of the pandemic and there is nothing in the advertisement, which directly or indirectly encourages people to avoid the usage of a mask. Advertisements are generally a figment of imagination and are not replicating real-life scenarios in toto.”
The CCC says it viewed the TVC, as well as Facebook and Twitter advertisement and considered the response from Muthoot Fincorp.
The CCC observed: "The advertisement shows people restarting their profession. The advertisement conveys that any crisis and sudden change brings with it an opportunity to bounce back and provides a golden chance for a person to rebuild his/her professional life. The complainant (me) has objected to the scenes in the TVC where some characters are shown wearing mask on the chin and not covering their nose and mouth, which is required for protection from the COVID-19 virus. The complainant provided an image showing the harmful effects of wearing the face mask in an incorrect manner."
"This image showed that the inside portion of the mask, when brought down to the chin or neck, will be contaminated, and hence the same mask used again to cover the nose and mouth will be infected with bacteria or virus or germs. The image carried a message that if one wants to drink, eat, or do any activity, then the mask needs to be completely removed," the Council noted.
The CCC says it did not agree with the advertiser’s contention that advertisements are generally a figment of imagination and not replicating real-life scenarios in toto. It says, "The campaign promoted is `#RestartIndia’, an initiative by the advertiser – Muthoot Fincorp, advising viewers to restart their lives, along with the current situation caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. Given that, it is imperative that everybody should be advised to wear a mask properly. In view of this, the CCC objected to the following characters in the TVC shown wearing mask on their chin or their neck – a driver wiping a car, a man and a woman in a shop selling food items, and a mechanic repairing a car in a garage. The CCC was of the view that this act is exhorting people to engage in unhygienic and medically unsafe or unadvisable practices."
While upholding my complaint, ASCI had advised Muthoot Fincorp to suitably modify or withdraw the said advertisement by 23 September 2020.