The new advertising regulatory framework proposed by the government in the form of draft advertising rules has not gone down well with advertisers and the creative agencies.
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Industry veterans say since all advertisers abide by ASCI guidelines, instead of setting up a new government controlled regulatory framework, several new clauses could be added to the same to strengthen the existing consumer protection regime.
Talking to BestMediaInfo.com, Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head, Marketing, Parle Products, said, “There are certain parts in the draft that are definitely not acceptable like in the case of bait advertising where it may become difficult for an advertiser to promote a product or service if it does not have a presence in the entire state.”
“Of course, no marketer should be allowed to make any unsubstantiated definitive claims about the product or service. If many of these guidelines were to be strictly implemented in letter and spirit, at least 80% of the current advertising would immediately become prohibited,” said Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.
The advertisers are showing more faith in the existing self-regulatory regime under ASCI.
“Most of the advertisers regulate their advertising and abide by the guidelines of ASCI. I really do not see the relevance of this draft. The same could be a part of a single unified body like ASCI,” said Rao.
“ASCI as a self-governing body, being composed of industry veterans, is probably in the best position to draw a line between what is ethical, legal, decent and what is not. It should adopt a more proactive approach to ensure the industry is restrained from crossing the line,” Sinha added.
Experts believe having different regulators could be a lot more confusing for advertisers and their creative agencies.
“I reiterate that it may be a better option to have a single unified regulator than have multiple ones, leading to utter confusion,” Rao said.
According to Sinha, “There is nothing one can fault per se in the intent of the draft guidelines as it ought to be the responsibility of regulatory authorities to ensure consumers’ interests are safeguarded against predatory marketing practices. The problem, however, lies in the implementation of such guidelines as they can be wide open to interpretation. Too tightly interpreted, and it can render marketing and advertising completely toothless. Too loose, and the very existence of the guidelines becomes meaningless. It is extremely difficult to find the space in the middle where it can actually operate as an effective deterrent to marketing malpractices without killing creativity in advertising.”
The advertising code was drafted by the Central Consumer Protection Authority under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The code is aimed at curbing unfair trade practices such as misleading claims made by advertisers.
It holds manufacturers, service providers, advertising agencies as well as brand endorsers accountable for any misleading claims.
The draft guidelines, however, do not talk about user-generated content on the internet and how to control misleading information there.
“Advertising plays a minor role in changing behaviour today. We are flooded by misinformation through channels that we willingly subscribe to like neighbourhood WhatsApp groups. The draft guidelines refer to some new forms of online advertising like “Bait advertising” but in the overall digital economy, the role of advertising per se is so minimal that it doesn’t matter whether there are new regulations on advertising at all. The consumer is not listening to brands, she is listening to other consumers,” said Kiran Khalap, Co-founder and Managing Director, Chlorophyll brand and communications Consultancy.
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A top government official told BestMediaInfo.com that the new framework is required as advertisers should know that the consumer cannot be fooled and they cannot propagate false information. The officer said there was an urgent need to ensure celebrities also know their responsibility and use their star power accordingly.
“We welcome all efforts by the authorities to ensure consumer rights are protected,” said RS Sodhi, Managing Director, GCMMF (Amul).
The consumer affairs ministry has come out with a comprehensive set of draft guidelines on advertising under which disclaimers that are not easily noticeable by or legible or easily understandable to the ordinary consumer will be treated as misleading advertisements under the Consumer Protection Act. Violation of these guidelines would invite action from the Central Consumer Protection Authority.
According to Sameer Makani, Managing Director and Co-Founder, Makani Creatives, “Advertising has always been a complex industry. With these updated guidelines in place, we are moving towards a more ethical environment. Going forward a gradual decline of similar storylines will be visible and product comparison in the advertisement would be more accurate and factual. For instance, most of the times the ad disclaimers are not in sync with the advertisements, misleading the audience. Transparency has long been an issue in advertising.”
The ministry has sought public comments on the draft by September 18.
The draft guidelines specify that an advertisement should not describe a product or service as "free", "without charge" or other similar terms, if the consumer has to pay anything other than the cost while purchasing a product or service for delivery of the same.
For celebrities, the guidelines propose that they should take due care to ensure that all descriptions, claims and comparisons that they endorse or that are made in advertisements they appear in are capable of being objectively ascertained.
“Brands have always leveraged a celebrity’s power to build their brand image, which in turn use to help them in conversion blindly. But these guidelines will ensure that both brands and celebrities perform their due diligence before signing and endorsing. Overall, these guidelines will help in creating a better environment while polishing the existing ways in an ethical manner,” Makani said.
Once notified, the guidelines will cover all advertising and marketing communications regardless of form, format or medium.