The Advertising Standards Council of India will launch the ASCI Academy in 2023 to bring together all the stakeholders in advertising- industry, government, consumer interest organisations, academia, research and insights organisations and consumers – to prevent objectionable ads as a common goal, as per Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General, ASCI.
Kapoor also went on to state that ASCI is looking to bring in significant effort and investment in creating a strong preventive footprint. The ASCI Academy is a platform which aims to bring training, education, thought leadership and outreach programs under a single umbrella.
“With such initiatives, ASCI hopes to eventually make its preventive footprint much larger than its corrective footprint,” she said.
A glimpse into ASCI’s plans for 2023
The year 2022 witnessed ASCI coming up with several guidelines and upgradations in its advertising code such as crypto guidelines, gender portrayal in ads, in addition to making its code bat for more inclusive advertising. ASCI also launched a series of reports and thought papers - such as “What India takes Offence To”, “Misleading Ads and Trademarks” and its recent discussion paper on Dark patterns for which it has invited stakeholders’ comments.
Kapoor also went on to add that with a continuous update in guidelines and codes, one of the big things that the industry body wants to put its energies into is how it can help the brands and endorsers get it ‘right’.
“During our interactions with brands and endorsers, we realised that most of the time, the industry players end up with an objectionable ad, not because of their intention of being dishonest but because of their ignorance, or lack of attention or not being able to comprehend the codes and guidelines or not being aware of the consequences,” she said.
As the self-regulatory body of advertising in India, ASCI is taking a big directional shift from not just monitoring and taking corrective actions for the immediate scenarios but will be taking care of the long-term prevention footprint from objectionable ads in the country.
ASCI’s aim is to support the advertising fraternity in their quest, to be honest and thus the self-regulatory body has come up with two big initiatives to help get them ‘right’- Advertising Advice Service and ASCI Academy.
While one of these initiatives, the advertising advice service, has already been launched in India in 2021, ASCI also launched its Endorser Due Diligence service, and the ASCI Academy will be launched in 2023.
In terms of the Advertising Advice Service, the self-regulatory body offers non-binding advice whereby scripts and storyboards can be reviewed by an expert panel before the ad is made, and violations of the code can be identified and flagged off. These can be taken care of during the production process.
“We have seen that increasingly brands are appreciating the move and are approaching ASCI to prevent the ad from landing up into a market and creating a problem,” she said.
Throwing light on how the ASCI Academy would function, Kapoor said that it would have four main verticals- industry training, emerging professional training, consumer education and thought leadership.
“We will be training the industry in terms of not just comprehending the guidelines but also preparing them for self-regulation by building a culture of responsibility. For students, we are looking to train a huge cohort of students who will be entering the industry in future and in terms of consumers, we are looking to make them more aware, vigilant and be able to recognise what is objectionable,” she added.
She also went on to state that in terms of addressing thought leadership, ASCI aims to not only spotlight issues but also provoke certain conversations around the important topics pertaining to the advertising industry with regard to research and report documentation, for example- Dark Patterns.
“The corrective footprint will be strengthened and with initiatives like the AI complaint mechanism- TARA will continue to grow in the next phase with the creation of a smart archival system. All our past recommendations are already in the public domain. The archival system will prove to be of significant use to all the stakeholders of ASCI,” Kapoor said.
Commenting on the key takeaways of the yearly wrap-up for ASCI, Kapoor stated that the self-regulatory body has made the corrective footprint quite robust with a reduced lead turnaround time for complaints in addition to resolving more complaints at the first instance, swiftly, as well as poised ASCI being all set to expand its preventive footprint.
Key trends for the advertising industry in 2023
In the views of Kapoor, the digital medium standalone contributes to over 50% of the ad violations in the country. She also went on to state that it is not just because there is a shift and Digital as a medium is growing manifold, but also because the self-regulatory body of advertising in the country is becoming more vigilant and is setting up several monitoring mechanisms to look at the digital mediums.
“Because digital monitoring is growing at an exponential rate, we expect to continue to see violations in personal care, e-commerce, ed-tech or even the education sector at large as these are large category advertisers,” she said.
Moreover, Kapoor also went on to state that anything that has to do with influencers will grow to occupy a larger share within the ASCI ecosystem, and that ASCI is currently seeing two-three larger patterns which are an indicator of how some of the relatively newer categories are becoming active and thereby impacting as to how ASCI is interpreting some of the trends for 2023 while looking at the industry in a cohesive manner.
Kapoor said, “Certain events, like sporting events, have also started becoming very active recently and have taken off in a very big way. We see a lot of advertising happening at these sporting events.”
Upon being asked how the rise of influencers or creators in India has impacted the number of complaints or misleading ads, Kapoor replied, “Volume of advertising in each category could impact the number of complaints and misleading claims.”
Citing an example from the education sector, Kapoor said that due to the high volume of education sector ads in local and regional dailies, the body sees a large number of violations there.
Has ASCI really seen a good response from the ad land?
“This year we have seen many more ad disclosures in terms of ‘Paid partnership’ or ‘sponsored’ tags which anyone can see even anecdotally. In fact, our interactions with influencers and brands have also revealed that it is now becoming a part of their contracts as they both agree to adhere to the ASCI guidelines and make declarations, thus the culture of awareness has already started settling in,” Kapoor said.
Furthermore, she also went on to state that the self-regulatory body is hopeful of seeing much larger compliance to the guidelines and codes in several categories along with influencers.
“There are still some concerns which pertain to the categories like finance, gaming and crypto amongst others because a lot of advice or personal opinions are often given out in the public without any due diligence in place and people go on to invest their money based on that information. Hence the dangers and concerns do remain, but it is quite heartening to see that some players in the industry are taking steps in the right direction,” Kapoor added.
Kapoor also went on to state that all the guidelines, be it the ones brought by industry bodies like ASCI, or even BIS, are for the consumers’ safety as they all ensure one thing mainly, that no matter whatever form of advertising or marketing technique is being used, the consumer should not just be aware but should also be able to make sure of the difference between paid and unpaid content so that an informed decision can be taken.
She also went on to point out that since the country is not culturally inclined to make formal complaints, consumer awareness is increasing. However, there is still a long way to go in terms of consumer education and awareness.
Commenting as to where most complaints pertaining to misleading ads come from, Kapoor stated that there is a mix between the complaints coming from the metro and non-metro towns.
“At ASCI, we not only want the consumers to make out if an ad is right or wrong, but we also want the industry to consciously build a culture of self-regulation and responsible advertising,” Kapoor said.