ASCI takes a step towards transparent advertising

How many times have you heard terms like ‘No 1,’ ‘most recommended,’ ‘winner of Tom Dick and Harry award’ in advertisements? While some of these accreditations can be genuine, most are vague and misleading. This buffoonery is about to come to an end.
Advertisers will now have to think twice before exaggerating the superiority of their product with deceptive decorations, as Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) has come up with a set of guidelines aimed at curbing misleading proclamations by eager-to-impress advertisers.
Under this new code, companies will be prohibited from including awards and rankings in their promotions, unless an approved accrediting body authenticates them. This code is backed up by the following set of guidelines aimed at ensuring sincerity of the claim:

  • Awards and ranking are not a substitute for research, hence they cannot be used to validate superiority claims
  • The advertiser needs to prove impartiality of an award by negating any conflict of interest before using it in promotions
  • Commercials that give mentions to awards and rankings must clearly state the name of the awarding organization along with the month and year in which it was pronounced
  • An award/ ranking can only be used in an advertisement for up to 12 months succeeding its pronouncement
  • Written consent of the awarding organization has to be acquired before airing the ad

Supporting ASCI, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also released a draft bill proposing amends to the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954. Under the new 2020 draft, companies promoting off-the-shelf pharmaceutical products that falsely claim treatment of common health and cosmetic conditions, such as improvement of fair skin, sexual performance, height, loss of obesity, blood pressure, diabetes, genetic disorders, breast structure, encephalitis, premature greying of hair and aging, sensitive teeth, women sterility, cataract, among others, can face five years of imprisonment and up to 50 lakh rupees of fine.
This is an enhancement of the punishment against the current penalties of a one-year jail term. The new law would applicable to all advertising platforms, including the social media, websites, and other electronic media.
These legislative changes are an important step forward in the realm of ethical advertising. Next time we hear a product accreditation, hopefully, we can be certain of its authenticity and take advertisers by their word. The onus, however, goes beyond responsible bodies like ASCI.
The primary burden lies on advertisers to rid their profession of deception and then on consumers to call out brands as and when required. Here’s to hoping for a level playing market place.

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