Ag Talk | The advertisements need to be truthful; ASCI's Ambwani

Advertisements have always been known to influence the consumers at its first impression. From jingles on radio to creative and heart touching advertisements on television, Indian advertising industry has come a long way. We all remember and cherish the amazing Cadbury advertisement and Bajaj’s ‘Humara Bajaj’ advertisement but then somehow the advertisements of today’s era miss out that essence and connect. They are misleading and only trying to sell a product. They have in a way lost the idea of connecting with the audience. Isn’t it? 

Today more than connect and sweet essence, brands focus a lot more on the appeal and approach of the brand which may at times be mis-leading for the consumers. Well, Advertising Standard Council of India is one such voluntary organization that self-regulates advertising content for the advertising industry. The Role and Functioning of the ASCI & its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) is in dealing with Complaints received from Consumers and Industry, against Advertisements which are considered as False, Misleading, Indecent, Illegal, leading to Unsafe practices, or Unfair to competition, and consequently in contravention of the ASCI Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising.

Known for upholding complaints against advertisements, ASCi very recently with an aim to observe the National Consumer’s day on December 24th, launched the initiative of the “Swachh Ads Abhiyan” campaign. With the purpose of combating misleading advertisements, the Department of Consumers Affairs proposed ASCI to come up with an initiative to create awareness amongst consumers to action for misleading content. The campaign was initiated across various social platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.  Engaging with the consumers and making them aware of what advertisements lead to misleading content and consumer’s right to complaint against any such advertisements.

To know more and get deeper insights Adgully caught up with Narendra Ambwani, Chairman ASCI who is also the Director, Agro Tech Foods Ltd., was unanimously elected as the Chairman of the Board of ASCI on 11th September 2014. As a member of the Board of Governors for seven years, he has provided active support to Self-Regulation in the Advertising movement.

Adgully (AG): Well in 2014 ASCI upheld a lot of ads which violated the norms....looking at that what you have to say about the current state of advertising industry in India?
Narendra Ambwani (NA):
As you may know, ASCI is a Self-Regulatory body and encourages advertisers to “Advertise with a conscience”. The numbers of complaints received by ASCI have increased in the past two to three years mainly because of firstly, increasing Awareness of ASCI because of our presence in media and our efforts in Social Media; secondly, increasing ease with which consumers can reach ASCI via Online Complaints registration and lastly and most importantly, the Suo Moto initiative of ASCI of monitoring misleading advertisements at all India level for Print and TV – National Advertising Monitoring System (NAMS). With NAMS, we are seeing a gradual drop in advertisers making misleading claims especially in Educational Sector. By and large, all our members abide by the ASCI Consumer Complaints Council’s decisions.

AG: As it was known that ASCI came up with ‘Swacch Ads Abhiyan’ on the National Consumer’s Day. Please elaborate on the rationale behind taking that step.
The “Swacch Ads Abhiyan” campaign was initiated by ASCI on the occasion of National Consumer’s day. We launched the campaign on December 16, 2014 focusing on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. The initiative aimed to increase awareness regarding consumer’s right to take action against misleading advertisements and the fact that they have the power to positively influence advertisements in various media. The concept of “Swachh Ads” fitted beautifully with the “Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan”, the new mantra that has invigorated every responsible citizen of this country.

AG: What according to you are the three things that ASCI needs to do to make itself a much stronger body?
ASCI’s enjoys very strong credibility among key stakeholders such as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Department of Consumer Affairs, Consumer Organizations etc. However, we find that consumer awareness about how misleading advertisements could be effectively curbed is low. Major agenda of ASCI is to educate consumers about their right to act against misleading advertisements; empower them by making it easy to lodge complaints e. g. Online complaints registration, develop mobile applications and to see how the problem of misleading advertisements can be nipped in the bud by educating the makers of advertisements via Online Training of ASCI’s Self-Regulatory Guideline. 

AG: As mentioned that you upheld a large number of advertisements, what was the impact of that step on the advertising fraternity?
All major advertisers are already ASCI members and wholeheartedly support self-regulation in advertising. Their compliance to ASCI decisions is 100%. As mentioned earlier, we are seeing a gradual positive shift – especially in case of smaller advertisers who were not aware of ASCI earlier. 

AG: Despite ASCI playing the role of watch-dog in setting up guidelines for the right kind of industry, do you think you need to have a bit deeper understanding so that they adhere to those guidelines?
ASCI Code of Self-Regulation is quite comprehensive. The advertisements need to be truthful, decent, not encourage unsafe products or services and fair in competition. Where ever necessary, we have provided additional guidance – e.g. for Food and Beverage advertising, Auto motives, Educational guidelines etc. These guidelines are developed by having a close dialog with all key stakeholders so that we have their buy in and commitment when it comes to implementing them. These guidelines are available on our web-site for easy reference.

AG: Do you think you need to increase the dialogue with the stake holders of the industry so that the industry can get a better understanding of the body and it can benefit out of it?
ASCI currently have all major advertisers as our members and all major sectors get represented. We always ensure that stakeholders of the industry are engaged and involved when any major issues are being dealt with. ASCI members get regular communication and updates from our Secretariat. Having said that, ASCI wants to encourage more industry members to become our members as it would enable better understanding of ASCI guidelines, resulting in more responsible advertising and ultimately build Public’s confidence in Self-Regulatory mechanism. We would want to have “more governance and less government” as has been actively supported by the regulatory authorities.

AG: Where do you see the ad-industry heading towards in 2015?
In 2015, the ad-industry would definitely see a big evolution in the digital media advertisements and innovative ideas to reach consumers.

AG: Do you think the screening process for ads needs a bit of re-working?
Currently, a better understanding of ASCI guidelines is required for the makers of advertisements. ASCI would soon be launching an On-line training module so that we can maximize our reach. | By: Aanchal Kohli | Twitter: @aanchalkohli


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