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Rewind 2021: ASCI - successful in driving a paradigm shift this year

Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), recaps the year 2021 for the advertising body and some bold steps that it took this year to rethink its purpose and strategies.

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2021 was a challenging year for most at a work and personal level. After suffering losses in 2020, many had hoped for 2021 to see a return to normalcy, but the ride just got tougher.

In this midst, most organisations had to reinvent themselves to stay afloat, and to stay relevant. It is this reinvention, this ability to adapt to our environment, that is hard coded in our genetic make-up, and indeed is the cornerstone of evolution itself. This was also ASCI’s guiding principle to create a thriving organisation and culture in 2021.

At ASCI, we undertook some pretty bold steps. We took the opportunity to rethink our purpose and strategies.

The digital space became a huge focus. New emerging sectors such as gaming came into the spotlight. ASCI made guidelines to ensure that transparency and full disclosures became key components of both digital influencer advertising and online real money gaming.

We reinvented our strategy to not just catch advertisers who crossed the line of honest and decent advertising, but also launched a set of initiatives that would help that #GetItRight. The GenderNext study in collaboration with Futurebrands provided a framework to help marketers and creators imagine women portrayals in advertising  in more progressive and empathetic ways, as well as identify subtle subliminal stereotypes that could be avoided using the SEA (Self esteemed, Empowered and Allied) framework and the SSS framework (Subordination, Service and Standardisation).

Earlier in the year, ASCI made it simpler for brands to be more mindful of the claims they made in their messaging, with the Advertising Advice Service. This serves as a due diligence and risk mitigation exercise for consequences due to misleading claims. Advertisers like to push the boundary of what they can say and claim, and the ASCI Advertising Advice service allows them to stay on the right side of the guard rails. A panel of experts across disciplines supports this service, ensuring advertisers receive comprehensive feedback the content of the proposed advertising right at the pre-production stage. This saves not only huge sums of money, but also precious operational bandwidth and possible losses of reputation for the advertiser and the brand.

ASCI continued its strong partnerships with the government, a key stakeholder whose support of self-regulation makes us stronger and ever more determined to ensure consumer protection. To this end, we strengthened our suo motu surveillance of advertising by adding digital tracking of over 3,000 websites and using AI tools to track influencer advertising on digital media.

Over the course of this year, we also introduced progressive institutional changes to gain fresh and external perspectives. Well-known experts outside of the advertising eco-system were inducted on to our Board of Governors.  The ASCI board now includes the renowned academician and social activist Dr Ranjana Kumari, leading educationist Dr Indu Shahani, technology entrepreneur Rajesh Patel, and finance sector expert and former editor of the Economic Times, Rajrishi Singhal. Their perspectives will further ensure that ASCI keeps a firm eye on the changing world around us.

Last year, ASCI received 6,149 complaints. The transparent and effective Influencer Advertising Guidelines appear to be working well and we received 571 complaints between June and November 2021. ASCI is working on an ambitious project to overhaul our complaints management system that will soon see the light of day, and make interactions with ASCI smooth and seamless for complainants and advertisers alike.

Fresh with a busy and successful 2021, we have plans for an even more ambitious 2022, wherein we look at ways to expand our footprint and touch upon more aspects that impact consumer protection.

We look to build capabilities that deliver sharper digital media monitoring and regulation and offer insights to all stakeholders. We plan to reach students and communities through tie-ups with outreach partners, and create greater awareness amongst consumers about misleading and offensive ads, and the robust and fair mechanism that ASCI offers to resolve these. At over 97% compliance, ASCI is well placed to protect consumers in the area of advertising content. We want to engage the citizens of this country in this crusade.

Media is, at the best of times, a challenging space. At ASCI, we are reinventing ourselves from the core to become better and stronger to navigate this complex and dynamic landscape, and reach our full potential as a self-regulatory body working in the interest of consumers.

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