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Whatsapp, social media listening enable ASCI to tackle misleading ads during lockdown

Whatsapp number 7710012345 and social media listening are enabling ASCI to act swiftly against misleading advertisements during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Incidentally, ASCI’s Whatsapp number has completed four years of providing free and efficient complaint registration option to consumers.

Four years ago, ASCI had introduced WhatsApp number 7710012345 for consumers for quick, easy and free redressal of their complaints against objectionable advertisements. The number of consumers contacting ASCI via WhatsApp from across India has steadily increased over the years, more so after many channels started carrying this number in their scroll as per the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting advisory of January 2019, creating awareness about ASCI. The number of complaints attributed to this WhatsApp source have tripled.

Shweta Purandare, Secretary General, ASCI, remarked, “Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, there is widespread anxiety, confusion and fear amongst public at large. ASCI is monitoring advertisements that are making unsubstantiated and opportunistic claims. We have issued notices to advertisers for immediate suspension of such advertisements pending investigation. ASCI’s active Social Media listening as well as availability of the WhatsApp number 7710012345 during the lockdown period have been key in enabling ASCI to act swiftly.”

Meanwhile, during the month of December 2019, ASCI investigated complaints against 310 advertisements, of which 77 advertisements were promptly withdrawn by the advertisers on receipt of communication from ASCI. The independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI evaluated remaining 233 advertisements, of which complaints against 225 advertisements were upheld. Of these 225 advertisements, 124 belonged to the education sector, 66 belonged to the healthcare sector, seven to the food & beverages sector, six to personal care, and 22 were from the ‘others’ category.

A well-known online shopping website was found misleading consumers by advertising a coupon code offering discount on all orders. Print advertisement of one of the famous alcohol brands in India was upheld because of surrogate advertising and violating ASCI’s guidelines of brand extension products. A widely used toothbrush brand could not substantiate a claim of being India’s No. 1 Toothbrush brand, recommended by Dentists. ASCI, through its Suo Motu surveillance, picked advertisements that were in violation of Guidelines for celebrities in advertisement. An advertisement featuring a popular Bollywood star endorsing the claim “India’s First Hygienic Gym” was found to be misleading. Claims made by one advertiser marketing ayurvedic eye drops co-promoted with a movie release and endorsed by the two protagonist actresses in the movie were not substantiated. Another advertisement by the same advertiser for women’s health tonic featuring a yesteryears Bollywood celebrity was found to be misleading.

Education  - 124 advertisements complained against

Healthcare - 66 advertisements complained against

Food & Beverages - Seven advertisements complained against

Personal Care - Six advertisements complained against

Others - 22 advertisements complained against

Direct Complaints

The advertisements given below were complained against by the general public or by industry members. Of the 33 advertisements complained against, 12 advertisements were promptly withdrawn by the advertiser on receiving communication from ASCI. For the remaining 21 advertisements, complaints against 13 advertisements were upheld by the CCC. Five advertisements belonged to the Healthcare sector, three advertisements belonged to Personal Care, one from the F&B, and four from the others category. Eight advertisements were not considered to be objectionable or in contravention of the ASCI code. 

Healthcare 

  1. TTK Healthcare Ltd: The advertisement’s claim “Virginity can be cured” was considered to be in bad taste and implies as if “virginity” is a disease, thereby deriding a virgin boy or a virgin girl. The second claim “Pheromone Activating Spray” was also found to be misleading. 
  1. LifeCell International Private Limited: The television advertisement’s voice over claim “That is how we could find a matching stem cell for Shweta (his wife) and treat blood cancer” is incorrect, because more than 99.9% of children are not Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matched with either parent. Promotion of Community/Personal cord blood banking for use by individual or his / her family is not justified by any scientific evidence and therefore is not recommended by any scientific society. 

The following ads were considered to be, prima facie, in violation of The Drugs & Magic Remedies Act/ The Drugs & Cosmetics Rules, and are being referred to the Ministry of AYUSH: 

Sr. No

Brand/Product

Claim/s

1.                

Juneja Modern Clinic (Dr. Mohit Juneja Sexologist)

Cures the first day for discharge, premature ejaculation, Masculine weakness, loss nerves, undeveloped organ, lack of sperm.

2.                

Rahat Herbal Care

(10PM Touch up capsule)

·        Cure male impotency successfully.

·        Improve the size of male organ.

·        Enhance stamina to an amazing level.

·        Increase the vigor and vitality.

·        Sexual desire and timing.

3.                

Shakti Herbal (Masti gel uttejana capsule)

·        Get Rid of Premature Ejaculation.

·        Get Rid of Night Fall

·        Get Rid of Infertility.

Personal Care 

  1. Hindustan Unilever Ltd.(Vaseline Body Lotion): The television advertisement’s visuals show unsafe practices such as despite her friends calling out to her, the protagonist climbs on to the roof of the bus, where few people are already seated. It was observed that on the contrary to the disclaimer, this situation depicted in the TVC and the girl’s action was neither a stunt nor a spoof from a movie. The CCC concluded that the TVC and its corresponding YouTube advertisement shows dangerous practices and manifests a disregard for safety.
  2. Colgate-Palmolive (India) Ltd (Colgate Zig Zag Toothbrush): The product packaging’s claim “Toothbrush Brand Used & Recommended by Dentists” was not substantiated. As per the advertiser’s feedback, the advertiser is planning to discontinue this claim and are currently transitioning to remove them from all their packs
  3. Hahnemann's Jac Olivol Group of Products LLP (Jac Olivol Body Oil): The print advertisement’s claim “Jac Olivol Herbal Body Oil” was not substantiated as the advertiser did not provide any product specific information such as copy of product label, product composition details, evidence of the herbal ingredients in the product. The second claim “India’s Largest Selling Herbal Body Oil” was also not substantiated with any verifiable comparative data or market research data to prove that their herbal body oil is selling more than all other similar brands in India in terms of value or volume share, or through an independent third-party validation. Source of the claim was not mentioned in the advertisement.  

Food and Beverages 

  1. Nutri Organic Foods. (Strot Ground Nut Oil): The pamphlet advertisement’s claim,” Cholesterol free and Heart friendly”, “Boosts immunity” and “Good for Heart” were not substantiated. Furthermore, these claims were not as per the FSSAI’s guidance regarding claim permitted for edible oils such as Groundnut oil and Coconut oil, nor did the advertiser submit any evidence of FSSAI approval for these specific claims.

Others 

The CCC found that the claims made in the following advertisements were misleading, exploit consumers’ lack of knowledge and can lead to widespread disappointment in the minds of consumers. 

  1. com: The website advertisement’s claim offer “Best Offers, Best Price: Rs 1,450, applicable on all orders, Coupon Code: FS 149, Discount Coupon: Rs.149/- off excluding tax (Check cart for final savings)”, was not substantiated with evidence of any of their consumers having availed the offer. It was noted that the claim offer did not carry qualifiers that the offer was subject to any terms and conditions and the website advertisement did not make reference to terms and conditions that consumers might peruse before availing the said offer. The advertisement contravened ASCI Guidelines for Disclaimers in Advertising.
  2. MakeMyTrip India Pvt. Ltd.: The website advertisement’s claim “Book with us and avail a complimentary gift card for use at any Taj Food and Beverage/ Spa outlet. Max gift card value is Rs 3000. Not valid on pay at hotel bookings” was not substantiated. The website advertisement indicates a complimentary gift card for use at any Taj Food and Beverage/ Spa outlet whose max gift card value is Rs 3000 on booking with the said hotel and through MMT portal. The advertiser indicates that the Complainant was only eligible for a Gift Card of INR 500. However, the advertiser was not able to conclusively substantiate how the said limit was applicable despite the offer providing a higher value. The terms and conditions for the offer were not stated clearly and were not readily available for a customer to verify. The advertiser did not submit any evidence that the claimed offer of INR 3000 gift card was availed by any customers, what the exact criteria were for awarding the same to some customers and awarding gift cards of a lower amount to others.
  3. Washho Laundry (Washho): The website advertisement’s claims “India’s First International brand in laundry & Dry cleaning focused on providing 100% transparent premium fabric care, cleaning process.”, “Mumbai #1 Laundry Service.” And “India’s Largest cleaning company in Mumbai Now” were not substantiated as the advertiser did not provide any verifiable comparative data of their laundry services to prove that they are pioneers in this field, in leadership position (No.1), and are larger than all the rest for providing the claimed laundry services, nor the claims made were backed by a third party validation. The source for the claims was also not indicated in the advertisement.
  4. Asianet Network Private Limited (Asianetnews.com): The advertisements claim “Leader in Malayalam” and “No. 1 Choice of Kerala” were misleading by ambiguity. The leadership claims made by the advertiser in the Emailer are based on COMSCORE “Total unique visitors/viewers” data for September 2019. The headline numbers upon which the advertiser relies have not been contested by the complainant. The Advertiser’s response to the complaint attempts to delink the data used in the e-mailer from the headlines which appear above it. The advertiser’s response makes it clear that the leadership claims being made in the headline are based not on the numbers, but on assertions of the brand’s leadership position in Kerala.  The advertiser’s contention that ComScore numbers are not linearly additive, is valid. However, the advertiser's response to the key question of basis for the leadership claim is only an assertion. For the basis of the leadership claim made, the advertiser has sought to use statistics to abuse the trust of lay audiences and misleads them into a perception of leadership by an implied association between claims in copy and a data table.

Suo Motu surveillance by ASCI for misleading ads

ASCI’s Suo Motu surveillance of Print and TV media through the National Advertisement Monitoring Services (NAMS) project picked up 277 advertisements. In 65 cases the advertisers promptly confirmed that the advertisements were being withdrawn post receiving the ASCI communication. All other 212 advertisements examined by the CCC were considered to be misleading. Of these 212 advertisements, 124 belonged to the Education sector, 61 advertisements belonged to the Healthcare sector, six belonged to the F&B category, three belonged to the Personal Care category, and 18 fell in the “Others” category.

 

Also Read:

ASCI lauds draft DMR Bill 2020, says will help curb misleading ads in healthcare

ASCI upheld complaints against 248 ads out of 408 ads; 137 other ads withdrawn

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