Top FMCG firms put on notice for misleading ads

Written by Lalitha Srinivasan | Soma Das | Mumbai/New Delhi | Updated: Dec 3 2012, 06:46am hrs
Food regulator tells companies to back claims on products with scientific proof or face action

FMCG firms that make tall claims to embellish their brands will now have to back such promotional assertions with scientific proof or temper the tone.

This is because the government is planning to tighten the noose around firms that have been making exaggerated claims in their ad-campaigns. The food regulator Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has sent notices to leading companies such as Hindustan Unilever, Britannia Industries, Marico, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Heinz India, Dabur India, Emami Biotech, Kelloggs India, Cadbury India accusing them of making inflated claims about their products.

These, the regulator feels, violates law (section 24 of FSS Act). It has also begun prosecution proceedings against select companies in this matter.

For instance, HUL has been pulled up by the government for claiming that its product Kissan creamy spread has three times more essential nutrients than sadharan butter.

Also under scanner are Britannia Vita Marie for claims such as heart-friendly and helps reduce cholesterol and Britannia Nutrichoice biscuits for declarations of no added sugar, complex carbohydrates and diabetics- friendly.

Similarly, GSK Consumer Healthcare, the government has alleged, violates law by a misleading claim on its product Boost that it provides three times more stamina than sadharan chocolate drink, adding that the producer (GSK) has not submitted any specific study on this product to substantiate its claims.

Another flagship GSK product, Horlicks, has also been red-marked by the government which states that a claim that the product makes children taller, stronger and sharper is deceptive.

GSK Healthcare has played down the charge. The firm said it had responded to the notice with all the required studies and excerpts of their published research for both brands.

Since then, there was no further correspondence from the FSSAI on the subject. In case we receive any communication on substantiation of our claims, we will respond as appropriate. All our claims are in compliance with the existing laws and we shall cooperate with the authorities is this matter, a GSK spokesperson said.

Hienz Indias Complan, Maricos Saffolla, Cadburys Bournvita Little Champs, Dabur Indias Real Active Fibre, Amway Indias Nutrilite are some of the other products facing the flak.

Ad professionals and media planners FE spoke to feel that ad agencies and companies should exercise self-regulation and not go overboard with promotional claims. Subhash Kamath , managing partner, BBH India said, I strongly believe that ad agencies should practice self regulation. With great creative power comes great responsibility. In an attempt to be persuasive, ad agencies sometimes cross the line. There's nothing wrong in exaggeration for entertainment but the agencies should not cross boundaries.

Sam Balsara, chairman of Madison World, said ideally the government should act on these matters in consultation with Advertising Standards Council of India, an industry-appointed watchdog. I think if the government demands, companies will comply with it, Balsara added.

A Britannia spokesperson said, All claims on our products are backed by research and scientific evidence and meet stringent quality standards at all times. We will continue to provide relevant, reliable and distinctive options to satisfy the needs of our consumers".

A Dabur spokesperon responded on similar lines."We have submitted to FSSAI all the necessary documents and scientific papers to support our claims., We wouldn't be able to comment further as the matter is subjudice" he said.

These directives will certainly impact the concerned media agencies and FMCG companies. From creating the concept to execution of ads, companies work with ad agencies and media planners for a long time. Needless to mention about the money spent. After chalking out long term media plans, it is very difficult to revise them," said a media planner from a leading media agency.

Not every one agreed. Some ad-makers actually think this flutter created by the government could prompt many brands to revisit their strategies, which could translate into more work for the ad-world.

Prahlad Kakar, noted ad film maker said, If the companies need to rework on banned ads, agencies (advertisement) will get more money. As for these FMCG companies, they will have to first make representation to the government.

We ensure that all our brand communication messages are based on well-established facts, consumer relevant information and that our advertising claims are supported by globally accepted norms and scientific studies. With regard to our advertisements, we have appropriately responded to all notices and currently there are no notices pending against us, said Mohan V, director, corporate & legal affairs, Heinz.

Companies such as HUL, Marico, Cadbury had not responded to FE queries till the paper went to press.