The industry denies this allegation and insists there is 80% compliance with ASCI orders. But after banning liquor and cigarettes ads through multiple ministries, this offers another ripe opportunity for politicians to exploit. The ministry of consumer affairs (MCA) is currently gathering feedback on the need to tighten regulation through statutory changes.
This may end up regulating creativity through a bureaucratic process at a time when Indian advertising is gaining international recognition and has just gathered a big cache of Golden Lions at Cannes. The industry needs to get out of its denial mode and stop insisting that advertisers always behave responsibly. If a Hindustan Lever borrows the format of its MNC parent and hawks ice-creams like condoms, it angers people. In India, ice-creams are always seen as a treat for children, not a part of foreplay. The company persists with the advertisements despite complaints from schools. It is hardly a responsible stance by a large advertiser.
On the other hand, we learn that a charming and lyrical underwear advertisement which did not depict any human bodies, clad or unclad, was surprisingly forced to be withdrawn by ASCI because it allegedly offended the sensitivities of some complainant. Clearly, there will never be a satisfactory middle path when it comes to judging creativity in a country of Indias vast diversity. There will always be skirmishes on the grounds of health, obscenity, religion or culture. But better self-regulation is always better than a new statute if the industry is prepared to re-examine its role, including the role of media buying agencies in demanding editorial coverage in return for advertising.
It is felt that the advertising industry ignores complaints of misleading ads
Consumers groups have been pressing for statutory regulation for advertising
They say the ASCI doesnt have the teeth to ensure advertising standards
Fortunately, the ministry is not keen to rush in and regulate through statute. It wants the industry to improve self-regulation. At a workshop in Mumbai last week, conducted by the Consumer Education and Research Centre (Cerc), Alka Sirohi, additional secretary in the ministry, said she was in favour of effective voluntary control, but also made it clear that, if the Advertising Code needs to be overhauled, please do it. It has to keep pace with the times. Moreover, if 20% of stakeholders ignored ASCIs rulings, then it was still a large number, given that 20,000 hours of advertising is beamed annually at consumers by a booming media.
Speaking on behalf of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI), V Shanta Kumar, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, proposed actions on behalf of the industry such as the willingness to adhere to a comprehensive code of conduct administered by a self-regulatory body, assurance that all members of AAAI would comply with its directives and limited pre-vetting of ads (e.g. baby foods). AAAI would also conduct a nationwide education programme to sensitise stakeholders and familiarise them with the various laws, codes and regulations governing advertising.
This is an important beginning. The tricky part will be to hammer out a comprehensive advertising standards code acceptable to allad agencies, consumer groups, the media and advertisers.