Need more democratic and open rules, says ad world

In favour of new govt guidelines, but seeks open mind about branding


With the government tightening its noose around advertisements, sparked off by a recent spate of controversial ads, what largely was self-regulated play so far, now sees an institutionalised future. The consumer affairs ministry’s ‘Guidelines for Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022’ prohibit surrogate advertisements, make it mandatory for celebrity endorsers to declare stake in brands advertised, ask for disclaimers in ads, conditions for bait ads, restrictions on free claims ads, disclosure of material connection and so on.

But would that mean brand promotion for certain brands would never see the light of the day, or is it simply defining the ad industry in a more black and white manner instead of the largely grey zone it has existed in so far? Industry veterans, while welcoming the guidelines, told FE that a more open mind was also needed when it comes to advertising.

Businessman, author and managing director at Rediffusion Sandeep Goyal said it is high time the ad industry come under regulation, adding that the government had been lenient for far too long. “The regulation is a good start and I completely support the process. But if liquor is not allowed to be sold through surrogate ads, then why have it on the IPL (referring to the RCB team) too?”

According to Goyal, there should be defined guidelines for what is allowed and what is not, while agreeing that promoting pan masala through flavoured cardamom was hoodwinking the public. He also supported the decision for imposing fines if rules were flouted.

Talking about surrogate ads, Ambi Parameswaran, author, brand strategist/coach and founder of Brand-Building, a brand advisory, said if a product can be made and marketed, then it should be allowed to be advertised as well, but with conditions, if required.

“If liquor is allowed to be sold, then allow its ads too, albeit with conditions,” he said. According to Parameswaran, surrogate ads are a very slippery slope. “How do you audit a company’s books to see if the surrogate product is getting the revenue and how much is spent on its ad. Many times the ad revenue for surrogate products is higher than their sales. Companies will always maintain that they are developing a market for the surrogate product, but it is not true as it is only for promoting another product. Today, how are you going to regulate the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s IPL team? Royal Challengers is a liquor brand,” he questioned.

He added that regulations should be in place, but banning ads of a product completely blocks the way for any new brand from entering the market, as in the case of online gambling games.

While over-regulation of any industry is not a smart idea, it is good that the government is encouraging more inclusive representation in ads and coming down heavily on brands that might encourage uncouth behaviour, even if mistakenly, said Abhijit Avasthi, co-founder of Sideways Consulting, talking about the inclusive change in ads. While not in favour of surrogate ads, but siding with Parameswaran in saying that if an industry is allowed to flourish and thrive and cater to a market then it should be allowed to promote itself too, he said, “If there is no communication even through surrogate, then how will a brand build? The exact definition of surrogate, too, needs to be defined better.” Avasthi backed censorship by consumers themselves instead of a government body.

“People consume pan masala and then criticise an actor promoting it and then also go and watch their films. So, there is a lot of hypocrisy around it,” he explained. Avasthi suggested that instead of banning ads, the government must educate people through advisories and campaigns and then leave it to the people to decide.

During a recent interview, ad veteran Prahlad Kakkar while commenting on the new regulations had stated that the government decision was in the best interests of consumers, and that only advertising professionals know what is exaggerated and what is misleading, implying that the creative process should be left at the hands of the makers.

With regulations in place, the question also arises: Will regulations impact the creative process of the making of an ad? Subhash Kamath, chairman, Advertising Standards Council of India (Asci), said he personally doesn’t see any threat to the creative process but felt the new norms will only raise the standards of advertising. “Exaggeration and puffery are permitted in advertising, but they have to be presented such that the consumer understands that it’s an exaggeration,” he said, citing the Fevikwik commercial where a man catches fish by putting Fevikwik on a stick. “No one takes it literally and the consumer laughs along with the exaggeration,” he said, adding that the problem arises when a false claim is sought to be passed off as the truth under the cover of exaggeration.

In May, the Asci had also revised its codes for inclusivity in ads by pulling plugs on ads that discriminate against or mock any gender identity, sexual orientation, body shape, age or any kind of physical or mental condition, thus closing the doors on sexist, homophobic and body shaming ads.

Read Also: HC curbs Sebamed from airing ads, says HUL

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