CCC investigated complaints against 418 advertisements, of which 377 advertisements were promptly withdrawn by the advertisers
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) investigated complaints against 533 advertisements in March and April 2020, of which 115 advertisements were withdrawn by the advertisers on receipt of communication from ASCI. The independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) of ASCI evaluated the remaining 418 advertisements, out of which complaints against 377 advertisements were upheld. Of these 377 advertisements, 187 belonged to the healthcare sector, 132 belonged to the education sector, 15 to the food and beverages sector, nine to real estate, five to visa/immigration sector, and personal care, and 24 were from the ‘others’ category.
According to Rohit Gupta, chairman, ASCI, Consumer Complaints Council has been very efficient as ASCI continues to deliberate via video conferencing. “I am very proud of our ASCI team that has remained accessible and responsive to all stakeholders during this pandemic situation. We appreciate the cooperation being extended by the complainants as well as the advertisers to ensure self-regulation of advertising content by ensuring time bound compliance,” he added.
ASCI exercised the “Suspension Pending Investigation” (SPI) option against an extremely offensive advertisement of an online video app. The contents of the advertisement were extremely obscene and vulgar. The advertiser issued an apology and internally banned all similar video content on their platform. Despite issuing warnings, ASCI continued to record advertisements featuring celebrities in violation of its guidelines. For instance, two advertisements of a veteran celebrity couple were considered to be misleading as they suggested that one can consume unrestricted quantities of deep fried food items such as batatavada and samosa and yet not worry about fitness if a particular brand of edible oil is used. The advertisement undermined the importance of regular exercise and healthy lifestyle. A renowned sportswoman endorsed a honey brand that made the misleading claim of “No added sugar”. A popular Bollywood actress endorsed a hair oil brand that promised nourishment of almonds in every drop of the oil and 3x vitamin E as compared to unbranded hair oils sold loose in the market.
Interestingly, among various complaints examined by the CCC, complaints against advertisement of a well-known brand was upheld as the depiction of a woman protagonist slapping the male protagonist was considered as normalising violence. Moreover, complaint against Fair and Lovely Advanced Multi Vitamin claiming to provide “HD glow” to the face was considered to be misleading as the advertiser had used image enhancement effects. While the advertisement did not make any reference to “fairness” as a product benefit, the mention of the brand name being a trademark was missing in the advertisement.
According to ASCI, around mid-March when Mumbai started its gradual Lockdown, the council adapted quickly to navigate through these difficult times. As a proactive measure, the team launched a drive to act against misleading advertisements claiming prevention or cure against COVID-19. The Ministry of AYUSH sought help from the ASCI team to alert them about such advertisements. The ASCI team picked over 50 such COVID cure advertisements in April, notifying the advertisers to withdraw them forthwith within a week. ASCI closely monitored digital media, social media handles and web-sites of the advertisers. Over 90 cases of potential violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies regulations were also flagged to the regulator.