Only 12 out of 332 ads related to Covid were found to be scientifically correct
As Covid-19 caused havoc across the world, the advertising industry too was impacted severely. Hence, the protection of consumer interests became more crucial than ever. As a result, from the first quarter itself of the pandemic, following a directive from the Ministry of AYUSH asking for the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) to identify advertisements that violated its advisory dated April 1, 2020, ASCI escalated 237 objectionable ads to the Ministry of AYUSH. While 164 ads complied and modified the untrue claims, 73 covid related ads needed further investigation and action by the Ministry due to non-compliance
In addition to this, ASCI picked up advertisements of several other categories such as paints, apparel, detergents, skin care, air conditioners, fans, water purifiers, plywood and laminates, supplements and food- all promising Covid related benefits. In all, 332 Covid related ads were picked up by ASCI through consumer complaints as well as its own monitoring, yet only 12 of these ads were actually able to substantiate the claims they made. Given the rampant exploitation of vulnerable consumers in the pandemic situation, ASCI issued a Covid advisory in October 2020, giving advertisers a clear directive to fully substantiate their Covid related claims through recognised testing facilities.
In a period where consumer vulnerabilities were at an all-time high, many brands took unfair advantage of this, and tried to peddle their wares without establishing any robust evidence of their actual utility against the SARS Cov-2 virus, Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI said. “ASCI has worked hard to weed out such advertisements by using very stringent standards of evidence. Brands that offer proven benefits to consumers have a genuine role in the pandemic, but unfortunately, most of the Covid related advertising fell woefully short. Most advertisers were unable to prove that the products actually worked to help consumers in a real way as claimed in the ads,” she added.
Besides Covid complaints, the ASCI Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) also processed 1406 complaints in the education sector, 285 complaints against food and beverage advertisements and 147 complaints related to personal care. In addition, 364 advertisements were found to be, prima facie, in violation of The Drugs and Magic Remedies Act. “ASCI’s independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) convened 37 times during the year and ASCI achieved a 97% compliance rate from advertisers on its recommendations, scoring a strong point for the efficacy of self-regulation,” ASCI said in a statement.
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