Brands hoodwinking the consumer through exaggerated claims, misleading catchphrases is nothing new. Even the best of brands fall prey to this once in a while. So it becomes all the more important to have a regulator who keeps a close watch and raps errant brands accordingly. Add to this the recent controversy around Maggi noodles and the consequent hullaboo regarding celebrity endorsements, and the role of India’s advertising watchdog—Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI)—becomes all the more important. Already, ASCI is working closely with the ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB), department of consumer affairs (DCA), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and state Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorities.
Recently, the self-regulating body entered into a pact with the DCA for closer scrutiny of misleading ads by brands operating in agriculture and food, health, education, housing, financial services and e-commerce segments. Last month it launched a mobile app—ASCI Online—for consumers to lodge their complaints against misleading ads. In this interview with FE Brandwagon’s Meghna Sharma, ASCI chairman Narendra Ambwani, who is also the director of Agro Tech Foods Ltd, speaks about the regulator’s attempts to boost its credibility even as its challenges in the digital world multiplies.
How to do you expect the mobile app to help curb errant ads?
One of the goals of ASCI is to make the process of lodging complaints simple and the growing number of smartphone users and rising internet penetration in the country prompted us to launch the app. The app has a simple interface, with easy access to a complaint centre, where it’s possible to register complaints as well as track and maintain a record of old complaints. The response to our #SnapItAndAppIt campaign has been very positive. Our free mobile app—ASCIonline—has garnered a lot of interest from media as well as consumers. In less than a week the number of app downloads on Android and iOS platforms crossed 600. We have received a 4.2 /5 star rating by users on Google Play Store and some very constructive feedback that we have immediately acted upon. All this has been through media buzz, organic social media reach and word of mouth. We witnessed a 78% increase in the number of complaints received in the first week since the app was released.
How difficult is it to keep tabs on digital advertising?
Keeping track of digital advertising is definitely a challenge as compared to TV or print media monitoring. The medium is fast evolving and very dynamic. Monitoring is also resource intensive. However, if consumers are our eyes and ears, they would help in ensuring that advertisers don’t take them for a ride.
This is the era of digital media and lines between advertising and content are blurring. ASCI’s biggest challenge is to keep pace with the evolving techniques used to advertise. Also new segments such as e-retail are growing where ASCI could play a major role.
What happens when a complaint against an ad is upheld but the advertiser ignores ASCI’s orders?
After receiving the complaints, ASCI processes them as per its normal complaint redressal procedure involving its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) for adjudication. If the complaint is upheld then the ad will need to be modified or pulled out. Over 90% of advertisers abide by the ASCI decision. If the advertiser doesn’t comply, we escalate these to the concerned regulatory authorities such as the DCA, MIB, FSSAI, etc., for their intervention.
Can you elaborate on ASCI’s agreement with the Union government’s department of consumer affairs?
The DCA has partnered with ASCI as an “executive arm” to process consumer complaints on its Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) portal. The collaboration will see joint efforts to evaluate and pass strictures against the violators. The six priority sectors that would be covered are: agriculture and food, health, education, housing, financial services, e-commerce. The complaints will be evaluated across media such as print, packaging, internet, outdoor, wall paintings, posters, bill boards, etc. We have already started processing complaints coming through the GAMA portal.
What is ASCI doing about preventing misleading ads from being released?
It is a proactive approach that would enable the creators of advertising to get their advertisements right the first time. This has been in line with my priorities for the year which is to promote self-regulation and strengthen self-discipline among creators of ads. We want to focus on educating consumers to spot misleading ads, raise their voice against such ads and lodge complaints. We are very active on social media to achieve this. Our Facebook page has 5,958 fans, Twitter account has 933 followers and LinkedIn has a following of 739 people.