Role of Advertising Council of India Consumer Protection

In India, as in several advanced economies, there is only one body for Self-Regulation in Advertising – the ASCI, which is concerned with safeguarding the interests of consumers whilst monitoring/guiding the commercial communications of Practitioners in Advertising on behalf of advertisers, for advertisements carried by the Media, in their endeavours to influence buying decisions of the Consuming Public.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) established in 1985 is a voluntary self-regulatory council, registered as a not-for-profit Company under section 25 of the Indian Cos. Act with the objective of ensuring that all advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful along with a sense of social responsibility to the consumer and to the rules of fair competition.

The sponsors of the ASCI, who are its principal members, are firms of considerable repute within industries in India, which comprise of advertisers, media, and advertising agencies and other professional or ancillary services connected with advertising practice. The ASCI is not a Government body, nor does it formulate rules for the public or for the relevant industries.

It has adopted a Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It stands for the protection of the legitimate interests of consumers and all concerned with advertising – advertisers, media, advertising agencies and others who help in the creation or placement of advertisements. As the Code becomes increasingly accepted and observed pro-actively, three things will begin to happen.

  1. Fewer false, misleading claims
  2. Fewer unfair advertisements
  3. Increasing respectability

This only means more freedom for an agency to practise their craft or carry on their business effectively. As a member of ASCI, one can mould the course of Self-Regulation and participate in the protection of healthy, effective advertising. One can have a say, through the Board of Governors, in the further development of the Code and future appointments to the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC). Membership of the ASCI (open only to Firms) entitles one to appoint nominee to discharge one’s function as a member, including standing for election to the Board of Governors and voting at general meetings.

ASCI encourages the public to complain against advertisements which they consider to be false, misleading, offensive or unfair. All of these complaints are evaluated by an independent Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).

Objectives of ASCI:

The main objects to be pursued by the Company on its incorporation are:

To monitor administer and promote standards of advertising practices in India with a view to.

  1. Ensuring the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made through advertising and safeguarding against misleading advertising.
  2. Ensuring that Advertising is not offensive to generally accepted norms and standards of public decency.
  3. Safeguarding against the indiscriminate use of advertising for the promotion of products or services, which are generally regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals or which are unacceptable to society as a whole.
  4. Ensuring that advertisements observe fairness in competition and the canons of generally accepted competitive behaviour.
  5. To codify adopt and from time to time modify the code of advertising practices in India and implement, administer and promote and publicize such a code.
  6. To provide facilities and machinery in the form of one or more Consumer Complaints Councils having such composition and with such powers as may be prescribed from time to time to examine complaints against advertisements in terms of the Code of Advertising practices and report thereon.
  7. To give wide publicity to the Code and seek adherence to it of as many as possible of those engaged in advertising.
  8. To print and publish pamphlets, leaflets, circulars or other literature or material that may be considered desirable for the promotion of or carrying out of the objects of the Company and disseminate it through any medium of communication.

Consumer Complaints Council:

The Board of Governors shall appoint Consumer Complaints Council, the number of members of which shall not be more than twenty one. Out of these 21 members, 12 are from civil society and nine from advertising practitioners. The CCC decides upon the complaints within a period of 4 to 6 weeks.

The Consumer Complaints Council shall examine and investigate the complaints received from the consumers and the general public, including the members of the Company, regarding any breach of the Code of Conduct and/or advertising ethics and recommend the action to be taken in that regards.

Power of the Consumer Complaints Council:

  1. Each Council shall be entitled to receive complaints from the Board of Governors, the Consumers, the general public and members of the Company.
  2. Each Council shall enquire, investigate and decide upon the complaints received by it within the framework of the Code of Conduct adopted by the Company.
  3. All the decisions of each Council shall be by simple majority, in writing and may specify the action to be taken in respect of the offending advertisement.

ASCI propagates its Code and a sense of responsibility for its observance amongst advertisers, advertising agencies and others connected with the creation of advertisements, and the media.

ASCI encourages the public to COMPLAIN against advertisements with which they may be unhappy for any reason and ensures that each complaint receives a prompt and objective consideration by an impartial committee Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) which takes into account the view point of the advertiser, and an appropriate decision is communicated to all concerned. ASCI endeavours to achieve compliance with its decisions through reasoned persuasion and the power of public opinion.

The Role and Functioning of the ASCI & its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) in dealing with complaints received from consumers and industry, against ads which are considered as false, misleading, indecent, illegal, leading to unsafe practices, or unfair to competition, and consequently in contravention of the ASCI code for self-regulation in advertising.

If an ad is to be reviewed for its likely impact on the sensibilities of individual viewers of TV, or readers of press publications, it is required to convey to the advertiser concerned, the substantial issues raised in the complaint, in the exact context of the specific ad, as conveyed by the perception of the complainant, and to elicit the appropriate response by way of comments from the advertiser.

Only then will the CCC of the ASCI, be in a position to deliberate meaningfully on the issues involved, and to arrive at a fair and objective conclusion, which would stand the scrutiny of all concerned with the right to freedom of expression, and the freedom of consumers to choose the products /services made available to them in the marketplace.

For this it is required to have a clearly readable copy or clipping of the ad under complaint, with full particulars of name and date of publication, or a printout of an ad or promotion on a website or in case of a T.V. Commercial (TVC), the channel, date and time or programme of airing, and a description of the contents of the TVC, along with a hard copy of the complete complaint preferably signed by the complainant.

The ASCI receives and processes complaints against ads, from a cross section of consumers, the general public and Industry, in the interests of all those who rely on advertising as a commercial communication, and this covers individuals, practitioners in advertising, advertiser firms, media, ad agencies, and ancillary services connected with advertising. As a policy ASCI does not disclose the identity of the complainant to the advertiser.

In the case of complaints which were upheld by the CCC during the past year, over 80% of such ads have been withdrawn or modified appropriately by the advertisers or ad agencies involved, and the concerned media have also confirmed that they would not carry such offending ads/TVC.

ASCI’s Mission:

ASCI has one overarching goal- to maintain and enhance the public’s confidence in advertising. ASCI seeks to ensure that advertisements conform to its Code for Self-Regulation which requires advertisements to be:

  1. Truthful and fair to consumers and competitors.
  2. Within the bounds of generally accepted standards of public decency and propriety.
  3. Not used indiscriminately for the promotion of products, hazardous or harmful to society or to individuals particularly minors, to a degree unacceptable to society at large.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) became more powerful after a recent Government notification in The Gazette of India: Extraordinary {Part II – sec. 3(i)}, on 2 August 2006 by which TV commercials must abide by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) code. The amendment made in Cable Television ‘Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2006 now states that “(9) No advertisement which violates the Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising, as adopted by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Mumbai for public exhibition in India, from time to time, shall be carried in the cable service”. Since recent statistics (source: aug/augmam52.htm) suggest that in as many as 85 per cent of the complaints were upheld against TV advertisement. ASCI has now sought the support of the associations concerned such as Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) to persuade TV channels to adhere to ASCI’s code as well as implement the decisions of its CCC in this regard. Many of the advertisers/channels have confirmed In writing to have forthwith complied with the decisions of CCC, either by withdrawing or modifying appropriately the subject advertisements.

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