No getting away for toings: Need for an agile, aggro ASCI

14 Sep,2011

By Amit Bapna

Many moons ago the Tuff ad with the Milind Soman-Madhu Sapre duo wearing just a pair of shoes had made news for its overt nudity. A few years back, the infamous ‘Yeh To Bada Toing Hai’ Amul Macho ad had raised the hackles of feminist groups as they found it very sexist. And last fortnight, Tata Docomo’s campaign has angered some groups like doctors and maids as it puts them in an awkward situation. A maid is shown pinching a mobile phone, while a doctor forgets his cellphone inside a patient’s stomach after stitching up.

In all these cases Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), was approached to play the role of the jury. As a self-regulatory voluntary organization of the Indian advertising industry, ASCI has a hugely important role to play, often with limited powers. Last year, 777 complaints had been received against 190 ads, of which 104 were upheld. Contrast that with the Advertising Standards Association (ASA),which is the UK’s independent regulator of advertising across all media, including marketing on websites. In 2009, ASA dealt with 28,929 complaints. The Indian counterpart has a long way to go.

The Tata Docomo campaign is under review by ASCI, as of now, but as per sources, the maid ad is likely to be pulled back by the time the issue hits the stands. Though that would be more because of the marketer fearing damage to its brand and less because of the fear of the regulatory body. ASCI, typically, has to screen the complaints on any of three accounts – morality, legality or unethical business practices. As the Indian market has grown, the role of advertising as an important and legitimate means for the seller to awaken interest in his products or services has gained currency. But the debate on where one draws the line is something the industry is grappling with, more so in the developing economies like India.

Self-regulation does work in an emerging market like India, feels Madhukar Sabnavis, country head -planning, Ogilvy India and also a member of the Consumer Complaints Council of ASCI. Remember India is an emerging market but those in the advertising and marketing industries have mindsets similar to developed markets and are conditioned and react according to those principles, he says.

 

The Weak Arm

While the mindsets of ad folk may be in synch with developed markets, the onus put on advertising to get the brand noticed at any cost makes the ‘means’ often desperate at times, requiring an external body like ASCI to step in to play the role of regulator. ASCI is trying to lay down sector-specific, pointed guidelines. The education sector, for instance, has witnessed significant advertising activity, and also some quick money making methods being adopted.In educational sector advertising, there is a lot of shortchange being done by some of the advertisers. Thus we have put up a clear stipulation for minimum size of supers (4 seconds) and disclaimer (11 pixel size),points out Alan Collaco, secretary general, ASCI.

 

Opines Raghu Bhat, founder director, Scarecrow Communications;While on paper the Indian code is very detailed and well written, it needs to be implemented better.By the time, ASCI acts, the campaign could have most often run its course. Suvodeep Das, marketing head – Kaya, agrees that ASCI as a body needs to be given more power of enforcement over advertising which is offensive, imitative, or making false claims. There is no point in merely pulling back the campaign when it has already completed its full-run and achieved the target of creating buzz. Not just in conventional mediums but also virally through the digital media. An ad-campaign, which has a 4-6 week cycle, anyway has done its job by the time any action is taken.

 

The newly appointed chairman of the Board of ASCI and director Eeenadu group, I. Venkat agrees,Most importantly, we have to get the fast-track complaints mechanism to work better to provide a speedy resolution. The decision should be taken within 7-10 days as against 4-6 weeks currently.Though, this would be for intra-industry complaints only and not for consumer complaints. In addition, he shares; the future plans include ASCI working more closely with the government, so that it can have more teeth. Currently while it is the only code accepted by the government, it does not have a legal standing of its own.

 

Two things need to be done if ASCI has to perform it’s role better, says Salil Kapoor, COO, Dish TV; Firstly, the decisions have to be taken much faster than they are being taken currently and secondly stricter penal action against the errant advertisers. The code of conduct should take into account these points for it to be effective so that the marketer will think twice before repeating the act. The industry needs to decide how to penalise the errant advertiser. Das adds, The fear of consequences should be added in the marketer’s mind, which is not happening currently.

 

So is the job of ASCI only to be a headmaster who would give a sharp rap on the knuckle once in a while to an errant advertiser, till the next complaint comes along or is there more to it? Creating a sense of responsibility in advertising should be the ultimate job of ASCI, says Gitanjali Sriram, founder-partner, Naked Communications who has been working closely with Subhash Kamath of BBH India to create an integrated communication plan for repositioning of ASCI under the platform of responsibility in advertising – keeping the young members of the industry in mind. If done well, it could set the tone to expose the young Turks of the nation to the nuances of the dos and don’ts early on in their careers.

 

Sharing an interesting nugget Collaco says,When the largely state-controlled Chinese advertising industry decided to work on a code of regulation, they approached European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA), an established player in creating the regulatory frameworks globally and were told that one of the two best codes suited for them would be the one being practiced in the Indian market. (The other being Brazil.)

 

The clout and the muscle have to be added to make ASCI the big daddy. Clearly, the intent is there, the nuts and bolts need to be put in place.

 

 

Source:The Economic Times

Copyright  2011, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. All Rights Reserved

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