Paritosh Joshi: ASCI is not an Elephant though it might be a herring… a red one

23 Nov,2012

By Paritosh Joshi


If you are an habitue, you couldn’t have missed Anant Rangaswami’s thought-provoking “Elephants in the Room”. And if you have already dived into it, it won’t be long before you reach page 96, where a presumptive elephant called the Advertising Standards Council of India resides. Presumptive because no matter his vigorous prose and evident disenchantment with this institution, many of the barbs he directs at it are perhaps better directed elsewhere.


Let’s enumerate the infirmities that Anant cites.

– ASCI does not have a professional management team.

– ASCI is unknown to the very consumers whose interest it is supposed to protect.

– ASCI is toothless. Its decisions have little penal and no deterrent impact.

– ASCI is slow to react, making whatever actions it does take infructuous.

– ASCI doesn’t use technology effectively.

– ASCI doesn’t adequately engage its principal constituencies, most critically the Media.

– ASCI only functions under duress, such as the imminent arrival of the National Consumer Protection Agency, but is otherwise largely inert.


If I was to read back through the chapter, I may yet spot some more but these constitute a daunting enough list to work my way through, so off we go.


ASCI is a Section 25 company. It exists solely for promoting the cause of Self-Regulation in Advertising thereby ensuring the protection of the interests of the consumers. Unlike similarly incorporated entities that work as special interest lobbies or sports administration bodies that almost by definition have a very large operational throughput and often, substantial revenue sources, ASCI is a lean, low-cost body. The two operating but mutually autonomous components of the ASCI system: the Board and the Consumer Complaints Council, both depend upon voluntary and essentially pro bono effort. ASCI does not contribute to advancing the success of any business. It actually goes about censuring businesses that fall out of line. I also serve in another Section 25 company whose outputs directly impacts the ability of an entire industry to sell its products and even that company finds it impossibly hard to find funding for its activities. I wish our constituents were enlightened enough to see the self interest in generously funding ASCI to the point where it could have a top-notch professional team to advance its agenda. To be fair, the lean Secretariat that ASCI runs does a reasonably competent job of keeping the complaints pipeline, such as it is, well administered.


ASCI does not have large bags of money to splash out on consumer communication. It does, however, use its public-spirited objectives and, more pragmatically, its Board members’ contacts and influence, to secure pro bono advertising inventory to air creative pieces also generated pro bono. Is this enough? Heck, no. Can ASCI use new media? Surely it must and here too if someone has a great idea, (s)he must reach out to ASCI at the contacts that I provide at the end of this piece.


ASCI is a self-regulatory organisation. It is not the police. The power of self-regulation lies in ‘Naming and Shaming’, not penalty. Do the perpetrators of mischief get named and shamed enough? I don’t think they do. Again, keep in mind that ASCI does not have advertising budgets to publish its monthly ‘rogues gallery’ but it does issue the decisions of the Consumer Complaints Council after every meeting. If someone has a great idea to ensure they become much more visible, yup, contact ASCI.


ASCI’s CCC now meets fortnightly, up from a monthly that it had maintained for 25 of the ~27 years that it has existed. Can it meet more often? Should video-conferencing and other technological means be investigated? Remember that the functioning of the CCC depends on close adherence to a well developed ‘due process’. The Board is certainly getting its arms around all the possibilities and ensuring that they pass standards of legal propriety before institutionalizing them. Some changes have already come in. More will surely follow.


If the ‘Naming and Shaming’ system works better than it does today, the possibility of being thus shamed should become the biggest deterrent that a marketer must fear and respect before (s)he does something that falls out of line. Also, ASCI must evangelize the principles of the Self-Regulatory Code, most critically with recruits at entry levels in Media, Advertising and Marketing businesses. Does it do enough? No, it doesn’t. Again, ideas, ideas.


The suggestion that ASCI only functions under duress is a low blow. When it was set up in 1985, it was truly an idea ahead of its time, promoted by a bunch of right-thinking people who recognized the perils that lay ahead. The remarkable durability of the Code, albeit with periodic additions to address specific areas of concern, is testament to the thinking that went behind it. Interestingly, global best practice suggests that self regulators often exist in very productive partnerships with statutory consumer protection bodies. The putative NCPA doesn’t have to become an ASCI competitor; it could very usefully become the appellate, penal body, dealing with situations where ‘Naming and Shaming’ have failed and more onerous forfeits are imperative.


Finally, the ASCI is now, and for all times to come, a work in progress. The best way of making it better is for all good men and women to come to the aid of the party.


Here are the contacts:

Advertising Standards Council of India

Tel: (022) 23521066/23516863

Toll Free Number : 1-800-22-2724

Fax: (022) 23516863




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