Sanjeev Kotnala: Self-regulate or Be Regulated

03 Sep,2014

By Sanjeev Kotnala


F.N0. N-4407/10/2014-BC-1 dated 21st August 2014. Govt of India, I&B Ministry. Shastri Bhavan. Government intervenes to help ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) ensure channels do not telecast banned ads. A reason to rejoice for consumers. But a clear signal to the industry. REGULATE OR BE READY TO BE REGULATED. It is for us to decide if we wish to go back to the era of prior approvals and submitting storyboards.


Maybe our insensitiveness is defined by our previous experiences. For example, no concrete steps have been taken on an earlier advisory. N0. 3105/74/2012- BC-III dated 7th June 2013 in reference to earlier directive on 23.05.2010 and 29.11.2011. It warns channels not to telecast programmes and sponsored slots (looking like programmes), which promote superstitions, highly debatable impact solutions and blind belief.


I would suppose that the new consumer centric and media savvy government is willing to act. The signals should not be misunderstood. Regulation is a serious threat to the industry


ASCI has primarily been acting on unsubstantiated claims made by advertisers. Not just the small advertiser but include large advertiser, which engage best of advertising agencies for their campaigns. This clearly indicates that the problem of unsubstantiated and misleading claims needs to be treated at the creation level.


Rules or no rules. ASCI or NO ASCI. The gang  of Advertisers, Creative and media  agencies and the Media need to move in sync. Walk the talk of being reader-/viewer- and in turn consumer-centric.


Few Simple Steps may Help Strengthen Self Regulation And Remove The Threat Of External Regulation:

1- Creative agencies to seek  claim substaintiation from clients.

2- In case of doubt; Client and agencies to use ASCI pre-check system

3- Creative not to over exxaggerate claims or be based on unsubstaintiated clains.

4- Media to insist on Advertiser guarantee  for  claims in their ads. Media should be held responsible only for following the process. Media should only be penalised if they release the advertismenet before getting a claim guarantee from advertisers. (The media agencies could be the carrier for it).

5- If a communication banned by ASCI is still released, the client/ brand/ product/ service should be banned for a given time. Here media agencies may be penalised for releasing a banned ad as it is easy to keep track of banned ads of one’s client.

6- Other than the classified ads, all ads must be released through an accrediated / licensed agencies. These agencies if found releasing unsubstaintiated claim ads should also be penalised. Just like every trade, a creative / media agency must be licensed registered with the governing body. Accrediation is a higher level of acceptance that provides for certain facilities including credit.


Is it really tough to adhere to the simple ASCI CODEadvertisements should be truthful and fair to consumers and competitors within the bounds of generally accepted standards of public decency and propriety. 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’.


ASCI meanwhile has been doing exemplary work. Guidelines with industry involvement have been created for categories including magical remedies and education. The long-awaited fairness products guidelines impacting big advertisers is ready. Enforcing it  will be a real test for ASCI. I will wait and watch, how the fraternity abides by the guidelines or find ways to sidestep.


ASCI, as a Self-Regulatory Body, has unfortunately been treated as a toothless lion. Its recommendations remained recommendations and suggestions. Brands, agencies and media have been busy exploiting loopholes. Industry too was not helping out by banning erring advertisments. Are We  Waiting For Consumer Courts To Take Suo Moto Action Against Offending Ads? Our behaviour definitely  lays the foundation for such an action.


ASCI is purely guided by the prevalent societal norms, values and consumer protection. It is far more contemporary than the rules that govern the Indian advertising industry. ASCI has been the real internal censor/guardian. It has been shouting hoarse but no one listenned.


Let’s accept this: earlier ASCI processes had multiple holes. These were routinely and knowingly exploited. The process itself was translucent and slow. The offending party was expected to withdraw the campaign. By the time even this verdict/ recommendation used to come, the damaged was already done.


ASCI now has frequent meetings and is committed to faster decisions. You can also request fast-tracking of complaint on payment of a fee. You could send an appeal or a complaint digitally. Ads with serious breach of ASCI’s code come under SPI; ‘Suspension Pending Investigation’ (SPI). It mean they will be withdrawn immediately pending decision of Consumer Complaint Council (CCC).


ADDITIONALLY it is essential that few other steps are taken at an industry level:

1- To be really relevant in current scenario, ASCI need to fast track its Radio and Internet projects. May be even cover outdoor.

2- People engaged in the process of campaign creation are educated on the laws governing it. Industry definitely needs to bridge this gap.

3- Government must contemporarize outdated laws. Many of them are really old. Like the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, (1940), Emblems and Names Act, (1950) Drugs and Magic Remedies Act (1954), Copyright Act, (1957), Monopolistic andrestrictive trade practices act (1969), Consumer protection act (1986), Indecent Representation of Women Act, (1986) and Trademarks Act, (1999)


It’s time that we took our business and its impact on the society a lot more seriously. And if we believe in the power of persuasion, our work can deliver, we must ensure that the message is not misleading. We owe that much to ourself.


Read more about ASCI at


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