Who’s Afraid of ASCI?

01 Jul,2015


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Normally communication is not given high enough an importance and it’s common to point out that it is just a small part of the whole system. Right. But when it comes to brand image and perception, suddenly all fingers starts pointing at it. In case of an erroneous advertisement called to attention by the media or a consumer, communication and the stakeholders in the process become direct scapegoats. It is a situation that could be avoided with proper planning and sensitising people involved in the process.  Unfortunately, we have a whipping boy ASCI; the designate self-regulatory body – the Advertising Standards Council of India, which keeps low, and no one is afraid of.


There are many things that go against ASCI, including their own processes and lack of willingness to be in focus other than infrequent press reporting in some remote page position. It fails to have an effective impact in brand and consumer life.


The Time Trap or Time Warp. ASCI suffers because of its dependence on processes that were designed for a non-digital, non-instant and highly non-intrusive era. These processes designed to create fairness in hearing of a complaint and the gap between council meetings creates buffer that are more than sufficient for the brand-at-fault to take advantage of.


Though ASCI has been at it and has done wonderful work in streamlining the processes, I submit they have been inadequate. Even an ‘express’ system is not fast enough for current times.


There is a need to have council members who are passionate about ASCI’s role. Have rules that allow council members to consider, remarks and vote from a remote location. Maybe create a larger bank of council members so that not much pressure is exerted on their time and always there are available a set of members that will complete the quorum.  How nice it would be to get a direction and a verdict within 48 hours of complaint submission!


If the brand has willingly strategies to create the ad, that has been produced, the background support should be available at the flick of a button or a click of the pad. Time we did away with that long time given for brands to reply.


The Soft Velvet Touch treatment. No smart Brand manager is afraid of ASCI. When the max penalty for releasing a misguiding advertisement is just withdrawal, it makes life so simple. It’s easy to take advantage of this window between complain and resolution. In fact some brands can even plan the release to increase the window of opportunity.


What needed is to give ASCI the power it deserves. At least the penalties awarded must be complied with before re-evaluation in legal system is entertained.  And during this readdressing of verdict, the default communication must remain caged.


The wish to have ASCI as nodal autonomous body with final verdict may be far-fetched and full of legal loopholes. In current digital era when so much rides on communication, it should not be left to chance.


May be it’s time we went a bit rough on defaulting brands. On first default, the brand should be asked to withdraw the communication. This is also the current practice. For a second default by Brand (even if a different communication), it must be forced to run a corrigendum in same size, duration in three main media. Vehicle used for the misguiding communication. For the third such act, the brand should run a corrigendum and be debarred form advertising in the media where the misguiding communication had appeared.


Meanwhile like DND phone numbers, ASCI should create an easy to access archive of defaulting communication and brands. It must get its member media access and power to deny releasing a defaulting brand communication. May be in addition to the RO, brands must also provide a statement of ownership and confirm that the claims are not objected by ASCI or there exist sufficient data or reports to support the claim.


Media B2B Communication: Something that is very near to the ASCI governing members. And maybe for media B2B communication a directional advice can be given to the brands through remote voting without waiting for defending the brand’s answer.


I would want to see a situation where a brand is prevented from lodging any fresh complaints for a pre-decided time period if the last two complaints by it have not been upheld. Also, a brand against which complaint has been upheld should not be allowed to advertise for some period. I know this will never happen.


Creative Agencies Becoming Mini-Regulators: There is a definite need to sensitise creative and media agencies. They must willingly and as ask their client clarification or detail in case the claims and supports do not match.


There is even a pre-release checking facility at ASCI, where the brands can get an initial non-negative check done wrt the claims and representation. I am not sure how many are aware of and how many have availaed fo the service.


Trust me, the era of taking things for granted is over. The offended brands are not going to remain silent. The common man – the ultimate consumer – now knows his/her rights and is willing to challenge brands on their promises. Social media is acting as a sword with twin edges.  Time to cultivate habit of self-regulation at every possible checkpoint. Time to have sub-regulatory teams in client office, in agencies and in media. Time to be far more transparent and vocal against the offending brands and to give ASCI decisions and progress a wider reach.  Or let us be ready for the alternate, which is a terrifying thought.  A new nodal agency thrust upon this industry. Then we know nothing will remain impossible.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Founder and Head Catalyst at Intradia. A Brand, Marketing and Management Advisor. He conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and Innovation (InNoWait). His focus energy in enhancing client’s internal team’s potential and capabilities. In process decreasing their dependence  on external resources. To contact email sanjeev@intradia.in  or tweet at s_kotnala visit www.intradia.in  www.sanjeevkotnala.com.


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