It is time to redefine and strengthen self-regulation by ASCI?

13 Sep,2017


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Marketers are rushing to court to protect their interest. Somehow, we don’t find that surprising. However, if it continues, government intervention and involvement may end the era of self-regulation.

The game was always on. The wait was to see who will blink first. Everyone is taking sides. The arguments are more based on professional expectations than on personal pointofview. Hopefully, I am wrong on this.

It is between the  favourite boy of Indian marketing – ‘Baba Ramdev’ with the expanding empire of Patanjali brand and banking on large follower base and magic of Ayurveda versus MNC HUL (Baba’s favourite punching bag) and the desi FMCG giant Dabur.

This is one fight where the fighter Patanjali does not endorse the usual watchdog referee ASCI. It refuses to listen to ASCI. In fact, it calls self-regulator ASCI as an MNC conspiracy and questions its credentials.

Result, the three companies are at the High Court door. This does not speak well for ASCI. It is time for ASCI to get more teeth. There has to be a media buyin in dealing with errant regular offenders? The question remains: who will bell a high media spending cat? Does this mean a slow death for self-regulation and time for government involvement?

If things continue in this fashion, then in the kurukshetra of Indian advertising and marketing, there will be no victors. Everyone will be a loser.

The High Court has asked Patanjali to stop airing its Chyawanprash advertisement. Dabur objected that ‘trade dress and packaging- in the advertisements is too similar to Dabur’s, and any illiterate and semi-literate customer can easily be fooled’. Patanjali was also asked to stop airing its bath soap advertisement. HUL found the reference of ‘Filmi Sitaro ke chemical bhare sabun na use karey’  (Don’t use chemical-based soaps of film stars) attacked its legacy brand Lux and ‘Tears badhaye fears’ (Tears increase your fears) attacked Pears. This summer, HUL was in court against Amulicecream given the vegetable fat controversy.

Why are marketers rushing to court? Is it because of slowness of process?  or is it that they find ASCI toothless against a non-member like Patanjali?

Baba Ramdev’s stance and strategy was absolutely clear. A visit to Tier-II and III towns will show you how successful it has been. The effect of Dant Kanti- Charcoal, Neem and namak message is visible. Established brands like Colgate are seen as chemical-based and one which were misleading Indian consumers, questioning their legacy knowledge.

Taking  potshot via comparative advertising is not new. Mostly things were under control as member organisations never questioning the authority and credibility of ASCI.

In case of Patanjali, in past, ASCI has repeatedly objected to its advertisements for unfairly denigrating rival products and misleading communication. However, the result have not  been satisfying.

Patanjali, a fast-growing large FMCG player has kept ASCI at arm’s length and not taken up membership of the self-regulatory body.  It has questioned the authority, capability and credibility of ASCI. It had filed a defamation suit and notice of motion against ASCI (seeking interim relief against the latter) for getting a series of notices on their advertisements from the regulatory body in recent times.

It was rare for the quarterly update of CCC (Consumer Complaint Council) not to have a complaint upheld against Patanjali.  And every time Patanjali ignored or reacted adversely.

Baba Ramdev on record has this to say: “In the last few weeks, we have received 27 notices from ASCI. The issue has also been flagged off in the Parliament session recently. ASCI is an unconstitutional body. The Bombay High Court had, in an order last year, flayed ASCI for its highhandedness despite not being a regulator. The ASCI’s actions are nothing but a collective conspiracy by some multinational companies, who has a great deal of influence on ASCI,”

In another blow, last year, Justice G.S. Patel of the Bombay High Court in his verdict on a plea filed by Teleshop Teleshopping, noted that ASCI wasn’t a statutory body or government regulator, and it did not have powers to restrict any commercial advertisements of the petitioner. So where does it leave self-regulation?

ASCI must get more teeth.  It needs powers that are beyond self-regulation and recommendatory. It needs media to support it and  stop airing and publishing offending ads from  a large media spender. The framework must promote marketers seeking solutions within self-regulation. Or we as an industry be  ready for the days that no one wants.


To fail, Patanjali and Baba need to do something really stupid like 7.5 on a Richter scale. A chink in the armour remains in the area of product quality and consistency. Recently,the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) suspended the sale of a batch of Patanjali Ayurveda’s Amla juice after it “failed” to clear a laboratory test. Maybe MNCs will take this consumer quality route to hit Patanjali. Baba and Patanjali enjoy high credibility among consumers.

All is not good. The consumer also doubts the rags to yoga to ayurveda to riches story, the production capability and the quality assurance from Patanjali. It is not surprising that over drinks, people claim that last yearthe issue with Maggi was a creation of competition launching its own noodles.


Taking shot at competition is not new. Earlier we have had Pespodent Vs Colgate or Complan Vs Horlicks, Microsoft Vs Samsung, Times of India vs Hindu, and you cannot forget ‘Tide se kahin behtar safedi de Rin’ or HUL Clinic Vs P&G Head and Shoulder.

In a recent article on comparative advertising, Prabhakar Mundkur refers to Patanjali and HUL stand-off. I wish to point out that Lux and Pears being an institution does not provide them immunity from comparative advertising or any other marketing attack. He wonders,if anyone in Patanjali knew that when they were attacking Lux and Pears in a single commercial that they were attacking some reputed and venerable brands with a sense of history. And that it was a bit of a marketing sacrilege to have done so!

LOL. Is that possible? In a place where decision-making is highly centralised, and the employees are pushed on an ideology? And comparative advertising need not to be the last resort or hitting below the belt. It has been the central strategy of Patanjali.

I am not here for a debate on comparative advertising. I believe it is a twin-edged sword and can work wonders if handled well. And in this case, it is not merely comparative advertising but a belief and a push for swadeshi, anti-MNC and low-cost-acceptable quality product endorsed and supported by Baba who needs no introduction or propping up, something that no MNC can match.


Disclaimer. I am neither a bhakt or follower of Baba nor an endorser of MNC or other companies. Just an industryperson interested in promoting self-regulation.

You may also want to read. Sept 2017,  Patanjali Plays Dirty in War Against MNCs.  Sept 2017, Patanjali ordered to stop airing Chyawanprash ads. April 2017, Army canteens withdraw Amla juice supplied by Ramdev’s Patanjali. July 2016, Patanjali ads unsubstantiated, misleading: ASCI. Sept 2016, Patanjali Moves Mumbai High Court Against ASCI. Jan 2017. Sept 2016, ASCI says 25 of the 33 Patanjali ads misleading. Sept 2017. Patajali to sue ASCI for defamation. SEPT 15, 2016 Patanjali Looses against DABUR in Honey war . AUG 2016, 10 Reasons Why Patanjali Ads pulled up by ASCI.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a leading management and business strategy consultant. The views here are personal


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