Can ASCI Play A Role In Review of Surrogate Advertising?

21 Sep,2020

 

By Indrani Sen

 

In the week before the last, the Consumer Affairs Ministry had issued a draft of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Necessary Due Diligence for Endorsement of Advertisements) Guidelines, 2020 requesting people to submit their comments and suggestions on the guidelines by September 18, 2020. As per industry estimates based on TAM Adex data, the size of total surrogate advertising in India is around Rs 700-800 crore per annum with 70% share of TV in the pie. The new draft guidelines, if enforced with immediate effect, may affect the post lockdown financial recovery of TV channels.

Along with guidelines for endorsements, definitions for valid advertising, new rules for advertisements targeting children etc., the new guidelines clearly prohibit surrogate advertising — the practice of promoting banned products like liquor and tobacco by promoting another product under the umbrella of ‘Brand Extension’ unless the promotion of the said product advertised under the same brand name can be substantiated with certain proofs of its legitimacy. The legitimacy would be judged based on (a) if the new product is produced, distributed and sold in ‘reasonable quantities’ having regard to the scale of the advertising campaign in question, the media used, and the markets targeted and (b) do not have any direct or indirect indication of a banned product. While the guide lines do not give definition of ‘reasonable quantities’, the same allow for some concessions like advertisements wouldn’t be disqualified just for using similar branding of a banned product.

The revised guideline issued by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting  last week, under rule number 7(2)(vih)(A) of Advertising Code in the Cable Television Network Rule 1994,  notifies that all such TV commercials  falling under the ‘Brand Extension’ of  banned products like cigarettes,  other tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor etc. will have to be first previewed by Central Board of Film Certification and certified as fit for consumption before any TV channel can broadcast the same. It is not very clear from the advisory if the legitimacy of the product will also be reviewed by the CBFC or if that would be done separately by the MIB before the advertiser invests in the production of the TV commercial. Traditionally, the Chairman and members of the CBFC are from the film and entertainment industry. The CEOs are usually selected from bureaucrats like Ravinder Bhakar, a 1999 batch officer of Indian Railway Stores Service (IRSS), who has taken over as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Central Board of Films Certification (CBFC) from March 2020.

Can ASCI play an active role in this entire new process of decision making on surrogate advertising?  They would be in a far better position to judge the legitimacy of the product than the MIB or CBFC.       ASCI’s role has been acclaimed by various Government bodies including The Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Ministry of AYUSH as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). In January 2017, the Supreme Court of India in its judgement affirmed and recognized the self-regulatory mechanism as an effective pre-emptive step to statutory provisions in the sphere of advertising content regulation for TV and Radio in India.

I read a research paper ‘Surrogate Advertising or Brand Extension Advertising: A Need for Strict Norms’ authored by Prof. Neha Bansal in International Journal of Marketing & Financial Management, Vol. 2, Issue 1, Jan-Feb-2014 ISSN: 2348 –3954. Prof. Bansal presented in her paper a six point formula for developing and implementing strict norms:

1. Developing an explicit plan of action.

2. Code to differentiate between acceptable advertising from unacceptable advertising.

3. Translucent laws for banning such kind surrogate promotion.

4. More powers in hands of ASCI.

5. Increase consumer awareness.

6. Strict actions against those involved to set lesson for future wrong doers.

 

The Consumer Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting have taken steps in the right direction except involving ASCI in the process. ASCI can also explain to the ministry the need for having a two step approval process, first getting the legitimacy of the brand extension approved and then applying for the approval of the TV commercial to avoid the financial loss of investing in a TVC and then getting stuck at the approval stage on the legitimacy issues. ASCI can also  advise the government regarding the paper work needed for establishing the legitimacy of the products  as ‘non-surrogate’ and as genuine brand extension. We can only hope that good sense will prevail in the implementation of the new rules drafted by the government and adequate notice would be given to the industry for changing their advertising campaigns as per the new guidelines.

 

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