Should repeat offenders of ASCI guidelines be debarred from awards & felicitations?

28 Sep,2022




By Sanjeev Kotnala


Sanjeev KotnalaI have repeatedly written about the thankless self-regulation job ASCI has been doing by discussing, suggesting, recommending, and trying to make brands follow the guidelines. I sincerely believe that self-regulation as the name suggest is an individual and organisational call. No moral and ethical policing works.


If one was to analyse the roaster of defaulting brands every quarter, they are a mixed lot. One could understand the fly-by-night operators and small businesses not really following the guidelines. However, the list of repeat offenders has large brands and companies working with well-known advertising agencies. It is tough to presume that these agencies and the brand team are unaware of the guidelines. Hence, when they fail to follow the guidelines, it is natural to assume that the act was voluntary and intentionally exploiting the loopholes for business. The brands were fully aware of ASCI procedures and prepared for the action.


The answer to the question of who is responsible for this situation is simple. It is the brand owners and the agency leadership. Because they have decided to overlook their team’s work. It is a question of attitude, ethics, and morality. A question of the culture that permeates the teams. A business call is made knowing the pros and cons. And, if the seniors in the team turn a blind eye or do not guide the teams on proper systems and operations, no number of guidelines will help. Until those exploiting loopholes or not following the guidelines is no way a black mark on your resume or employability. Till it is seen as intelligent working, no set of guidelines will work. And if the industry keeps celebrating the seniors working on the brands and companies breaking the guidelines, no guideline will work.


Why can’t brands and their teams repeatedly not following the guidelines be debarred from industry awards, individual felicitations, discussions and addressing, and holding a post in industry bodies? Can people reject a candidate knowing they were part of the team called for not following the guidelines? Can the CMOs and the agency heads ensure that every marketing, branding, and communication person is aware of the guidelines for the category they work on? Can an ASCI guideline certification be a minimum requirement for creative and strategic teams? Would it be too much to do?


For self-regulation, you need self-discipline. It is as simple as that. It is just like you deciding to use a seat belt or not while driving, knowing fully well that by not wearing the seat belt, you are not violating a guideline but a law. And moreover, you are risking yourself and no one else. You do not wear it knowing that the traffic police cannot fully monitor it, and people are not shamed for not wearing the seat belt. You decide not to wear the seat belt despite its availability, and wearing it is as simple as clicking it in. You don’t wear it because you think you can get away with it and nothing will happen to you. The same approach is visible in people and organisations not following the ASCI guidelines. They think they can get away with it and lack something as basic as self-discipline.


Checking if the brand is not violating guidelines should not be a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) but a habit. It should happen naturally. And, if it does happen naturally, indeed, after some time, the teams may not even need to check as their internal working will weed out the wrongs. SOP reeks of checks to see we are within the framework and technically cannot be faulted for not following the guidelines. There is no question of exploiting the loopholes when it is a habit. It is not about technical grounds but more about realism and ethicality of action. As naturally as brushing your teeth.


Guidelines keep evolving. Maybe some have lost their relevance. ASCI is always there to discuss and re-evaluate. Remember, all the guidelines have been developed in consultation with Industry experts and after they have been publicly open for discussion and input. The guidelines are not ASCI- the guidelines are of the industry. And by following them, no one does a favour to ASCI. We help the industry stay within the scope of self-regulation without governmental interference.



So, decide, you want to be the smart one who exploited the guidelines under technical loophole. Or you were morally ethically correct to have followed the guideline. It is typically a business call that must be made individually. And it is finally all about – the culture and attitude promoted in the organisation. Think again about what you teach when you turn a blind eye or knowingly violate the guidelines on technical grounds.


ASCI doing its part

ASCI has been upfront and transparent in its dealing and communication, but it needs industry support. As per an ASCI report, It processed 52% more ads in 21-22 compared to 20-21. Digital contributed 29% of all complaints, and Education remained the largest violator of the guidelines followed by Healthcare and Personal Care. And 94% of all ads processed needed some modification. Important point- 21% of complaints originated from consumers, and 7%5 were Suo-moto action by ASCI. Both are good signs. Print and digital led with 47% and 48% of the complaints.

As per ASCI’s sector report 21-22. For example, in the personal care category. There has been a 261% increase in ads, where 69% were informal resolutions not contested, and 31% were upheld. Most ads, 88%, came from digital space, Print contributed 4% and Tv 6% of the contested ads. 371 ads were found violating influencer disclosure guidelines, and 4 ads featuring celebrities were found misleading!


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