‘Misconception that regulation and self-regulation compete’

06 Oct,2022



At the board meeting of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) held last week, public relations industry veteran NS Rajan was unanimously elected  Chairman. Rajan, Director, August One Partners LLP, was Founder and Managing Director of Ketchum Sampark. Sampark is an agency that Rajan set up with his wife Bela which was later acquired by the Omnicom group. Rajan was Vice Chair of ASCI over the last two years, and was an active participant of the weekly complaints meetings that the Council conducts for complaints redressal. Excerpts from a quick interview over email.


ASCI has reinvented itself over the last few years. What next for the self-regulator?

ASCI has reinvented itself to keep pace with the nature of the new and emerging advertising ecosystem. Besides upgrading our complaints systems and processes to become more agile and responsive, we have also invested in monitoring technology. As we go ahead, we will strengthen the preventive side of our work to become more robust and mainstream. ASCI Academy through training, outreach, and thought leadership is an important pillar of taking ASCI into the future. I look forward to advancing the agenda of the Council to rapidly increase ASCI’s awareness among consumers so that they engage more readily and in greater numbers, voicing their concerns, anxieties, and questions about what they experience in the form of thousands of ads per day.


Has the ghost of the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) usurping ASCI’s status/role vanished?

It is a common misconception to think that regulation and self-regulation compete. Both these mechanisms are part of the ad regulation ecosystem and, they are complimentary in nature. Self-regulation is the first line of defence that looks at voluntary compliance and education and essentially this is an inexpensive and quick method to resolve issues related to advertising. It comes at no cost to the taxpayer. ASCI has a very robust infrastructure setup to resolve consumer grievances as well as take suo-moto cognisance and action. Across the world, self-regulation and regulation co-exist and work together in complementary ways. When the advertiser refuses to undertake voluntary compliance, ASCI works with regulators to resolve the issue. It is also important to note that the CCPA advertising guidelines and ASCI’s guidelines on misleading ads are very similar. We will continue to work with the government together on this common agenda. It is also pertinent to note that the Consumer Protection Act deals with misleading ads, but the ASCI code also looks at indecent, unfair, and unsafe ads in addition.


How has the prevention offering worked? The pre-approval process that was announced with much fanfare.

We would like to clarify that there is no pre-approval offering. ASCI has s a voluntary due diligence exercise that advertisers or endorsers can avail of. They can seek advice from ASCI at the pre-production stage. Many brands have used this service both for technical and non-technical claims before major campaigns. We also have some companies signing up for an ongoing subscription and this shows that the culture of preventive responsibility is taken seriously. In time, we expect this to become a more mainstream practice. So far, about 30 ads have undergone a pre-production scrutiny at ASCI.


What’s your view on influencer complaints. Are advertisers and influencers gaming the system?

Honesty and transparency are the bedrock for any system that wants to be sustainable. As with any category, there will be a set of people who will always try to game the system and undermine it. However, by and large, we have seen a very positive response around the influencer guidelines and increasing awareness about their responsibility when it comes to promotions. We are also keeping a close watch on this category, and 30% of the complaints that we looked at last year have been from influencer advertising. As influencers become more aware of their responsibilities, we see a more long-term honesty-based orientation. Compliance is at 86% in the first year itself. We will continue our efforts to educate advertisers and influencers as to the importance and benefits of honesty in advertising.


The awareness levels of self-regulation appear pretty low. What are ASCI’s plans for outreach across the trade?

While ASCI’s awareness has seen an increase, it is still lower than desired. Our outreach budgets are low; however, we are happy to note an increase in our interactions with industry, government, domain experts, consumer organisations and other stakeholders. Now, with the soon-to-launch ASCI Academy, we look forward to interacting even more with young industry professionals, students, influencers, endorsers consumers as well as non-industry stakeholders.


Tell us more about the AI-driven engine that ASCI has development for complaints redressal

ASCI has been upgrading its complaints system ‘TARA’ to offer a seamless experience to both consumers and advertisers in the management and resolution of complaints. TARA will offer features like real-time tracking of complaints, dashboard views, automatic updates etc. In the second phase which we are embarking on now, the system will allow for a rich access to its archival data and cases.


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