The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) marks 25 years of its existence with a seminar on Thursday in Mumbai.
Never has the ASCI been more needed than today and never has there been more need for the ASCI to change the way they function.
In the early nineties, I worked for STAR TV which had a manual on standards and practices which used to flummox advertisers. Ads which they ran on Dooordarshan, for example, would get rejected by STAR TV’s S&P. A notable example was a commercial for Ponds’ Age Defying Complex which was trapped by S&P as they wanted the claims made in the TVC substantiated by third party, independent research. (Incidentally, I was the salesman on this transaction, dealing with R Gowthaman, now managing director, Mindshare India, and the client was Neeraj Chandra, now Britannia’s vice president and chief operating officer).
It was the FIRST Unilever ad being aired on Channel [V], if memory serves me right, and all of us involved were in a tizzy, spending an extraordinary amount of time convincing STAR’s S&P in Hong Kong that, a) the claims were substantiable and, b) it was far too expensive to get independent third party validation of the claim.
All this BEFORE the ad was allowed to be aired. Compare this with the current situation and the ASCI. The ASCI constitution and the regulations make the organisation a reactive, rather than a proactive, body. ASCI receives complaints from members of the public, NGOs and from competing brands and then goes on to decide on the merits of the case.
Unfortunately, by this time, in most erring instances, the damage has been done. An extract from the ASCI site tells the story:
You will appreciate that if an AD is to be reviewed for its likely impact on the sensibilities of individual viewers of TV, or readers of press publications, we require to convey to the Advertiser concerned, the substantial issues raised in the complaint, in the exact context of the specific Ad, as conveyed by the perception of the complainant, and to elicit the appropriate response by way of comments from the Advertiser.
Only then will the CCC, of the ASCI, be in a position to deliberate meaningfully on the issues involved, and to arrive at a fair and objective conclusion, which would stand the scrutiny of all concerned with the right to freedom of expression, and the freedom of consumers to choose the products /services made available to them in the market-place.
For this we require in each case a clearly readable copy or clipping of the Ad under complaint, with full particulars of name and date of publication, or a printout of an Ad or promotion on a Website or in case of a T.V. Commercial, the channel, date and time or programme of airing, and a description of the contents of the TVC, along with a hard copy of the complete complaint preferably signed by the complainant.
This might have been appropriate 25 years ago, when the ASCI was formed. This is certainly found wanting in today’s day and age, as the time lag between complaint and decision could be such that the erring campaign had already run its course.
For the ASCI to be (and I use the word carefully; I do not say stay) relevant, the entire process needs to be crunched. In this day and age of near-instant communications, the complaint could be received on e-mail, a conference call could be set up (video conference, if needed) between the committee members and a decision arrived at within 24 hours of release of an offending piece of communication. This must happen for justice to be done.
Too many advertisers take advantage of the slowness (and consequent toothlessness) of the ASCI and play the game knowing that by the time a decision is arrived at, they’re laughing all the way to the bank.
To expect advertisers to self-regulate is a waste of time. In the current environment of hypercompetition, advertisers will look to gain market-share by means fair and foul and a body such as the ASCI would be of immense support to the lay, unsuspecting consumer. Measurement of readership was once an annual exercise, then a six monthly exercise and now a quarterly exercise. Measurement of viewership was once monthly, now weekly (and daily as aMap delivers). These tasks are far more difficult than the one before the ASCI and there is no reason that I can think of that prevents the ASCI from delivering decisions in 24 hours.
If the ASCI wants to continue celebrating anniversaries, it must reinvent itself. It must remember, as the Bhopal judgement yesterday underlined, that justice delayed is justice denied.