The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has announced that the ASCI code does not permit use of celebrities in advertisements of products, which by law require health warning on its pack or cannot be purchased or used by minors. Complaints against such advertisements have been received by ASCI and are being looked into, the self-regulatory body for advertising has said, adding that it will now approach concerned advertisers to 'take necessary corrective action post decision by our Consumer Complaints Council'.
The contention is that while advertising for the category is allowed by law, ads featuring celebrities could influence minors. It has appealed to celebrities to not appear in ads of brands in such categories.
Speaking with Campaign India, Shweta Purandare, secretary general, ASCI, explained, "We have four chapters in our code. The first promotes truthful advertising, the second is for decent advertising, the third for overall intent (which this falls under) and fourth is about fairness in competition. This deals with overall intent. Advertisements should be done in a responsible manner not to promote unsafe products or practices. If a product has any caution statements or health warnings, it's not safe for consumption. Celebrities could influence minors as they're exposed to such advertisements. Keeping this in mind, we've passed this code."
She added, "Whether a product can be advertised or not, is for the government to decide. Pan Masalas are allowed to advertise. We set the codes, and we feel celebrities can influence minors."
When asked how ASCI will treat mouth fresheners, if sold under the same brand of pan masala, Purandare said, "The FSSAI (Food Standards and Safety Authority of India) decides whether a product is safe or not. Supari comes under unsafe category. For any other category, be it mouth fresheners, or something else, it depends on the kind of ingredients, which make it safe or unsafe."
We questioned the ASCI official on liquor brands advertising their brand extensions, using celebrities. These range from music CDs to sodas, indirectly promoting liquor brands.
Purandare said, "It's an interesting point. So far it hasn't come up, but might be addressed soon."
Most adlanders Campaign India spoke with did not agree with the idea of disallowing celebrity endorsements, when advertising for the category is allowed by law.
Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director for Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia, dismissed the idea outright, contending that if advertising is allowed, it should be left to the brand to decide how it advertises (or who should appear in the ad).
Bobby Pawar, MD and CCO, Publicis Worldwide South Asia, and Dhunji Wadia, president, Rediffusion Y&R Group, concurred with the view.
Pawar said, "Brands that are allowed to advertise should be allowed to advertise fully. If you think it's a vice and it's bad, don't let them advertise at all and take the harder call. I'm for freedom of all kinds and let people be responsible."
Wadia posed two questions to the authorities. "If it's legal to make and sell a product, then why be harsh about its promotion? And if the brand can be promoted, then why knock out celebrities? In the case of alcoholic beverages they are not allowed to advertise, so there are no ads. If the production of brand extensions is allowed then why stop their promotion?" countered Wadia.
Anirban Das Blah, founder and managing director, Kwan, labelled the ASCI move as 'a half-baked solution'. "It does cause cancer and other harm, so it's a valid call. But then, why pick on the celebrities? They should stop letting pan masalas advertise totally. And then comes the situation of some top models, who are also celebrities. So how do you define that?"
There are voices in adland that point to the larger picture, too. Josy Paul, chairman and CCO, BBDO India, said, "The issue is more than just about ASCI and celebrities in pan masala ads. It really is about being the right role model for the world. Celebrities are role models for millions and millions of people. Everything they do influences the current generation. It’s about their conscience. It is their value system and noble purpose that we are discussing here. Which is why, in the movie SpiderMan, Uncle Ben tells Ben Parker,"With great power comes great responsibility."
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