Sandeep Goyal
Nov 03, 2020

Blog: ASCI on liquor surrogates - too little, too late

The author states that the release shared by ASCI on surrogate advertising is anchored on flimsy claims

A screenshot from a British Empire film featuring CSK players
A screenshot from a British Empire film featuring CSK players
I can justifiably claim full credit for ASCI ‘investigating liquor brand extension advertising during IPL’, if they indeed are. ASCI’s press handout of last evening at least proclaimed so. I have been a lone (lonely would perhaps be a better word to use) crusader in the fight to get liquor companies to desist from hoodwinking the law of the land by putting out advertising under dubious surrogates.
I first wrote to the then chairperson of ASCI pointing out the deliberate circumvention of the law in 2018. The chairperson, as it is, was a representative on the ASCI board from a leading liquor company. The only response from ASCI was silence. Complete silence. My daughter, Carol Goyal, a lawyer by training, then decided to formally lodge complaints with the ASCI against specific ads, following the complete regimen as prescribed by ASCI. The ASCI secretariat ping-ponged the complaints for 5-6 weeks, asking for inane clarifications, till the IPL ended and there was no cause for complaint left to be addressed. The ASCI had successfully delayed and dodged the complaints till the IPL that season had run its full course, and the brands had run their full campaigns without obstructions. ASCI’s complicity in the entire process was apparent; their blessings to the errant brands were obvious. The watchdog had shut its eyes and pretended to be asleep. So how could any complaints really be addressed or any brands really be reined in?
This year, I decided to give the whole issue another shot since the new chairman is a seasoned advertising man. I wrote him an open letter in Campaign. Thankfully, he responded. But the response itself was all about procedures and processes that the ASCI follows; no promise of any action. I was disappointed. I wrote back promptly to the chairman, saying don’t quote process, demonstrate purpose. I specifically asked for Chivas to be made the test case and for an investigation to be conducted. I also mentioned that Royal Stag (selling Mark of Purity), Sterling Reserve (Packaged Water), Blenders Pride (Music CDs) were all very active on the IPL, and SNJ 10000 (beer) and British Empire (beer) logos were appearing on the CSK team jersey. I also drew attention to Absolut and The Glenlivet advertising under frivolous surrogates.  
All that happened thereafter followed predictable patterns and precedents of the past: deafening silence. 
But I am the old world, persevering type. I don’t easily give up. I wrote about ASCI and its deviant ways in my fortnightly column in a pink daily over the weekend. Some stirrings started in government as the column is widely read. And the article went viral. On Monday evening, ASCI quickly put out a press release. The release itself, though is entirely laughable and anchored on flimsy claims that can withstand no scrutiny. 
Let us examine the press statement:
- ASCI has been monitoring possible surrogate advertising and has put in place daily updates on brand extension advertising of alcohol brands.
Oh, is that so? What exactly was ASCI monitoring? The surrogates were running. They were all using exact logos of the liquor brands which is blatantly in contravention of The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Rule 7(2)(viii). What did ASCI do? They just let the media plans of the liquor brands run, without a single spot being missed. That was what ‘monitoring’ by ASCI means. 
What daily updates is ASCI referring to? What were these ‘updates’? Number of spots run by the active blessings of ASCI? Phew!
- Complaints against eight such advertisements which are in potential violation of the ASCI code have been registered over the past one month.
ASCI claims it has written to the advertisers within 24-48 hours of airing of the commercials, seeking a response. What it does not conveniently elaborate upon is what happened thereafter? Did the brands reply? Were the replies in consonance with the Law? In line with the advertising guidelines? How many brands passed the smell test? How many brands were hauled up? How many campaigns were asked to be stopped?
The honest answer to all the questions above is that nothing was done beyond the issuance of notices. The misleading advertising continued unabated. ASCI did the desired window-dressing by perhaps issuing notices, then as usual looked the other way. 
- In-store availability must be at least 10% of that of the leading brand in the category that the product competes, or sales turnover must exceed Rs 5 crore per annum or Rs 1 crore per annum in each state it is distributed in. It must have a valid certificate from an independent organisation for such turnover and distribution data. Advertising for such brand extensions cannot feature what is prohibited by law or banned products.
ASCI’s release acknowledges that all of the above criteria have to be satisfied for a valid surrogate. And no action was taken because Chivas meets all of the requirements listed? Glenlivet has 10% market share of the leader in books? 
ASCI happily keeps quoting the guidelines but never do they shed light on how the guidelines are being enforced. A lot of verbiage to give the impression that lots is being done! While in real life, these are the very clauses that are being willfully circumvented.
- The IPL broadcaster  for TV has confirmed to ASCI that all advertisements are checked for CBFC clearance so that they are not in violation of the Cable TV and Network Act.
Oops! What a fantastic escape! So Star TV now is the source of certification for goodness to the very brands that are enriching it!!!
No one perhaps told the jury at ASCI that the CBFC certification is just one more requirement in the check list; not a license to broadcast. It is the ASCI’s job still to adjudge conformity to the guidelines. The CBFC does not do that.
The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995, Rule 7(2)(viii) clearly prohibits the direct or indirect promotion and advertisement of & cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants and where in the advertisement are not to use particular colors and layout or presentations associated with the prohibited products. All the advertised liquor brands are using their brand logos. That is what the ASCI was supposed to prevent. Not just say that a CBFC certificate exists. What a con!
- We are being extra vigilant because the IPL is one of the biggest marketing platforms …
Oh, is that so? The IPL is nearly over. Not one single brand has been taken off air. So what vigilance are you talking about?!
I rest my case. 
Dr. Sandeep Goyal has been 36 years in the advertising and media business. He has been a member of the ASCI governing board. 
Campaign India

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