Thanks, so much for the letter that appeared here on 12 October, 2020.
Indeed, the issues you have raised – surrogate advertising, especially by alcohol brands – is an important one and merits a close look. ASCI have, in fact, done a lot of work on this front.
The ASCI code is clear on this:
“Advertisements for products whose advertising is prohibited or restricted by law or by this code must not circumvent such restrictions by purporting to be advertisements for other products, the advertising of which is not prohibited or restricted by law or this code.”
ASCI has very clearly laid down rules on what constitutes a genuine line extension of a brand vs surrogate for liquor. In assessing any advertisement on the issue of surrogacy, the advertiser is required to furbish evidence of in-store availability, market share, product registration, sales data etc, as evidence that it is a genuine line extension.
Under these guidelines, ASCI process such complaints for all non-TV advertisements. We have processed 28 complaints against such advertisements at ASCI in the last few years, 21 of which were complied with by the advertisers, and seven were escalated to sector regulators for non-compliance.
When it comes to TV advertising on the issue of “surrogacy” the CBFC is the certifying body as per the advisory issued by the MIB.
Specifically, the TV ads you have pointed out come under Cable TV Act rules. There is a clear process on how line extension product ads are to be approved. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting recently sent advisory in this regard specifying that the ads need Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) approval. It echoed the code above by prohibiting direct and indirect advertisements of tobacco products, alcohol and other intoxicants. Only ads of genuine products sharing logos of such brands are permitted, subject to the CBFC approval.
If there is a complaint against such an ad, ASCI ask the advertiser for CBFC certificate. If a valid one is produced, then the ad meets the provisions of Cable TV Act and no action is taken against it. If not, we forward the complaint to the ministry for action. This is the process the law specifies, and we are duty-bound to follow it. Since 2013, we have referred 51 such cases to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
In the case of non-TV media, ASCI process the complaint as per its code and guidelines.
And apart from the issue of ‘surrogates’, all other chapters of the ASCI code (misleading claims, offensiveness, unfairness in competition etc.) come into play, if the complaints received are specifically about those.
We have advertising veterans like you and common consumers to thank for consistently pointing out such ads. While we take suo motu cognisance of many such advertisements through our National Advertising Monitoring Service, we invite consumers to register complaints against ads that they feel violate norms. This is easily done online, via email, WhatsApp, telephone calls and even post. They will find the details here.
Once again, Sandeep, thank you for your letter.
We assure you, the advertising industry and consumers of our vigilance and support always.
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Rao is currently CEO of dentsuMB Group India