On 3 February 2014, the Central Consumer Protection Council under the Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs convened in Kochi. It decided to set up a sub-committee to address false claims made by advertisers. Ironically, this comes at a time when the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has been at its most active ever, even monitoring ads across mediums proactively.
Also under scrutiny are celebrity endorsers and how brands should deal with them. Should they be liable for claims a brand they endorse makes, and would that be fair? If the Ministry of Consumer Affairs has its way, the false claims made by brands using celebrities are bound to drop.
While ASCI may work effectively to pull out ads that make false claims, the Government move could give the consumer the legal option to sue marketers on the basis of the false claims made, reason consumer activists.
Campaign India asked adlanders what they made of the Government intervention.
MG Parameswaran of Draftfcb-Ulka views it as an unnecessary move, one that would add to an already overburdened legal system in the country. He said, “The industry already has a fairly strong self regulatory body - ASCI. Over the last two years, ASCI has increased the speed at which it responds, and expanded the scope of its Consumer Complaints Council. I feel the legal system is anyways tied up with four million cases. So why do they want to add cases to that instead of clearing the back log? This will overburden the legal system. The Government should do whatever it can to strengthen the ASCI rather than open up more and more laws and rules.”
Diwan Arun Nanda, CMD, Rediffusion Y&R, believes that despite self regulation, the advertising industry was not doing enough to protect consumers from false claims. He reasoned, “The advertising industry should have self regulated itself far stronger than it seems to be doing at this point of time. Outside influences come up and want to take up your turf if you are not regulating yourself in the manner you should. So this I believe is a call to advertising agency business as a group to say that we have teeth and we have got to enforce self regulation as tightly as we should. The question is - are we really doing that?”
Prasoon Joshi, chairman, CEO and chief creative officer, India and South Asia, McCann Worldgroup, points out that that even though the industry as a whole is accountable, there are certain loopholes which people take advantage of. He explained, “I think advertisers and the industry are always accountable and especially when it comes to communication they are extra careful about the claims and they substantiate them very well. But there have been loopholes somewhere and people have not been careful, so this move would help.”
Should celebrities be liable for brands’ claims?
The recommendation of holding celebrities liable for the brand’s claims is being unfair to the celebrities, notes KV Sridhar, chief creative officer, India sub-continent, Leo Burnett.
He said, “Celebrities believe whatever the R&D or the product manager of the brand says. They check the necessary regulations and Government certifications, and hence, have no problem in making the claims. They have no idea what the brands are doing in the labs and what they are manufacturing. And so they get into a very bad spot if somebody is to sue them then they will have to go fight them in the court.”
Amer Jaleel, NCD, Lowe Lintas and Partners, concurs that the onus always lies on the marketer and not the celebrity. He explained, “I think it should be the responsibility of the marketing company and the brand about what claims they are making. This move will be a good check for the marketing companies or manufacturing companies who exaggerate the claim to a certain extent.”
They don’t complain; will they sue?
It remains to be seen whether the recommendations of the Central Consumer Protection Council will be implemented in the near future.
Currently, a very small number of consumers register complaints, points out Parameswaran. He questions if it is practical to expect them to take legal recourse.
“Which consumer has the time and energy to file a legal case? Today, consumers don’t even write a complaint to ASCI. According to rules, any consumer can write to the ASCI to complain and ASCI will call the brand for an explanation. Are they getting millions of letters? No, they are not getting enough complaints. Despite carrying advertisements to the consumers that if they have a problem they can contact ASCI, people do not complain,” he surmised.