Gimme more. That’s what the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is asking of the central government. What it wants is the status of an “advertising court” where it will have legislative powers. And with the ministries of Information and Broadcasting and Consumer Affairs behind it all the way, this will probably be a matter of just some time.
As it stands, the ASCI is a self-regulatory, ad industry body. It has 240 members that account for two-thirds of all the advertising done in India. Any complaint against an ad being offensive or making false claims is processed. If upheld, the advertiser is asked to withdraw or make amends. While advertisers are not obliged to comply of the 1,011 complaints upheld, 785 have.
The Mumbai Grahak Panchayat, a consumer body, recently used an ASCI ruling to get a favourable ruling in a consumer court against UB McDowell’s No 1. This indicates the status that ASCI enjoys. On its part, it upholds its lack of bias and ensures objectivity by having the biggest lot of members on its complaint adjudication board from civil society as compared to any other self-regulatory body (SRO) like the bar, medical or press council. “Advertising issues need such a body as no statutory regulation can legislate on the soft issues that come up in assessing advertising that is the product of strategic and creative inputs of a large number of people from the agency and the advertiser,” says Bharat Patel, chairman P&G.
In India, there are three legal routes for the consumer — the consumer court for product and service related complaints, the common court and the MRTP court for marketers. It is also felt world over that no judicial system could cope with the issues arising in the matter of administering or regulating advertising.
If so, it would simply delay justice by when the particular ad campaign may be over. An ASCI complaint is typically handled within six to eight weeks.
This is why SROs in developed countries have legislative powers. In many countries, media and marketing companies have to be members and their advertising can be penalised. Non-compliance can mean referral to a higher, governmental body.
Now ASCI is asking for similar legislative powers on the lines of the US-UK-EU model so that it has the claws to penalise a non-compliant offender. It suggests pre-vetting of ads for products or service categories that can cause serious health or financial loss like lotteries, liquor and tobacco.
Such an additional power will bring the Indian system on track with international trends and the consumer can rest assured that his genuine complaint will definitely have to be addressed. And that would be a cause worth advertising about.