Communication with a sense of responsibility, creativity with the heart at the right place -- the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Indian advertising's self-regulatory voluntary organisation, leaves no stone unturned to pass the message that it takes responsible advertising very seriously.
While ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) regularly looks into complaints raised by consumers against advertisements that they find objectionable and takes appropriate action, the body has come up with another mass campaign to raise awareness and empower the consumer.
In 2006, ASCI had done a similar campaign, created by Leo Burnett. It was a spoof on the typical ads, which mislead consumers.
Talking to afaqs!, Subhash Kamath, managing partner, BBH India, and ASCI board member, says, "It's a two-pronged strategy this time. We agreed that the campaign cannot be done in isolation and talk only to the consumer. We also need to tell the industry the need for self-regulation, the need for advertising with a conscience."
Roshni Kavina, brand partner, BBH India, says, "We realised that the campaign must be divided into two -- one for the layman who sees the ads, and the other to encourage us to make responsible advertising."
An example of the latter was the initiative at Goafest 2011 -- a two-day event based on the theme 'Creativity with a conscience', wherein young creative people, during the festival, displayed works that they executed around the theme.
It is understood that such large-scale events will be further utilised for the purpose and with similar interactive measures, without coming across as preachy. The digital medium is also being actively used for the same.
Talking more about the consumer campaign, Kavina says, "We tried to keep it as simple as possible so that the consumer understands the message well. This is something we are doing for our industry. We did not want to make it preachy."
According to Kamath, the creative idea used looks as if somebody is presenting an ad script to the consumer. "It is a simple idea wherein we are putting the consumer in the hot seat," says Kamath.
The execution of the films could also be seen as subtly hinting at advertising professionals, which he says is purposely done, although the primary audience remains the consumer.
It has been mentioned and discussed that ASCI must not come across as an organisation that censors creativity.
Saying that not all complaints are upheld and the advertiser taken to task, Kamath says, "What one person may see as progressive and liberated may be offensive to another. ASCI's CCC listens to both sides of the argument (the advertiser and the complainant), and looks at the larger good. It is a fair process."
Campaigning with a Conscience
Advertising professionals think highly of both the creative idea and the campaign. While some still think ASCI has carefully tread the grey areas, others think that the growing awareness would serve both the consumer, as well as the advertiser.
"This is giving the consumer a voice. From that perspective, I think it is very good, empowering and beneficial. It is great in theory, but the practice could get tricky sometime. The extreme end is censorship. ASCI should not get into it. Advertising is bound to be subjective and interpretation led," says Saji Abraham, vice-president, planning, Lowe Lintas.
"At the same time, free markets cannot be left to themselves. There must be a governing body and ASCI is a much better idea than an actual government body," he adds.
Abraham echoes the view held by Kamath when he says that while consumers are being spoken to, means must also be developed to make sure that agencies and advertisers are also bound to the responsibility.
K V Sridhar (Pops), national creative director, Leo Burnett India, is all for the campaign. According to him, such measures keep in check the right balance, and that it is an important thing for both consumers and advertisers.
Commenting further on the creative thought behind the campaign, Pops says it is important to keep it entertaining as the message is passed and doesn't come across as preachy.
"There is a growing awareness about ASCI and responsible advertising. Through a campaign such as this, complaints might rise with more consumers approaching ASCI. At the same time, if the industry gets to do it right, complaints could go down. It works both ways," says Pops.