Advertisers beware, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has launched a new initiative, Suspension Pending Investigation (SPI). Under this an advertiser can be compelled to immediately withdraw an ad that is perceived to breach the code until the Consumer Complaint Council (CCC) takes a final decision on it. The initiative, an amendment of its articles of association, cracks the whip on gravely obscene, indecent, vulgar ads which are not in public interest. SPI can be taken up on a suo moto basis, where an ad will be stopped from being displayed or telecast within the same day it appears.
According to an ASCI official, the amendment was instigated by the 18 Again ad, which described how the gel can tighten and rejuvenate the vagina. "It caused a great furore and ASCI board members had to contact newspapers and television channels to stop showing the ad. It was stopped within an hour. To prevent a recurrence of something like this, we decided to amend the Code," says the official. Tools like SPI exist in some other countries, notably the UK.
The new article on "Suspension Pending Investigation" reads, "In exceptional circumstances, when it appears prima facie that an advertisement is in serious breach of the Code and its continued transmission on/ through/ by any medium causes or has the effect of causing public harm and/or injury or its continuation is against public interest, then ASCI would, pending investigation and decision by CCC, forthwith require the advertiser/ the advertising agency/ the media buying agency and the media concerned to immediately suspend the release of advertisement."
Arvind Sharma, chairman, ASCI, says, "Suspension Pending Investing is an important landmark for ASCI. It will ensure immediate action against advertisements that are clearly seen as against public interest. This initiative will go a long way in getting seriously offending ads removed immediately before they cause any damage to the consumers and society in general."
In its recently released report of January, 2013, ASCI's CCC upheld 99 out of 108 complaints. Even the the CCC meetings, which were held every month, have become bi-monthly, thereby bringing down the average complaint adjudication time from 45 days to 30 days. It has also set up Fast Track Complaint Redressal process that decides on intra-industry complaints in a week.