afaqs!

Can Patanjali compel advertisers to re-look the authority of the ASCI?

By Anirban Roy Choudhury and Suraj Ramnath , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Advertising | July 14, 2016
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Some industry experts are of the opinion that Patanjali should become part of the ASCI.

Recently, when the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a self-regulatory body that propagates responsible advertising, upheld consumer complaints against Patanjali's ads, who thought the very nature of the industry body would come under the scanner? This has happened because Patanjali is, reportedly, considering taking legal action against the ASCI.

Says a senior member of ASCI to afaqs!, "There is no controversy as far as the ASCI is concerned... We have not received any legal notices yet. Once we do, the committee will decide what to do."

Can Patanjali compel advertisers to re-look the authority of the ASCI?

Even so, it's worth wondering whether a matter like this can pose a threat to the very existence of the ASCI, or at the very least, force us to re-look the way we define 'regulatory' body.

The ASCI works as the executive arm of the Department of Consumer Affairs. "Our direct affiliation with the government gives us more credibility and puts pressure on advertisers," said the then spokesperson of the ASCI in a 2015 cover story in afaqs!.

As reported in the same story, around 99 per cent of the ASCI's funding comes from its steadily growing bunch of member companies, including marketing companies, advertising agencies, and consulting companies, in the form of an annual membership subscription fee. A lot of these companies market products that compete with Patanjali in the market.

If Patanjali cries foul loud enough, will it compel advertisers to re-look at the authority of the ASCI? We asked a few branding and legal experts.

Edited excerpts.

Nagesh Alai, advertising professional with a background in finance and law, who has been part of many industry bodies, including the ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council

Nagesh Alai

I don't think so. The ASCI has been around for over 20 years and has got enough backing from the government for the work it has been doing. Just because somebody is going to take the ASCI to court does not threaten its fundamental existence.

The ASCI, on an ongoing basis, has been responding to complaints. There is a fair mix of people from the industry, whether it is the client, the agency, or the media... or even the civil society. There are detailed discussions before the decision is taken. There are going to be people who are not happy with the decision, people who say, "We are going to take you to court."

Everybody has the freedom to go to court, but that by itself, will not threaten the relevance or existence of the ASCI. There have been cases like these in the past; everything will be sorted out.

M G Parameswaran, author and brand consultant

M G Parameswaran

No, not at all, since all large Indian and multi-national companies are members of the ASCI. It is a self-regulatory body and the members decide the code for automobile, pharmaceutical, and other products. It is a self-prescribed code and they (the members) are abiding by it. For Patanjali to do this is a bit shocking. Ideally, I would have liked Patanjali to become a member of the ASCI first, get involved in the discussions that happen in the ASCI, and then work from within the ASCI's framework.

If Patanjali is saying some product cures diabetes and hypertension, where is the proof to qualify such a claim?

Recently, the FSSAI (Food Safety Standards Authority of India) signed an agreement with the ASCI.

Patanjali has painted the ASCI as an MNC lobby. That's not what it is. It has membership from small and large Indian companies.

This is an interesting challenge for the ASCI. It has to make sure that whenever it upholds a complaint, it has lawyers and subject matter experts to present their opinions.

Vicky Shah, advocate

Vicky Shah

As a company, if the ASCI is hampering my marketing or business, then I have every right to object and file a suit against it. If the ASCI is a self-regulatory body, is it approved by the Government of India? The question will be asked right there. There is a difference between 'supported by the government', and 'the government having a stake in it'..., or being 'government approved'.

Anybody can become a regulatory body and say whatever. That's not wrong unless there is a violation of fundamental principles... only then will the law come in. In this case, Patanjali, as a company, has full rights to file a case against the ASCI. If Patanjali gets its facts right and is able to justify the purpose of the complaint in the court, then the team has a good chance.

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