Shreyas Kulkarni

An interview with ASCI's new chairman Subhash Kamath

He spoke about the upcoming challenges, ASCI’s push into digital monitoring, and the CCPA, of course.

Subhash Kamat, chief executive officer, BBH & Publicis Worldwide, India, was unanimously elected ASCI’s chairman on 10 September 2020. The vote was held at the board meeting that followed the 34th annual general meeting. He replaced outgoing chairman Rohit Gupta, president, Sony Pictures Network.

We (afaqs!) had a brief chat with him on the challenges he sees coming and the CCPA, of course.

Edited Excerpts:

What do you see as your main challenges?

I think it’s about continuing to improve and to bring in newer initiatives. Given how our industry is constantly evolving, especially digital, which is said to be enjoying 30% overall ad spends, it could well overtake television in the coming years. The COVID situation has also shown how consumer behaviour is changing… People are now consuming entertainment, news, shopping digitally now.

I believe a lot of this will continue and therefore what it means for our industry is that brands creating engagement programs for their consumers and messaging through communication is also changing because of digital.

Keeping all this in mind, ASCI must be evolving along with it so that we have an eye on what is happening on the digital front and ensuring our processes are also evolving, and keeping up with the constant change.

We’ve just done a partnership with TAM where we’re monitoring close to 2,000 websites and platforms. We’ve started with the following categories: Food and Beverages, Health and Hygiene, and education - most complaints came from these three categories last year.

Do you perform general monitoring of digital platforms or are you going deeper to look at says gifs or Instagram stories?

Our mandate is to focus on ads which are paid for by advertisers. We’ve not gotten into content. Yes, the world of advertising and the world of content has started to merge… Should we now start to look at branded content as part of our mandate? Those are issues that will be discussed in due time.

There are so many aspects that are changing in our world right now; celebrities or influencers? Can you treat them both the same? Like celebrities, influencers also have a certain power of influence… is there any accountability? These are newer phenomenons that are different from the earlier advertising scenario. Some of these evolving aspects can become new guidelines or codes we can add to the ASCI chapter.

Going forward, which other sectors do you see receiving more complaints?

The four broad chapters of our ASCI code are very well thought through. One is misleading claims. Second is offensiveness. Third is in the area of risk and fourth is unfair competition… We’re constantly monitoring which aspects of ads are not compliant of these codes. For instance, in the education sector, a lot of companies, schools, and colleges have promised 100% job, you can’t claim that. Those are the areas we come down upon strongly.

There are two pillars to the concept of self-regulation. One is the protection of consumer interest. The second is responsible for advertising and marketing. Our members are extremely compliant to the code because they’ve signed up on their own. I’ve always said that with great creative freedom comes great creative responsibility. Because we’ve powers of influence, it needs to be managed responsibly and they’ve been great; ASCI saw a 98% compliance last year.

There’s a perception that ASCI is losing its teeth and now with the advent of the CCPA... Are you worried?

We’re not worried at all because it’s a good thing that the CCPA has come in today. Their guidelines are very much in sync with ASCI guidelines and there’s no conflict. Both the CCPA and ASCI working towards the same objective: protection of consumer interest and responsible advertising.

Because it’s a government constituted body, they have penalising power, this is not new and is common in many countries across the world. In the US, there’s the Federal Trade Commission, there’s the Office of Fair Trading in the U.K., Australia has the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), all these are government regulators and in each of these countries, along with them are successful self-regulatory organisations.

ASCI’s role is even more important now because CCPA’s guidelines focus on misleading advertisements - one of our chapters. It is about collaboration and we’ve done it before with FSSAI, Ministry of AYUSH, 5-year MOU with the department of consumer affairs, I&B… We’ve always worked in partnership with the government.

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