Biprorshee Das

'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts

After the Medical Council of India coming down strongly on the Indian Medical Association on the latter's endorsement of food products, afaqs! spoke to experts in the advertising industry about their views on such endorsements.

Recently, Medical Council of India, the constitutional body regulating medical education and practice, came down strongly on the Indian Medical Association for endorsing food products without valid justification and for a fee.

According to media reports, the products in question are PepsiCo's Tropicana fruit juice and Quaker oats, which use the IMA logo on their packs.

'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts
IMA, the national voluntary organisation of Doctors of Modern Scientific System of Medicine, which looks after the interests of doctors as well as the well being of the community at large, has such endorsement contracts with various brands such as Dettol, Pampers, Aquaguard and Odomos, among others.

The IMA is an association with about 200,000 doctors as its members through more than 1,700 local branches spread all over the country, headquartered at New Delhi.

Obviously, a stamp of approval from a body such as the IMA holds weight and the MCI's objections are quite understandable when it finds the body certifying a product without genuine evidence.

Having issued a show cause notice to the IMA, to which MCI did not receive a response, the latter is contemplating initiating action against the organisation.

Talking to afaqs!, Dr. Ranjith Roy Choudhary, board member, MCI, says, "We are not an anti-advertisement body, nor are we an association to protect the consumers' interest. There are other organisations for that. However, when a medical community - a body of 200,000 doctors - is endorsing something without evidence and for a fee, it is unjustified and a violation of the code of conduct. We would be taking due action."

'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts
'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts
'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts
'Certified by a medical association': Poor strategy, say experts
While all attempts to contact the IMA went futile, afaqs! approached a few experts in the advertising industry on their views on such endorsements and the development. The reactions received were not very surprising. However, many of the agencies which handle brands that uses IMA certification in its communication, weren't very forthcoming with their comments.

Kamal Basu, chief executive officer, Saatchi & Saatchi, says, "I am absolutely against such bodies charging a fee for a certification."

Basu cites the example of Saatchi's work for General Mills India's Pillsbury Chakki Fresh Atta, when the branded flour positioned itself as being good for the family's heart - a claim endorsed by the Heart Care Foundation of India. According to Basu, the body was not paid any amount for the endorsement.

He says that while an association may not be very popular, such certification does bring in an element of trust.

In the event of such endorsements being stopped, Basu thinks a way to get around it will soon be found. Herein, he talks of how, after real doctors were banned from appearing in commercials championing products, actors were brought in wearing lab coats to represent doctors.

Anand Halve, director, chlorophyll, is much more vocal against the practice.

"It is critical to understand the nature of the beast. There are several such associations and the general suspicion is that many are merely created by the manufacturers. I am personally against everything that is 'pramanit'," he says.

"There is a great amount of misleading information because people do not understand research. How do you protect consumers from being swayed?" Halve asks.

He reacts strongly to commercials that feature actors as doctors, which, according to him, complete the intent to be fraud by a brand.

"I do believe that research/endorsements are used in an incomplete manner. Anything that stops it, I am in favour of. Since it does not provide full information, it misleads the consumer. If MCI suspects an outfit, I think it needs to be considered," he says.

Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer, Mudra Group thinks a stop on such endorsements will affect newer brands more than the ones that already enjoy a fair share of trust with the consumers.

"For established brands, the certification is just an added thing. People already trust those brands. However, for newer ones, it becomes a hook to hang their hats on," he says.

Pawar adds that the consumer, more often than not, looks beyond such approvals. "Despite that, the practice continues because marketers are averse to change," he says. The view is endorsed by Anil S Nair, chief executive officer and managing partner, Law and Kenneth as well.

"Does it (endorsement) really affect the consumers? It was a novelty years ago. This game has been played long enough for consumers to see through it. It is a lazy strategy and no longer a differentiator. If there is no differentiating factor, there is no leverage value," Nair says.

He supports a ban on such endorsements, saying that it will make marketers think afresh.

"Marketers have to wake up. They have to prove their claim without putting a white coat on somebody or using a logo on their packs. Consumers have moved ahead. Marketers have not," says Nair.

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