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ASCI consults with Department of Consumer Affairs on surrogate ads

Discussions were held around rampant surrogate ads of categories such as alcohol, tobacco, and gambling, which are illegal in India.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) collaboratively convened an interactive consultation on February 22, 2024 in Mumbai, focused on industry stakeholders operating in restricted categories such as alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.

The primary objective was to address the pervasive issue of surrogate advertisements and to facilitate discussions on overcoming associated challenges, aiming to establish rigorous adherence to advertising regulations and guidelines within these sectors. Representatives from government bodies, including the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and Trademark Authority, shared their views on how to regulate such surrogate advertisements.

The consultation concludes that there should be a clear distinction between the brand extension and the restricted product or service being advertised:

-the story or visual of the advertisement must depict only the product being advertised and not the prohibited product in any form.

-the ad must not make any direct or indirect reference to prohibited products.

-the ad must not contain any nuances or phrases promoting prohibited products.

-the ad must not use colour, layout, or presentations associated with the prohibited products.

-the ad must not use situations typical for promotion of prohibited products when advertising the other products.

Surrogate advertising remains a concern for restricted categories. In the last three years, ASCI processed complaints against 49 ads for potential violation of ASCI code’s guidelines for qualification of valid brand extension. Among these, 36 ads were alcohol related, 12 ads from betting platforms and 1 Pan Masala ad that potentially violated the guidelines. Alarmingly, 98% of these processed ads required modification to align with regulatory standards. Over the last three years, ASCI has also reported 1085 cases of advertisements that were in direct violation of law to both central and state regulators. 765 of these were illegal betting ads and 320 were direct liquor advertising.

The consultation between DoCA, ASCI, online gaming associations like All India Gaming Federation and E-Gaming Federation, pointed out the immediate need to stop such advertisements. The discussion also focussed on the rampant use of celebrities in the ads of prohibited products which needs to be controlled.

During the discussion, Shri Rohit Kumar Singh, secretary, DoCA, said that “There is a pressing need to halt the proliferation of surrogate ads across industries. If respective prohibited industries fail to adhere to this guideline and comply with existing laws, more stringent actions will be implemented. We are committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders as we navigate through this evolving issue. We look forward to providing all assistance to ASCI in examining this issue and building a comprehensive framework to protect consumers.”

Underlining the critical need for action against surrogate ads, Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general, ASCI, said, " Surrogate advertisements are in breach of the law, as are direct ads in restricted categories. ASCI has been vigilant in processing surrogate advertising, as well as reporting direct advertising to appropriate regulators. Together, we aim to effectively eliminate deceptive advertising practices."

The consultation convened an array of industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and experts to deliberate on effective strategies to deal with surrogate advertising. Key discussions revolved around enhancing transparency, strengthening enforcement mechanisms, and promoting responsible advertising practices.

Recently, ASCI updated its guideline in December 2023, emphasising that advertising spends for legitimate brand extension products must align with the extension’s sales turnover. This measure aims to enhance transparency and accountability in advertising practices.

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