Out of the 533 ads, 115 advertisements were promptly withdrawn by the advertisers on receipt of communication from ASCI.
During the months of March and April 2020, ASCI investigated complaints against 533 advertisements, of which 115 advertisements were promptly withdrawn by the advertisers on receipt of communication from ASCI. The Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) evaluated remaining 418 advertisements, of which complaints against 377 advertisements were upheld. Of these 377 advertisements, 187 belonged to the healthcare sector, 132 belonged to the education sector, 15 to the food & beverages sector, nine belonged to real estate sector, five to the personal care and the immigration sector each and 24 were from the ‘others’ category.
Around mid-March when Mumbai started its gradual Lockdown, ASCI adapted quickly to navigate through these difficult times. Not only did the team manage to stay the course with minimal disruption; but also launched a drive to act against misleading advertisements claiming prevention or cure against COVID-19. The Ministry of AYUSH sought help from the ASCI team to alert them about such advertisements. The ASCI team picked over 50 such COVID cure advertisements in April, notifying the advertisers to withdraw them forthwith within a week. ASCI closely monitored Digital Media, Social Media handles and web-sites of the advertisers. Over 90 cases of potential violation of the Drugs and Magic Remedies regulations were also flagged to the regulator. During this period, the CCC continued their meetings over video conferencing.
ASCI exercised the “Suspension Pending Investigation” (SPI) option against an extremely offensive advertisement of an online video app. The contents of the advertisement were extremely obscene and vulgar. The advertiser issued an apology and internally banned all similar video content on their platform.
Among various complaints examined by the CCC, complaints against advertisement of a well-known brand was upheld as the depiction of a woman protagonist slapping the male protagonist was considered as normalizing violence.
Complaint against a famous skincare product claiming to provide “HD glow” to the face was considered to be misleading as the advertiser had used image enhancement effects. While the advertisement did not make any reference to “fairness” as a product benefit, the mention of the brand name being a trademark was missing in the advertisement.
ASCI continues to see advertisements featuring celebrities in violation of ASCI’s “Guidelines for Celebrities in Advertising”. Two advertisements of a veteran celebrity couple were considered to be misleading as they suggested that one can consume unrestricted quantities of deep fried food items such as batatavada and samosa and yet not worry about fitness if a particular brand of edible oil is used. The advertisement undermined the importance of regular exercise and healthy lifestyle. A renowned sportswoman endorsed a honey brand that made misleading claim of “No added sugar”. A popular Bollywood actress endorsed a hair oil brand that promised nourishment of almonds in every drop of the oil and 3X vitamin E as compared to unbranded hair oils sold loose in the market.
The CCC observed that many liquor brand advertisements contravened ASCI's Guidelines for Qualification of Brand Extension Product or Service and hence were considered to be surrogate advertisements.
According to Rohit Gupta, Chairman, ASCI, “I am very proud of our ASCI team that has remained accessible and responsive to all stakeholders during this pandemic situation. Our Consumer Complaints Council has been very efficient as we continue to deliberate via video conferencing. We appreciate the cooperation being extended by the complainants as well as the advertisers to ensure self-regulation of advertising content by ensuring time bound compliance.”