The unsubstantiated claims that are punishable include '99.9% germ kill', 'immunity boosting', 'virus killing', and 'protects from COVID-19'.
The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has issued an advisory to remind the advertisers that making unsubstantiated COVID-related claims in advertisements is a punishable offence.
The advisory pulls up the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, which came into effect from July 24, 2020 to regulate matters related to the violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and false or misleading advertisements.
The notice adds that since 2020, the consumers have been grappling with a global crisis situation due to the CQVID pandemic. In such uncertainties, they are looking for any means that assure immunity from the diseases.
"Prima facie, it appears that false claims are made to mislead the consumers for promotion of their product by taking advantage of the ongoing pandemic situation in the country," said the notice. The punishment for the violators could be imprisonment, which may extend to two years, with a fine, which may extend to Rs 10 lakh.
The advisory is a way of taking note of different products that are unrelated to health and wellness, yet claim to protect against the Coronavirus. Last year, we saw ads for anti-viral shirts, anti-bacterial paint, virus-killing plywood, germ-killing fruit and vegetable wash, anti-bacterial mattresses, and immunity-boosting ice cream and haldi milk.
Prabhakar Mundkur, a former adman and now a brand strategy consultant, opines that in today's times, the consumers are more likely to be interested in propositions, such as 99.9% germ kill, that may prompt them to pick up a product.
Talking about brand trust, he calls the phenomenon a fairly nebulous one. "I see some Indian surveys, of most trusted brands. But if you ask me, trusting a particular product such as, say, a toothpaste is not top of mind for me, it's just something that comes in my monthly grocery basket without thinking. Brands will have to be more careful about building trust with these bodies that are on the lookout now."
KV Sreedhar, a veteran adman, points out that in the past, advertising was based on selling by making claims to attract the consumers. "Today, brands need to be aware of the new reality of the world they're advertising in. They need to be more responsible of factors such as scientific accuracy, gender equality, and so on."
Sreedhar adds that these days, the consumers have heightened awareness, thanks to Internet access. "Now, users can check on the individual ingredients in those products on Google, and can also compare two competing brands. That's why brands make certain claims, in a bid to gain an edge over their competitors," says 'Pops' (as he's more fondly known as).
He emphasises that all comparative advertising is factual right now, and people are looking for ways to show that their products deliver results.