Aishwarya Ramesh

NS Rajan and Manisha Kapoor talk about advertising standards, prevention and digital advertising

A chat with the newly appointed ASCI chairman and the current CEO respectively.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently announced the appointment of NS Rajan as its new chairman. Rajan is currently the director at August One Partners, and was the founder and managing director of PR company Ketchum Sampark. He takes over the position of chairman from Subhash Kamath, former CEO of BBH India and Publicis Worldwide.

Last year, when Kamath was re-appointed as chairman, Rajan was vice president. As he takes over Kamath’s post, he says that prevention will be a strong point of focus for the organisation, going forward.

"We want to create an ecosystem where advertisers and creators take compliance and responsibility as seriously as they take creativity. When a creative works so hard on an ad, it can be demotivating to take it down and can reflect badly on the brand's reputation too. We would rather minimise the incidences of objectionable ads by familiarising the industry with our guidelines and regulations," says Rajan.

He mentions that the ASCI will engage with the industry. "As of 2021, the advertising industry reached the size of roughly Rs 70,000 crore and it has grown at a rate of 18% since then. The digital advertising industry is one-third the size of this - valued at Rs 21,000 crore, but it's growing at a rate of 35% per year," explains Rajan.

He adds that in the west, advertising has become largely digital, and India is quickly warming up to this trend. "On an average, a consumer sees 6,010 ads per day, thanks to digital advertising. There's a new breed of advertisers who have come in - D2C brands and entrepreneurs, whose approach to advertising is very different, when it comes to brand-building," he says.

Manisha Kapoor, CEO of ASCI, says that there are a lot of new product categories that have also come up, namely cryptocurrency, gaming, etc., leading to an increase in digital advertising. She says that when it comes to these categories - there are overlaps too sometimes, and this can make it challenging to regulate these ads. Some of the category overlaps may include a gaming platform offering a bitcoin as a prize.

According to Kapoor, a new focus area for ASCI is technology; more specifically a phenomenon called 'dark patterns'. Kapoor says that there are many types of dark patterns right now - some related to advertising and the others related to UI/UX experience on websites and apps.

"Think of times when you've been trying to exit a page and you're trying to press the 'X' symbol to close it, but instead of closing it, it takes you to a page from which you can install the advertised app. That's one example of dark pattern," she explains. She adds that at other instances, dark patterns might force a user to share data without their consent or pay extra charges on transactions because of a manipulative user interface.

Kapoor says that 8-10 years back, there was some familiarity with advertisers, since they mainly focussed on TV advertising and it was mainstream traditional brands trying to make their presence felt. Now, a lot of entrepreneurs and small brands use Instagram to advertise, and the challenge is to imbue the idea of responsible advertising to them.

She adds that communicating constantly with the stakeholders in the digital marketing industry, and having members from Facebook and Meta on the ASCI board, helps regulators keep up with the pace of the advertising industry today.

“Close to 29% of the complaints we received last year, were based on the content created by influencers. We are able to monitor their ads and help bring about tangible change,” mentions Kapoor.

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