Ubaid Zargar

Self-declaration certificate: Industry voices mixed reactions to the new ad mandate by MIB

Experts share their reservations about the practicality of ad declarations, particularly in digital advertising.

The Supreme Court's directive mandating "self-declaration" certificates for all new advertisements has sparked diverse reactions from the advertising and marketing industry. Effective from June 18, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) is introducing a new feature on the Broadcast Seva Portal to streamline the submission of these certificates for TV and radio ads. For print and digital ads, the declarations must be submitted on the Press Council of India's portal.

Advertisers are now required to certify that their advertisements do not contain "misleading claims" and adhere to all relevant regulatory guidelines as part of a mandatory declaration. The new rules also stipulate that agencies must provide "proof of uploading" the certificate to the relevant publisher for record-keeping.

This move, aimed at enhancing accountability and transparency in advertising, follows a year of intensified scrutiny on misleading advertisements. Several major FMCG brands have faced legal challenges, resulting in changes to their communication strategies and packaging. The Supreme Court's criticism of the central and state governments' inadequate monitoring has led to this stringent guideline.

However, the new mandate elicits mixed feelings among industry experts. GD Prasad, founder of the South Indian snacks and coffee startup VS Mani & Co., expresses concerns about the practicality of the directive, particularly for digital advertising.

GD Prasad
GD Prasad

"Prima facie, there is a lot that is unclear here," says Prasad. "It seems very much drafted for the traditional medium, in which case it would make sense. You know when a television or radio campaign is going to go live. The number of creatives is far lesser."

Prasad continues, "But the problem is that every brand is now advertising digitally. Any given performance marketing campaign has hundreds of creatives being tested simultaneously. How many declarations would that be?"

While the process of certificate submission itself is time-consuming, the representative signing the declaration must also include their mobile number, email address, a detailed description of the product or service, the full script of the ad, a link to the audio/visual element or PDF for print ads, and the proposed date of broadcast or publication.

In light of this, the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and the Digital News Publishers Association (DNPA) have requested a meeting with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). In letters sent last month, ISA specifically pointed out that the requirement to upload a self-declaration certificate (SDC) before releasing any TV, print, or digital advertisement on the Broadcast Seva and PCI portals poses a significant challenge due to the high volume of ads. This process could impose a substantial burden on advertisers and agencies, potentially affecting the efficiency and timeliness of advertising campaigns.

"There are social media posts from brands which can be considered ads. Every poster you put out is an ad. So how do you manage to submit declarations for each and every piece of creative you air?" Prasad questions. "It would be better if the declarations were submitted on account of a time period, as opposed to ads. Once a year, a brand submits a declaration for a certain period during which they guarantee not to indulge in any violative acts of advertising."

The guidelines could also impact the way brands leverage moment marketing on social media, as per Prasad.

He adds, "With digital, a lot of the time you want to make the most of a moment or an occasion. Submitting a declaration prior to these spontaneous marketing moments would be counterproductive. The new law isn’t well thought-through, it seems."

Deep Mehta, co-founder of Digichefs, a digital marketing agency, agrees that while the directive's intent is in favour of consumer interests, the implementation method is problematic. "The implementation method is quite archaic and primitive," Mehta states.

Deep Mehta
Deep Mehta

"In an age where we are aiming to automate tasks using AI and reduce human intervention to improve productivity and efficiency in everything including advertising, this move will lead to an unprecedented burden on both the advertiser’s and the ministry’s end," he explains.

Setting an example with a thorough audit of brands and advertising agencies to identify the miscreants is the ideal process the ministry should have resolved to, instead of this move.
Deep Mehta

Mehta also warns of the potential adverse effects on the industry. "The larger objective of not letting another Patanjali fiasco happen at the cost of slowing down the entire execution process with such administrative burden, along with the hassle of aligning all these certificates with every new campaign that gets thought of, will lead to higher resource allocation on non-creative work. This will turn out to be a nightmare for advertisers, especially smaller entities," he says.

He concludes, "Setting an example with a thorough audit of brands and advertising agencies to identify the miscreants is the ideal process the ministry should have resolved to, instead of this move."

Naresh Gupta, co-founder of Bang in the Middle, views the new mandate as a step towards more responsible advertising. He acknowledges that initial resistance is expected but believes the change could lead to positive outcomes.

Naresh Gupta
Naresh Gupta

"We resist everything that is new, so resistance is natural," Gupta states. "With the way we are creating advertising and the kind of claims that are going around, I don't think this is a bad thing."

Clients now have to be sure of what they are claiming, as this is now certified by them, so creative ambiguity will have to be managed.
Naresh Gupta

Gupta discusses the implications for agencies and clients, noting the increased workload and expenditure. "What it will do is increase the work for agencies and creators, and there is a cost that clients will have to pay," he says. "Clients now have to be sure of what they are claiming, as this is now certified by them, so creative ambiguity will have to be managed."

Emphasising the benefit of public accessibility, Gupta highlights the transparency aspect. "As a citizen, the self-declaration is searchable, so the activist can know what is being certified and how it is being claimed. So what I see happen is a little more responsible advertising, but beyond that, I don't see any issue. Only once the process starts will we know what other problems can happen."

As the advertising industry adapts to these new regulations, the impact on the workflow and operations of brands and agencies remains to be seen. While the mandate aims to curb misleading advertising practices, it may necessitate significant adjustments in how advertising campaigns are planned and executed.

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