As Santosh Desai points out, the ministry’s ban on Coronil ads doesn’t matter now because Baba Ramdev has already got loads of free publicity.
On June 23, 2020, Baba Ramdev claimed in a press conference that his consumer goods company Patanjali had developed the first-ever Ayurvedic medicine for COVID-19. The yoga guru turned entrepreneur said this medicine called 'Coronil' had a 100 per cent recovery rate within seven days and a 0 per cent death rate.
News and social media channels were abuzz with the news right after the announcement.
Soon enough, the Ministry of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) released a press release and said, "... has taken cognizance of the news being recently flashed in the media about Ayurvedic medicines developed for treatment of COVID-19 by Patanjali Ayurved Ltd, Haridwar (Uttrakhand). Facts of the claim and details of the stated scientific study are not known to the Ministry."
The Ministry has also asked Patanjali to provide details such as the name and composition of the medicines being claimed for COVID treatment; site(s)/hospital(s), where the research study was conducted for COVID-19; protocol, sample size, Institutional Ethics Committee clearance, CTRI registration and the results data of the study.
Until then, the company is prohibited from advertising/publicising the product.
While ASCI regularly reprimands brands for misleading advertising communication, to see a central government ministry to prohibit a brand to advertise its product is uncommon.
We spoke to a couple of industry leaders to understand their views on this matter.
Santosh Desai, MD and CEO Futurebrands India
There is a bigger story to speak about here. It is that Patanjali managed to make that announcement in the first place and publicise it on social media. Baba Ramdev was on every primetime channel when the announcement was made, getting as much free publicity as possible.
In a situation like this when we are desperate for any good news, Baba Ramdev presented something that anybody can use. It is a different side of the story that it is untested work. People are now going to want to give it a shot. That fulfils Patanjali’s objective, doesn’t matter if it would work or not.
One does know that it hasn’t gone through all the needed approvals that it should. But even if it works a little, Patanjali’s purpose is served.
The fact that the ministry has asked them to stop advertising doesn’t matter that much now because they shouldn’t have been allowed to advertise in the first place. A large part of India is now aware that there is a possible cure and it doesn’t cost that much money. So whatever publicity they have managed so far, is a big boost for them. That puts the brand in a better position than it was in before all this started.
Rohit Ohri, Group Chairman and CEO, FCB India
I think the government has done absolutely the right thing.
At this point, people are highly vulnerable and they are anxious for a solution to this problem. They're looking for vaccines or other home remedies and stuff like that and brands which prey on these anxieties are opportunistic and should be slammed if they don't have the regulatory approval on this. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared COVID a pandemic.
The unfortunate thing is that people have faith in Baba Ramdev and many people in this blind faith don't use logic. As a result, it's a wrong use of the faith. I think it's really sad that somebody should prey on the anxieties of consumers. Everybody is super anxious at this time and trying in their own way to boost immunity, to maintain social distancing... At this time, brands need to be honest and come forth and be helpful with accurate information because there's so much inaccurate information that is floating around and people don't know what to trust and what not to trust.
During these times, people, very often, lean on a guru like Baba Ramdev to show them the way and if he's showing them the wrong way, he must be punished.