Yash Bhatia
Points of View

Will ASCI’s draft guidelines for the education sector change the narrative of ads aimed at students?

The guidelines aim to do away with ‘stereotypes’ which plague such ads, and send institutes and creative agencies back to the drawing board.

In India, if you get good scores, you’re considered an intelligent student. And, if you don’t, you’re scrutinised. Educational ads have had to ride this wave of stigma to showcase a particular institution/university as a place to get good scores or 100% job placement. 

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) revised its guidelines after witnessing educational ads making misleading claims. The guidelines ensure that the students aren’t stereotyped based on their gender or appearance. Also, if students get low scores, they won’t be portrayed as unsuccessful or ‘failures’.

The guidelines state that ads can’t portray average or poor-scoring students as demotivated, depressed, unhappy, or receiving less appreciation from parents, teachers or peers. 

The guidelines also state that students’ mental and physical health should be prioritised and the ads shouldn’t feature them sacrificing sleep or meals in order to study, as this normalises unhealthy habits. 

The guidelines haven’t come into effect as yet, but the ASCI has invited a public consultation - from March 13 to April 15, 2023. The inputs and feedback can be sent to contact@ascionline.in.

Last year, the ASCI came out with a report that mentioned the education sector as one of the top violaters. It contributed 27% of the complaints, of which 22% belonged to the classic education category, while 5% was from the edtech sector. 

In its earlier report for FY21-22, the ASCI said that education companies made up 33% of all complaints by consumers. The recent EdNext study conducted by the ASCI, revealed that 49% of parents chose edtech platforms based on ads.

Ads in the education sector usually showcase that enrolling in a particular university/college will guarantee good marks or a high-paying placement. These false claims sometimes trap the students and their parents. 

afaqs! spoke to three experts about what they think about these guidelines, and how they will impact creative agencies.

Rohit Malkani, national creative director, L&K Saatchi & Saatchi

The intent of these guidelines, is bang on. The education a student receives, will decide tomorrow’s future, and no false information should be given on this front.  Unfortunately, many educational institutions are making this their business. 

My only concern is that some of the amendments are micro-managed. The ASCI guidelines mention that the ads addressed to children shouldn’t contain anything, whether in illustration or otherwise, which may result in physical, mental or moral harm, or exploits their vulnerability. 

Will ASCI’s draft guidelines for the education sector change the narrative of ads aimed at students?

This is open to interpretation and is subjective in nature. For one student, it could cause mental harm, but not for others. It’s difficult to draw lines on this. 

The institutions and creative agencies have to become more responsible with their messages. The guidelines are a positive step for the industry. The educational institutions have to become more responsible.

Other than this, one of the ways that ASCI could do is by conducting workshops with agencies that manage the creative part creative part of educational institution and make them understand about positives and sensitize them to a larger moral ground with an optimistic positive approach.

Abhik Santara, director & CEO ^ a t o m, founding partner @ by The Network

In my locality, there are hoardings of at least three institutes claiming that they’ve delivered 100% (result) in JEE/NEET. Then, there are two edtech platforms that are promising 100% job placements. 

The ASCI amendments will in no way take away the role of institutes and their contribution to education. It will only help gullible parents and students to not get misled by false information. 

Will ASCI’s draft guidelines for the education sector change the narrative of ads aimed at students?

I think some of the execution dictates in the guidelines are a bit vague (especially the points on stereotyping), and can be contested easily. 

I don’t believe these guidelines will impact the spending of various institutions, as the education sector is the third-largest spender. It’s a recession-proof industry. They have to just pivot their communication angles a little bit.

Jay Morzaria, creative director, OktoBuzz

With these guidelines, the creativity won’t get affected in any way. The educational platforms will now become mindful, while making claims. 

In the recent past, we’ve noticed edtech platforms making unreasonable claims to attract attention. A leading edtech firm claims that if you enroll with it, you will get good results. The communication has to be changed. 

Will ASCI’s draft guidelines for the education sector change the narrative of ads aimed at students?

The problem is that in India, the laws aren’t taken too seriously. Various organisations usually break the law and end up paying fines, that’s it.   

I’m happy that the mental health of the students is now being taken into consideration, which wasn’t the case earlier. 

The guidelines will force institutes to be creative and talk beyond job placements, etc. It will be determined by the institution's side, as they want creativity to be unleashed or they would proceed by cutting the ad spends altogether. And this decision will depend on how authentic their institution is.

Image credit: Reddit

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