Ananya Pathak

Meet ASCI’s new secretary-general Manisha Kapoor…

She talks about how complaints are processed at the Advertising Standards Council of India, and her experience in the industry.

September 1, 2020 (today) is the first day of Manisha Kapoor in her new office. She is now the secretary-general of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the self-regulatory voluntary organisation of the country’s ad industry.

“Basically, the new role requires me to take over (the running of) ASCI,” is how Kapoor described her new position to afaqs! minutes after the organisation announced her appointment yesterday.

Apart from overseeing ASCI’s core job of looking into consumer complaints, she will also be handling public relations and social media initiatives. She goes on to elaborate that this would include interactions and monitoring relations with advertisers, consumers, and the government.

“Additionally, I will be a part of ASCI’s journey into the future. How can we make the organisation bigger and better, how do we make it more potent and sensitive to the needs of all stakeholders, the advertisers and consumers, I’ll be overseeing that as well,” says Kapoor.

Although ASCI has completely moved to work from home module in light of the (Coronavirus) pandemic, Kapoor, who takes over from Shweta Purandare, would be initially reporting to her work desk in her first week of work.

The Mumbai-based strategist was a panel member of ASCI’s consumers complaints committee (CCC) for the past five years. The CCC is a representation of people from different walks of life, including the industry, civil society, lawyers, media, consumer activists, among others, who are invited by ASCI.

“The CCC is like a jury,” says Kapoor.

Talking about the process of reviewing a consumer complaint, Kapoor says that once it is received by ASCI, it then writes to the advertiser. The advertiser can either accept the mistake and then withdraw the ad, or substantiate it.

“When the advertiser substantiates the complaint by saying why they think the ad is not offensive, or how what is said is not misleading, the CCC reviews if it is in line with ASCI’s code. We (the committee) see the complaint(s), the ad, the response, and then collectively take the decision,” Kapoor reveals.

Manisha Kapoor
Manisha Kapoor

ASCI also receives complaints from competitors (of the product), who may challenge the substantiation of the claim made for the product (intra-industry complaints), and the government, who may forward certain claims to be processed by the organisation. “The processing of all these ads is done by the CCC, unless the claim is withdrawn by the advertiser,” Kapoor informs.

Speaking about how the complaints are prioritised, Kapoor mentions that the complaints automatically get queued in ASCI’s rolling system and are looked into, as and when received.

“However there are fast track complaints, typically intra-industry ones, where the complainant requests for a quick resolution. A panel is then set up and the complaint is addressed in a speedier manner,” she shares.

Kapoor says, “There also is suspension pending investigation, where an offensive ad is noticed by ASCI or brought to ASCI's attention. While the reviewing process for such an ad continues, the advertiser is, meanwhile, advised to withdraw the ad immediately.”

In July this year, The Consumer Protection Act 2019 came into effect. One of the main features on the new act is the creation of the CCPA or the Central Consumer Protection Authority under Section 10. The body will regulate matters related to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and misleading advertisements. Commenting on how this has impacted the functioning of ASCI, Kapoor says, “The role of ASCI continues to be that of a self-regulatory body. We have successfully worked for the past 35 years to develop speedy and fair resolutions to misleading advertisements.”

She adds, “For past five years we have had a MoU with Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) by which all complaints lodged in their Grievance Against Misleading Advertisements (GAMA) portal were processed and adjudicated by ASCI and non-compliance was reported to DoCA for taking action. We hope to continue this partnership started by DoCA.”

ASCI has handled about 15,000 cases over the past five years, with an average of 3,000-4,000 complaints received in a year. CCC typically sits once every week and reviews about 20-70 complaints, depending on the nature and number of complaints.

Kapoor says that the consumers question the basis on which advertisers make product claims. Some advertisers have also become more responsible about the claims that they make and, therefore, they are able to back it up with data.

Kapoor began her career with Hindustan Unilever as a brand manager over two-and-a-half decades back. She then took the role of marketing manager at Johnson & Johnson (J&J) India, and led the feminine care and wound care marketing teams for over six years.

She credits both these organisations for helping her understand marketing. “Unilever was my first exposure to the idea of sales, marketing, brands, teams, all that makes up a successful company. J&J helped me further consolidate and strengthen my understanding.”

She’s also worked with MarketGate Consulting (provider of market consultancy services) as a senior consultant. She was director and co-founder of Green Kettle Consulting (consultants operating in the area of sustainable solutions for corporate social responsibility management).

She was an independent strategy consultant at Unilever, and a consultant at Futurebrands (a brand consulting and management firm). She is currently also a part of Kotak Mahindra General Insurance’s Policy Holder Protection Committee.

Kapoor believes that since the advent of digital, traditional advertising had to change. “Advertising is no longer formatted, and the distance between brands and consumers has significantly decreased. Earlier, brands influenced people. Now, it’s a continuous cycle."

“What consumers are doing in their life has a huge impact on how brands communicate. The channels of communication have also evolved. While print, TV, radio are still the go-to medium, influencers have had a huge role to play in the growth of certain segments.” According to her, powerful and truthful storytelling is what makes for a good ad.

She believes in not being rigid and letting things unfold at their pace. Flexibility allows you to meet new people, have new experiences, and explore new paths, she says.

When she is away from her work desk, Kapoor enjoys spending time with her family and listening to music. Not being able to travel in the past couple of months due to lockdowns upsets her. She’s also passionate about her social media communities (health, home décor, etc.) that bring like-minded people together.

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