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4 minutes read

Pressing Need To Halt Proliferation Of Surrogate Ads In Restricted Categories As They Undermine Consumer Rights: DOCA

Since 98% of the 49 ads which ASCI had processed for potential violation of its Codes and Guidelines required modification to align with regulatory standards and over 1085 cases of ads were in direct violation of law to both central and state regulators in the past three years, the Advertising Standards Council Of India and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) hosted a consultation with stakeholders to adress the issue of Surrogate Ads in restricted categories such as Alcohol, Tobacco and Gambling.

| Published on February 23, 2024

Pressing Need To Halt Proliferation Of Surrogate Ads In Restricted Categories As They Undermine Consumer Rights: DOCA

In a collaborative yet interactive consultation convened in Mumbai, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) addressed the pervasive issue of surrogate ads in restricted categories such as alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.

The consultation between DoCA, ASCI and online gaming associations like All India Gaming Federation and E-Gaming Federation, pointed out the immediate need to stop such advertisements as it is the Indian online gaming industry which is feeling the brunt of illegal advertisements and promotions by Offshore gaming platforms, despite paying taxes and being registered in India.

Therefore, the consultation convened an array of industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and experts to deliberate on effective strategies to deal with surrogate advertising. Key discussions revolved around enhancing transparency, strengthening enforcement mechanisms, and promoting responsible advertising practices.

The primary objective of the consultation was to facilitate discussions on overcoming associated challenges with surrogate advertising and establish rigorous adherence to advertising regulations and guidelines within the three restricted sectors.

In the last three years, ASCI has processed complaints against 49 ads- of which 36 ads were alcohol-related, 12 ads from betting platforms and 1 Pan Masala ad, for potential violation of ASCI Code’s Guidelines for Qualification of Valid Brand Extension. But what’s alarming is that 98% of these processed ads required modification to align with regulatory standards.

Moreover, ASCI has also reported 1085 cases of advertisements that were in direct violation of law to both central and state regulators in the past three years. Of these, 765 cases included illegal betting ads and 320 were direct liquor advertising.

That being said, ASCI has been regularly refining its guidelines particularly considering the potential harm associated with advertising of these categories.

In fact, in the latest update implemented in December 2023, ASCI had emphasised that advertising spends for legitimate brand extension products must align with the extension’s sales turnover as well in order to enhance transparency and accountability in advertising practices.

The consultation, which was convened in Mumbai, yesterday, also underscored the key discussion point that there should be a clear distinction between the brand extension and the restricted product or service being advertised.

Furthermore, the self regulatory body of advertising in India also highlighted that the story or visual of the advertisement must depict only the product being advertised and not the prohibited product in any form and that the ad must not make any direct or indirect reference to prohibited products.

Apart from this, the consultation also threw light on the fact that the ad must not contain any nuances or phrases promoting prohibited products; the ad must not use colour, layout, or presentations associated with the prohibited products and that the ad must not use situations typical for promotion of prohibited products when advertising the other products.

Another focus point at the discussion was the rampant use of celebrities in the ads of prohibited products which needs to be controlled and hence, the representatives from government bodies, including the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) and Trademark Authority, shared their views on how to regulate such surrogate advertisements.

During the discussion, Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary, Department of Consumer Affairs, said-

“Surrogate advertisements that promote products in restricted categories undermine consumer rights and can have serious implications. There is a pressing need to halt the proliferation of surrogate ads across industries. If respective prohibited industries fail to adhere to this guideline and comply with existing laws, more stringent actions will be implemented. We are committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders as we navigate through this evolving issue. We look forward to providing all assistance to ASCI in examining this issue and building a comprehensive framework to protect consumers.”

Underlining the critical need for action against surrogate ads, Manisha Kapoor, CEO and Secretary General, ASCI, also said-

“Surrogate advertisements are in breach of the law, as are direct ads in restricted categories. It is important that the distinction between permitted brand extensions and surrogate advertising are clearly defined and complied with. ASCI has been vigilant in processing surrogate advertising, as well as reporting direct advertising to appropriate regulators. We would like to support various regulators such as DoCA and relevant state excise authorities in addressing this pressing issue. Together, we aim to effectively eliminate deceptive advertising practices.”

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