Bad ad? Lodge a complaint for redress



Homemaker Leena Dutta bought a washing machine after watching an advertisement that claimed it was ecofriendly and conserved water and electricity. But after using it, she realized the claim was misleading.
Rakesh and Sharmila Srivastava were shocked when an explicit commercial was aired during a family soap. With their children also watching, it was extremely embarrassing for the couple.
Next time you spot a television ad that is misleading or disturbs you seriously, don’t fret. Act! That is the message from Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the apex regulatory body of the advertising industry.

ASCI has launched a campaign urging viewers and customers not to take each and every advertisement lying down. In case ads are found to be dangerous, misleading or downright vulgar, viewers are urged to lodge a complaint through telephone (022-23513982), via email (asci@vsnl.com), or online (www.ascionline.org).

For example, an ad by a cellular service provider that urged people to “walk and talk” has been discontinued after ASCI acted on a complaint and ruled it “unsafe”. “Makeup artist Prabir Dey was run over
by a train while talking on the phone and walking over r a i lw ay tracks,” said executive Abhik Dey.

T he homemaker, saddled with a dissatisfactory washing m a ch i n e, said: “The electricity bill didn’t go down. Nor was the washing any better than that of the earlier machine,” Dutta said. When ASCI received a complaint, it asked the advertising agency concerned to substantiate the claims with technical data. The company promptly withdrew the ads.
ASCI took cognizance of a complaint similar to that of the Srivastavas’ and ruled that the ad violated prevailing standards of decency. They also said that the time slot for airing the ads was not suitable, as it could be viewed by children. This ad has been modified.

“A spurt in false, misleading and offensive advertisements in recent times has led to mistrust and disb e l i e f a m o n g v i ewe r s and potential customers,” said ASCI board ch a i r m a n Dhananjay Keskar. “There is a growing resentment towards these ads. If this kind of advertising continues, it won’t be long before statutory regulations and procedures are imposed that will curb even fair, truthful, decent advertising. The ASCI’s code for self-regulation is aimed at remedying the situation.”

Though awareness about ASCI is low at present, Keskar is certain that consumers would act once they know there is a redress mechanism. Between April and September this year, ASCI investigated complaints against 24 ads and came out with rulings that either led to modification or withdrawal.

With children spending more time watching television, parents are often worried about the impact some ads may have on the impressionable minds. Hence, when Seema Roy saw a motorcycle commercial showing a stuntman making dangerous manoeuvres, she was alarmed. “My son is in Class XII and insists on a bike that promises to make life thrilling. I am afraid he will try these stunts,” she said.
When ASCI received two complaints against the ad, it reviewed it and immediately ruled it dangerous. The ad was modified. A cautionary message at the bottom of the commercial was made mandatory. All bike ads with stunts now contain the message.

Rulings by ASCI have the force of law, as its code is part of the Cable TV Act’s ad code. Any commercial against which a complaint has been upheld by ASCI has to either modify or withdraw the ad. “Ads that are held unacceptable by ASCI must be pulled off,” Keskar pointed out.