In its half-yearly report, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) said that it processed 3,501 complaints related to advertising from April to September 2023, marking a 27% increase since last year. Out of all the complaints, 92% were taken up by ASCI’s own suo moto initiative.
The report indicates that digital media was the predominant source of violations, comprising 79%, followed by print at 17%, television at 3%, and other media at 2%.
ASCI, as a self-regulatory body for the Indian advertising industry, addresses concerns related to dishonest, misleading, indecent, offensive, harmful, and unfairly competitive ads. Its report delves into the emerging trends and provides insights on advertising standards.
Healthcare emerges as the most violative sector
According to the report, the healthcare sector saw the maximum violations. The healthcare sector represented 21 percent of advertising complaints, which has been attributed to a surge in drug and medicine promotions on digital platforms.
ASCI noted a significant surge in advertisements that directly breached the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954, prompting the issuance of notifications to advertisers recommending the withdrawal or modification of the ads. In the span of six months, ASCI referred 565 advertisements to the Ministry of AYUSH, marking an increase from the 464 ads referred in the previous financial year.
The report read, "16 percent of the advertisements processed were for products claiming magic remedies in potential violation of law." The primary objective of the 1954 Act is to prevent misleading advertisements regarding the efficacy of drugs and ensure that the public is not misled or exploited by false claims about the therapeutic qualities of certain products.
Ad compliance in influencer marketing
A notable 22 percent of total advertisements that received complaints were contributed by influencers. Furthermore, 99.4 percent of influencer advertisements were identified as violating standards.
ASCI successfully achieved compliance in 92 percent of influencer cases, indicating a heightened commitment to following the recommendations of ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council. This marks an improvement from the 86 percent compliance observed in influencer ads the previous year.
In terms of influencer violation, the majority of ad complaints, constituting 43 percent, were related to personal care. This was followed by fashion and lifestyle at 25 percent, and food and beverage at 16 percent. Violations in edtech, gaming, baby care, and other services and products collectively accounted for less than three percent.
In an effort to stop consumers from being misled, ASCI, in August, had mandated that influencers who offer guidance or commentary on the pros and cons of commercial goods and services within the sectors of Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance (BFSI) as well as Health & Nutrition, are required to possess the requisite qualifications and certifications to ensure the credibility of the information and advice they provide to consumers.
Apart from this, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs had also previously issued extra guidelines for celebrities, influencers, and virtual influencers, in relation to ads in the health and wellness sector. The guidelines were called 'Endorsement Know-how's' and required endorsements to have clearly mentioned terms like "sponsored", "advertisement" or "paid promotion". Additionally, as per the guidelines, celebrities and influencers cannot advertise anything which they have not personally used, experienced or for which they have not conducted due diligence.