ASCI & Laws Governing Advertisements

Humans have pretty less storage for things we have seen just for seconds. So, do we remember advertisements? We do not need to because advertisers make sure to remind us and make us think about their products consciously or unconsciously. Also, every point of contact with the audience is filled with advertisements; it is a fight for attention. With Gen Z's attention span of 8 seconds, it is a cutthroat fight to be as flashy or as unreasonable as possible.

It is impossible to be away from advertisements with the increasing social media usage. Apart from social media and the internet, advertisements have not lost their magic in the other sources either and have been covering the front pages and all the billboards our naked eyes can see. Advertisements increase the visibility of brands, thus increasing sales. For such visibility and competition for recognition, sometimes firms might use some means which may not be harmful but might affect the customers. Customers are entitled to receive accurate information about the product, and it must not deceive them.

The government has laws for misleading advertisements, but there can be loopholes everywhere, and hence, there is also a non-statutory body to regulate and control the advertising market, the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI). Currently, there are no restrictions in law for advertising by the following:

  • Celebrity Endorsements

  • Advertisements on Toys

  • Advertisements with Product Demonstrations

  • Advertisements on Rebates

  • Advertisements for Sweepstakes Offers

  • Advertisements with Tie-In Offers

  • Use of Children in Advertising

  • Use of Models as Doctors, Nurses, Lawyers, or other Professionals

  • Use of Foreign Languages in Advertising

Products out of Scope of Advertising

Although advertisements can promote any product or service, every service is unsuitable for advertising. Certain products are entirely banned from advertising in India. These include the following:

  • Firearms, Weapons and Ammunition: These products require a license from the government. Advertising such products are not permitted under the Arms Act, 1959.

  • Tobacco: As we see 'Mukesh's story' before every movie, a warning about tobacco chewing is not enough. These producers are banned from advertising as well. These cannot be advertised directly or indirectly (surrogate advertisements).

  • Alcoholic Beverages: Advertisements for promoting (directly or indirectly) the production, sale and use/consumption of liquor, wine or other intoxicants or alcoholic products are prohibited under the ASCI Code.

  • There are provisions for commercial dealings in human organs under the Transplantation of Human Organs Act, 1994. It is prohibited to invite persons to supply such parts or payments.

  • Magical Remedies: There are no magical remedies. The same law prohibits advertising such remedies for any disease or disorder under the Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act 1954 to ensure people are not misguided.

  • Prenatal Determination of Sex: It is illegal to determine the sex of the child before birth. Similarly, advertisements promoting such determination are banned under the Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994.

  • Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes: Advertisements for such schemes are prohibited under the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, 1978.

  • Physicians are not allowed to advertise their services directly or indirectly.

  • Legal Services fall under the list as well. No advertisements can be run for the same.

Provisions for Other Advertisements

Rules for Advertising Credit or Financial Products:

When we see a mutual fund advertisement, there are guidelines to not sway the investors just with flowery advertisements. With specific reference to advertisements of financial products and services, the ASCI Code states that:

Advertisements inviting the public to invest money shall not contain statements that may mislead the consumer in respect of the security offered, rates of return or terms of amortisation; where any of the preceding elements are contingent upon the continuance of or change in existing conditions, or any other assumption, such conditions or assumptions must be indicated in the advertisement.

According to Reserve Bank of India rules, banks should not push zero-interest credit schemes by posting advertisements in various publications and media hinting that they are promoting or funding clients under such policies.

Rules for Claims about Foodstuffs regarding Health and Nutrition and Weight Control:

No one intends to engage in any unfair practice or adopt any false and misleading practice for the aim of promoting the sale, supply, use, and intake of necessities such as food, including the notion of making any statement, whether orally, in writing, or by a particular lens, that alleges that the foods are of a set standard, quality, volume.

Rules for Claims made about Therapeutic Goods and Services:

Specific laws restrict the promotion of certain pharmaceuticals to treat various diseases and disorders under Section 3 of the Drugs and Magical Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act. The Act also forbids anybody or any entity from claiming to be able to cure illnesses. According to the Act, no individual or corporation may participate in the publishing of advertising relating to any substance that promises to:

  • cause miscarriages or limit conception in women;

  • maintain or improve sexual pleasure in women;

  • treat menstrual problems in women;

  • Diagnose, reduce, cure, or prevent any disease defined in the Act.

Television Advertising:

According to the Cable Television Network Rules, 1994, advertising aired on the cable service must comply with legal requirements and must not violate the customers' morality, decency, or religious sentiments. The guidelines make the ASCI Code mandatory for television and declare that anyone that violates the ASCI Code will not be shown on cable. According to the rules, no ad on cable services should:

  • disrespect any race, caste, colour, creed, or nationality

  • show non-compliance with any provision of the Indian Constitution

  • provoke people to commit crime, cause disorder, violence, violate the law or glorify violence or obscenity in any way

  • present criminal activity as an advantageous or desirable pursuit

  • exploit the national symbol, any part of the Legislature, or the person or personality of a national leader

No program shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes per hour, including up to 10 minutes per hour of commercial advertisements and two minutes per hour of a channel's self-promotional programs. The advertisement's image and audio content must not be too "loud." Contain themes that seem to be obscene, vulgar, provocative, repulsive, or offensive.

Advertising to Children:

The Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1956 forbids advertisements for any damaging publication, which would be described as any publication that tends to corrupt a young person (under the age of 18) by inciting or stimulating him or her to contribute or commit offences, violent acts or brutality, or in any other sense.

According to the ASCI Code, advertisements directed at kids must not contain anything that might cause them physical, intellectual, emotional, or moral damage or exploit their weakness, whether in the depiction or anything else. Advertisements may not, for example:

  • Encourage minors to enter odd places or make conversation with strangers to earn vouchers, wrappers, brands, or other objects; or

  • Showcase risky behaviours that are likely to attract kids to mimic them in a way that might harm or injure them.

  • Show minors using or playing with matches or any flammable or explosive substance; or playing with or using sharp knives, guns, or mechanical or electrical appliances, the careless use of which could lead to their suffering cuts, burns, shocks, or another injury.

The ASCI's self-regulatory system was created due to the industry's drive to govern commercial communications (i.e., advertising that directly or indirectly solicits money in exchange for goods and services). The ASCI Code specifies that "individuals, corporate bodies, and associations involved in or otherwise concerned with the practice of promoting in the best interests of the ultimate consumer have adopted the code for self-regulation." As a result, the ASCI does not cover political and non-commercial government advertising aimed at influencing voters.

It is critical to the ASCI's credibility that it is viewed as a fair and unbiased arbiter devoid of political influence. It is impossible to determine if a political or non-commercial government advertisement violates the Code without the risk of seeming to take a political stance.

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