Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
While 80 percent share of such advertising was endorsed by film stars, about 13 percent belonged to sports personalities. It is alleged that as such categories of celebrities are popular faces in the society; the advertisers take undue advantage of propagating unsubstantiated claims, exaggerated promises, and misinformation on their shadow
The relevance of advertising is on a constant rise keeping pace with the spread of mass media and the engagement of consumers on its platforms. The development of modern mass media in the western world during the seventeenth century included the advertisement of products, services, and philosophies, along with news, opinion, information, entertainment, and literature in the pages of print publications. The popularity of social media and up to 12 hours of the presence of consumers in digital media beyond geographical boundaries in the developed nations created a new chapter in the sphere of advertising during the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century.
Efforts to sell toffees for children to grief solutions and circulating public health information to the recruitment of terrorists, the field is wide open for modern advertising manifestation, employing both legal and illegal practices. Control of the ever-expanding advertisement industry has turned out to be a social necessity. Radical step initiated by the government agency constituted for the purpose to check misleading advertisements, though taken late in India, has been welcomed by the majority of stakeholders.
Central Consumer Protection Authority under the Department of Consumer Affairs, Government of India issued ‘Guidelines on Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements 2022’ on June 10, 2022. The objective of the guidelines focused on curbing misleading advertisements and protecting the consumers, who may be exploited or affected by such advertisements.
The guidelines seek to ensure that consumers are not exploited through unsubstantiated claims, exaggerated promises, and misinformation. Such advertisements violate the rights of the consumers which include the right to be informed, right to choose, and the right to safeguard against potentially unsafe products and services. It is important to note that the guidelines allow the implementing agency to impose a penalty for violation of rules.
Unfair practices in the advertising landscape in India included celebrity endorsement and surrogate advertising. The volume of celebrity endorsements swelled during the Covid-19 pandemic. As per a report published by ‘Adex India’, a division of ‘TAM Media Research, there was a 44 percent growth in 2021 as opposed to 2020. Celebrity endorsement constituted 27 percent of television advertisements in 2021.
While 80 percent share of such advertising was endorsed by film stars, about 13 percent belonged to sports personalities. It is alleged that as such categories of celebrities are popular faces in society; the advertisers take undue advantage of propagating unsubstantiated claims, exaggerated promises, and misinformation in their shadow. As per the new guidelines the endorsing celebrities will be also held responsible for false claims in advertisements and penalized.
Advertising alcohol and tobacco brands have been prohibited in our country and the practice of surrogate advertisements for soda, bottled water, and music labels make unbatted rounds. Similarly, surrogate advertisements for pan masala and gutka appear as mouth fresheners or flavored condiments, etc.
In the recent past, several film stars were trolled on social media for their appearance in surrogate advertisements for tobacco-related products. While Amitav Bachhan and Ranveer Singh featured in one brand, Shah Rukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Akshay Kumar appeared in another brand of pan masala. Sanjay Dutt endorsed a particular brand of club soda that is also famous for whisky.
A number of acts against the publication of advertisements for alcohol and tobacco products exist. ‘The Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995’ prohibits the direct and indirect promotion and advertising of cigarettes, tobacco products and different varieties of alcohol. The act enables to take action against offending broadcasting from the grass-root level to take action against cable operators in any locality. The apex body of the advertising industry ‘The advertising Standards Council of India’ has proclaimed several guidelines against issuing advertisements that are prohibited under laws. But challenges with regard to enforcement remained at an unsatisfactory level.
An advertising research establishment ‘Local Circle’ conducted a survey among 33,000 consumers drawn from 312 districts of the country to understand the trends in advertisement reception. It was found that about 70 percent of respondents came across misleading advertisements during 24 months amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
There were adequate provisions mentioned for control of both misleading endorsement and surrogate advertisement in the ‘Consumer Protection Act 2019’. The celebrities were made liable for their endorsements as per the act. ‘The Central Consumer Protection Authority has been established under Section 10 of the ‘Consumer Protection Act, 2019’. In exercise of the powers conferred by Section 18 of the act, the guidelines have been notified.
The newly constituted authority can impose a penalty up to 10 lakh rupees on the manufacturer, advertiser, and endorser for any misleading advertisement. For subsequent contraventions, the penalty can extend up to 50 lakh rupees. Similarly the endorser for making a false claim in an advertisement, the celebrity can be barred from endorsing a product for up to a year, extending to three years for repeat offenses.
Guidelines of 2022 notified by ‘The Central Consumer Protection Authority will be applicable to all the advertisements barred by existing laws. However, a section claim that as alcohol and tobacco products are sold in the market and the government collects tax on sales, it is not logical to bar advertisement of such products since it is an integral part of marketing any product. Another section believes that punishing the celebrities for product endorsement is wrong as they appear in the advertisement in the direction of the manufacturer and advertiser.
The guidelines deal with various segments of advertising such as bait, surrogate and free claim advertisement. It also laid down a few preventive provisions on advertisements targeting children.
Ban on advertising of certain products is repeatedly contravened as manufacturing and marketing of such products grow continuously over time. For example, data released by market research agency IMARC, the pan masala market in India reached a value of 42,000 crore rupees in 2021 and is expected to grow up to 53,000 crore rupees by 2027. It becomes difficult for such businesses with huge transactions to keep away from the ambit of advertising. Of course, the stipulation of stiff penalties for contravention and the establishment of a separate authority to regulate matters raises hopes for an effective future check. Advertising Standards Council of India welcomed the move for the issue of guidelines to control misleading advertising, “It is important for different stakeholders to work collectively and in a streamlined manner to address the issue of misleading ads, particularly in the dynamic environment of digital advertising.”
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter circulated by the author on June 17, 2022. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-254. It is an open-source content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.
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