The Union government on Friday announced new guidelines against misleading advertisements and specified due diligence to be carried out while endorsing products being advertised.
The development comes a day after ad sector watchdog Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) issued guidelines on "harmful gender stereotypes", laying down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals and encouraging more progressive gender depictions. It came days after outrage over two perfume ads for their sexual and rape-related insinuations.
The Union Consumer Affairs Ministry's Friday's guidelines include ads targeting children and making free claims to woo consumers. These guidelines come into force with immediate effect and also prohibit surrogate advertisements and bring transparency in disclaimers in ads.
Consumer Affairs Secretary Rohit Kumar Singh said, "Advertisements have great interest for consumers. Under the CCPA Act, there are provisions to handle misleading advertisements affecting consumers rights. But to make it more explicit, clear and aware to the industry, the government has come out with guidelines for fair advertising with effect from today."
The guidelines will be applicable to advertisements published on all platforms like print, television, and online. Action against violation of the new guidelines will be taken as per the provisions of the Central Consumer Protection Act (CCPA).
Stating that these guidelines will not bring change overnight, Singh said, however, it gives a framework for the industry stakeholders to prevent misleading ads even by mistake and will also empower consumers and consumer organisations to file complaints against misleading ads.
He also mentioned that these guidelines will apply to government advertisements as well. The advertising guidelines for self-regulation issued by ASCI will also be in place in a parallel manner.
ASCI's recently-issued guidelines stated ads should not indulge in the "sexual objectification of characters of any gender" or depict people in a sexualised and objectified way for the purposes of titillating viewers.
Elaborating on the guidelines, CCPA Chief Commissioner and Additional Secretary in the Consumer Affairs Ministry Nidhi Khare said, "CCPA has taken action against misleading ads during the pandemic. We felt that there was a need to have guidelines, so that stakeholders are aware of them and do not violate without knowledge."
She said new guidelines clearly define what 'misleading advertisement' means and provide various criteria for an advertisement to be considered valid and non-misleading.
It also provides clarity on 'bait' advertisements, and 'free claims' advertisements, while prohibits 'surrogate' advertisements or indirect advertisements. Bait advertisement means an advertisement in which goods, products or service is offered for sale at a low price to attract consumers.
Besides, the guidelines lay down conditions to be complied with while issuing bait advertisements and free claims advertisements, enumerating various factors to be considered in publishing ads especially targeting children.
Khare said the advertisements should not be "such as to develop negative body image in children or give any impression that such goods, product or service is better than the natural or traditional food which children may be consuming".
ASCI guideliens said ads may depict children and may feature a specific gender but should not convey that a particular children's product, pursuit, behaviour, or activity, including choice of play or career, is inappropriate for one or other genders.
The government guidelines provide various duties of manufacturer, service provider, advertiser and advertising agency. They have been asked to indicate the source and date of independent research or assessment in case claims in the ads based on or supported by such research or assessments.
Khare said, "any endorsement must reflect the genuine, reasonably current opinion of the individual, group or organisations making such representation and must be based on adequate information about, or experience with, the identified goods, product or service."
She said where Indian professionals are barred under any law from making endorsement in any advertisement, then foreign professionals of such profession are not permitted to make endorsement in such ads.
To bring transparency in disclaimers in advertisements, the guidelines specify the company not to contradict the material claim made in the ads and not attempt to hide material information with respect to any claim made in such ads.
The guidelines also provide for disclosure of material connection.
Khare added, "If there exists a connection between the endorser and the trader, manufacturer or advertiser of the endorsed product that might materially affect the value or credibility of the endorsement and the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience, such connection should be fully disclosed in making the endorsement."
Highlighting steps taken by the CCPA, Khare said, so far, the regulator has issued 113 notices, out of which 57 are for misleading advertisements, 47 are for unfair trade practices, and nine are for violation of consumer rights.
Subsequent to the notices, 14 companies have withdrawn their advertisement with maximum companies claiming more than 99 per cent efficacy against Covid/ germs.
She added that three companies have issued corrective advertisements, one company has changed its Refund/Replacement policy for the benefit of consumers and also made penal provisions for its sellers in case of any deficiency found.
She further said a penalty of Rs 10 lakh has been imposed on three companies for its misleading advertisements and Rs 1 lakh penalty has been imposed on three companies for unfair trade practice.
(With PTI inputs)