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HomeHighlights IndiaAd body takes action against ‘Shot’ commercial within 18 hrs

Ad body takes action against ‘Shot’ commercial within 18 hrs

Ad watchdog chief says body can only look at advertisements after they are released

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) released guidelines on June 8 to guard against harmful gender stereotypes. The event in New Delhi was presided by Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani.  Some of those guidelines broadly say: ASCI will consider an ad’s likely impact when taken as a whole and in context.  The use of humour or banter is not likely to overcome the underlying issue of such harmful stereotypes.

The event comes days after the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) ministry asked Twitter and YouTube to remove advertisements for Layer’r Shot body spray after they sparked widespread outrage for promoting sexual violence against women. ASCI CEO and Secretary General Manisha Kapoor talks about the power the watchdog yields, and its role in policing harmful tropes or stereotypes that may creep into advertisements.

Excerpts from an interview:

When was ASCI alerted to the content in the ad?
On the morning of June 3, 2022. The ad was potentially in serious violation of Chapter II of the ASCI code against offensive advertising. After seeing it, we immediately invoked a special process called ‘Suspended Pending Investigation (SPI)’. ASCI wrote to the advertiser on the same day informing them about our decision and invited their response, which was tabled before the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).
Was this a reactive measure? Action only after outrage?
ASCI looks at ads after they are released. There is no provision for pre-clearance except for cinema ads and liquor brand extensions on TV, both of which are pre-cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). ASCI takes up consumer complaints as well as suo motu monitoring. In this instance, we acted swiftly. SPI was invoked in less than 18 hours of the ad being released.
Do advertisements undergo a censor test like a movie? Can the ASCI act before an ad is released?
There is no legal requirement for advertisements to go through a censor clearance, but voluntary due diligence can be done to avoid damage to brand reputation. Advertisers and brands can avail of the Advertising Advice service from ASCI which can help them mitigate the risks at the pre-production stage. This helps fewer violative ads reach the market, which is good for consumer protection. 
Does the ASCI have the teeth to get these ads pulled down, without the I&B Ministry’s action?
ASCI is a self-regulatory body with a well-established code, and a voluntary compliance rate of over 95 per cent. In the past, when ASCI has asked companies to pull down or modify ads, they have complied. Cases of non-compliance are escalated to the regulators for further action.
Offensive is a grey area in all art where interpretations are subjective. Does that make a task difficult?
The ASCI code is sacrosanct and the CCC refers to it while flagging off offensive ads. ASCI’s decisions are well-deliberated to represent how an average, reasonable consumer might interpret the ad. We do not look at things from the lens of a hypersensitive consumer.
The communication landscape has changed with digital advertising. How challenging is it to monitor ads on the Internet?
There has been an explosion of advertisers and advertisements with the digital medium, posing a massive challenge in monitoring. We have made major investments in technology to monitor the digital landscape through use of AI. This monitoring technology will continue to evolve to meet new challenges posed by digital media.
Our times are replete with distractions…Do ads push  buttons for shock value to get instant attention?
Brands and advertisers, who are in it for the long haul, need to understand that these hit-and- run tactics only work to the detriment of the brand. They bring down the consumer’s trust in advertising. They tarnish not only their own reputation, but that of the entire industry. Honest advertisers need to stand up and call out such cases.

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