Ads come under scanner for making ‘misleading’ claims

Ads come under scanner for making ‘misleading’ claims

New Delhi: The latest round of self-regulation by the advertising industry has seen commercials from Videocon Industries Ltd, Diageo India Pvt. Ltd and Hero Honda Motors Ltd among others coming under scrutiny.

Videocon said its washing machine was “designed to not just care for your clothes, but also conserve water, save energy", as it pushed the eco-friendly angle. Hero Honda Motors showed a rider zooming out of the back of a helicopter onto terra firma. Diageo India, maker of Smirnoff and other brands, pledged itself to “producing the purest always" and that it was “united against drink driving". The brand name Smirnoff was shown in an ad for “cassettes and CDs".

According to Alan Collaco, general secretary, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), most of the complaints came under section 1 of its code, which states that ads must be truthful and not misleading. “Also, the number of intra-industry complaints have gone up in the recent past because of increased competition," Collaco said.

Most advertisers don’t consider ASCI guidelines when executing an idea, says an industry professional. As a result, large sums of money are wasted in case an ad has to be withdrawn or modified.

Sometimes, the breach “is not by design and at times it is deliberate, which is not an acceptable practice. In cases where it’s deliberate, the intention is to arouse controversy around something objectionable or debatable and create a buzz", said Hari Krishnan, vice-president of advertising agency JWT India.

By the time ASCI receives complaints and acts on them, the advertiser has achieved its objective. In such cases it doesn’t really matter when the ad is modified or withdrawn, he added.

ASCI’s April-June report lists several instances where commercials were called into question on the grounds of being misleading, hazardous, or offensive in nature. The companies concerned had to either withdraw or modify their ads for not abiding by the code.

Companies with ads that faced queries included Rajasthan Patrika Pvt. Ltd, Heinz India Pvt. Ltd, Bajaj Auto Ltd, Hyundai Motors India Ltd, Go Airlines (India) Pvt. Ltd, United Spirits Ltd, Shakti Bhog Foods Ltd and Wrigley India Pvt. Ltd.

ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) said Videocon needed to substantiate its claims on energy and water conservation, forcing the company to withdraw the ad. Videocon didn’t respond to a request for comments.

Diageo, too, had to withdraw its commercial as in CCC’s view, it was a surrogate ad for the liquor brand Smirnoff. India doesn’t allow alcohol and tobacco advertising. Diageo said its spokesman wasn’t available for comment.

The complaints council asked Hero Honda to modify its cautionary disclaimer as it wasn’t easy to read.

Hero Honda said the ad carried a warning that read: “These stunts are performed by experts, viewers are advised not to imitate."

The company said that “in keeping with ASCI guidelines, care was taken to ensure that the stunt had not been performed under normal traffic conditions. However, we do respect the CCC input and accordingly we have further increased the font size of the disclaimer to make it even more readable", the spokesperson said in an email response.

A promotional message on packs of Orbit Chewing Gum manufactured by Wrigley India claimed that the gum helped protect against tooth decay. According to the complainant, the claim was misleading and needed to be substantiated.

“We have been in dialogue with the Advertising Standards Council of India, and a letter in this connection was sent to them as early as June. We have provided ASCI with documents that substantiate our stand that ‘Orbit helps protect against tooth decay’. ASCI is currently evaluating our inputs," Himanshu Khanna, Wrigley’s director, marketing, said in an email.

In some instances, companies had already acted on complaints. Go Airlines said one of these referred to an offer that had lapsed.

“GoAir, however, in consideration of the passenger being a frequent flyer not only offered her a free ticket but also refunded her last booked ticket, which was accepted, and the matter was amicably resolved, even though she was not technically eligible and all of this prior to even knowing a concern was filed," the spokesperson said.