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Advertising Standards Council of India chairman Subhash Kamath
Advertising Standards Council of India chairman Subhash Kamath

What constitutes advertising is an evolving debate: Subhash Kamath

  • ''Covid has changed the business and industry at large. Things are getting far more digital now in business, marketing and social context.''

Advertising veteran Subhash Kamath intends to leverage technology to fasten the complaints processing mechanism at the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) as he settles in his new role as chairman of the regulatory body. With the implementation of the Consumer Protection Act 2019, ASCI's role becomes important as it liaises with the government to monitor false or misleading advertisements. The body will track digital platforms for misleading ads and discuss if branded content falls under ASCI's purview, said Kamath. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What would be your immediate area of attention as ASCI chairman?

I think there are two and three areas that I would focus on. There are already few good things which have been put in my place by my predecessor which should continue and new things will be added to it.

Covid has changed the business and industry at large. Things are getting far more digital now in business, marketing and social context. So advertising messaging and engagement styles are also changing. Therefore, in terms of regulation our codes and guidelines have to also evolve especially with the changing digital ecosystem. I believe new concepts needs to be discussed and added to the existing guidelines. We will be creating future facing codes and collaborating with people from the digital world.

Secondly, although ASCI processes are fairly robust but I would like to leverage technology to make the entire complaint redressal mechanism faster and responsive. I also want to ensure there is a higher level of interaction with consumer complaint council (CCC) and the ASCI board. Now that Consumer Protection Act is in place there will be an increased focus on how can we better collaborate with the government around misleading campaigns and consumer protection.

Tell us more about ASCI’s recent foray into monitoring digital ads.

We have partnered with TAM to monitor 3, 000 digital platforms which includes search, video and display ads which covers about 80% of India’s digital spends. I believe it is a big step in monitoring the digital advertising space. Currently, we are looking at certain categories such as food & beverages, healthcare and education sectors because they accounted for 80 % of complaints with ASCI till last year. More categories will be added as we proceed further.

Will ASCI look at including advertising led over the top (OTT) video streaming platforms under its purview?

These are issues which are currently under conversation at ASCI. A lot has changed and evolved over the last few years and OTT platforms are a product of it. Cable TV Act clearly states ads which do not confirm to the ASCI codes will not be allowed to air on television. Similarly, we have to see if OTT comes into that context. The fundamental objective of ASCI codes is to protect consumer interest and guide our members towards more responsible advertising. I believe that doesn't change whether the platform is OTT or television. When I say we are working on future focused strategies these kinds of new platforms will be discussed and brought under our conversations.

Do you currently have representation from digital and social media platforms in the ASCI board?

Not immediately but we did have representation from Google and Yahoo on our board in the past. These are large digital and social media platforms and they too have the responsibility in terms of the content being run on their platforms. Our mandate is not on social media posts being done by users on these platforms rather we look at brands that advertise on these platforms.

Content is merging with advertising on platforms like Instagram where influencers post sponsored content. How do you regulate that?

Today, our mandate does not cover content and focuses on paid media. Having said that, there is a section that deals with celebrity-led advertising. We need to debate and discuss whether social media influencers come under celebrity act or not. At the end of the day, celebrities do have reach and influence they have to be responsible when they are promoting brands. What constitutes advertising is now an evolving debate therefore we are looking at whether content/branded content can be dubbed as advertising under ASCI's purview.

Right now, the social media ads which are not being tracked because they are gated. But I can assure that it will come under ASCI's conversations. However, there might not be an immediate guideline for them.

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