Advertising, generally speaking, is the promotion of goods, services and ideas, usually performed by an identified sponsor. Marketers see advertising as part of an overall promotional strategy. Other components of the promotional mix include publicity, public relations, personal selling, and sales promotion.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), established in 1985, a body committed to the cause of Self-Regulation in Advertising, ensuring the protection of the interests of consumers to maintain and enhance the public's confidence in Advertising.

This write up attempts to explicate the initiative taken by ASCI in controlling and promoting the concept of fair advertising practices in India and its impact on the advertisements prevailing in the Pharmaceutical Sector at present.

In regards to promote fair practices of advertisement in the Indian market and protect the right of customers as guaranteed under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, ASCI had come up with the regulatory mechanism termed as “Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising”[“Code”] with the prime objectives to identify and control the content of advertisements so that they are not offensive and illegal in nature and should not intent to misrepresent the customers so as to achieve fair advertising practices in the scenario of Indian market by ensuring the following basic guidelines:-

  • To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguards against misleading advertisement.
  • To ensure that advertisements are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public decency.
  • To safeguard against the indiscriminate use of advertising for the promotion of products which are regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals to a degree or of a type this is unacceptable to society at large.
  • To ensure that advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumer’s need to be informed on choices in the market-place and the canons of generally accepted competitive behavior in business is both served.

The code brings into its purview all those advertisers, advertising agencies, media or such other individuals who commission, create, place or publish any advertisement or assist in the creation or publishing of any advertisement which is in contravention of this Code and applies to advertisements read, heard or viewed in India even if they originate or are published abroad so long as they are directed to consumers in India or are exposed to significant number of consumers in India.

The Code is divided into IV chapters and the onset of it defines “advertisement”, “product”, “consumer”, “advertiser”, “advertising agency”, “media”, etc. The Code not only includes all form of paid- for communication, addressed to the Public or a section of it but does not exempt even those form of communication which is carried free-of-charge for any reason in the normal course which is recognized as an advertisement by the general public. Hence, advertisers or advertising agency or media or any such related person cannot defend himself/itself from the purview of the Code on the ground that he/it was not indulged in a communication for commercial promotion of any product and the communication was meant only for general reference.

ASCI and its reach on Pharmaceutical/ Allied health care Industry

Recently ASCI upheld approximately 36 complains in the category of Pharmaceuticals companies and Healthcare sector held for violation of the Code.

In an advertisement of the pain relief ointment Volini, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. claimed as “99% doctors have used Volini to relieve their pain” and “Volini No.1 doctors’ prescribed pain reliever since last 12 years”.

Dabur India Ltd’s Dabur Chyawanprash print ad claimed that “Dabur Chyawanprash provides 3 times more immunity”, “Helps improve the ability to fight illness by 3 times”, “ONLY Dabur Chyawanprash provides immunity

In the above matters, the advertiser was not able to substantiate the claim with necessary support and data and the ad were considered as contravention of the Code.

The National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS)

In order to maintain a track on misleading advertisements which harm the interests of consumers, ASCI announced an initiatives of a mechanism called National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) which will work in partnership with TAM Media Research and will identify advertisements which are in potential violation of Chapter 1 of ASCI Code and will monitor ads in the sectors covering Auto, Banking, Financial Services & Insurance, FMCG (including F&B), Consumer Durables, Educational Institutions, Health Care Products & Services, Telecom and Real Estate sectors. The scope of work will cover the tracking of more than 30 newspapers (all editions) which contribute to over 80 per cent of national newspaper readership and all TV channels in all Indian languages. The mechanism will work on three-fold steps initiating from tracking advertisements that is seen as being potentially violating Chapter 1 of ASCI Code which will then be forwarded to ASCI on a weekly basis, post which ASCI would process them according to its normal complaint procedure involving its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) for adjudication.

Keeping in view the initiatives undertaken by ASCI in the recent past and irrespective of the fact that the Code introduced by ASCI is voluntary in nature, the advertisers ought to give regard to such Code at the time of publishing their advertisements since if any advertiser fails to comply with the CCC decision in writing on a complaint upheld against a Press Ad, the ASCI has option to inform the Press Council of India and Ministry of Information & Broadcasting about the print Ad contravening the ASCI Code and such action may dent the reputation of the concerned advertiser.