“In recent years the quantity of false misleading and offensive advertising has resulted in consumers having an increasing disbelief in advertising and a growing resentment of it. Misleading false, advertising also constitutes unfair competition. It could lead to market-place disaster or even litigation. If this kind of advertising continues, it won'tbe long before statutory regulations and procedures are imposed, which make even fair, truthful, decent advertising cumbersome if not impossible.?
Now who said this? Who else but the Advertising Standards Council of India? And no wiser things were said. In recent weeks, the ASCI's complaints submitted by it to the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC)?have been upheld and very rightly, too.
Here are some examples of poor advertising. Forget who paid for it but the visuals say: ?Bholu, an ex-pickpocket, going through various stages of rigorous hard work and having dry pieces of bun at the end of the day with a feeling of sadness on his face. He does manual labour in building, to transport goods, etc and is harassed by kids and walks with broken slippers with considerable inconvenience?. Punchline in the TVC says: ?Welcome to State Bank Debit Card. Welcome to a cashless world.? The complaint against this ad was that it promoted pickpocketing than hard work. Noted the CCC in upholding the complaint: ?Advertisement by implication tends to incite people to crime by conveying that the advantage of being a pickpocket far outweighs the hardships of physical work.?
Then there is the advertisement for Hindustan Lever'sLux Body Wash. Calender of ?Kareena with Lux Body Wash? is branded**X 2006. Say the copy lines in the calender: **X Appeal. If you got it, flaunt it. ?Now every girl can be a **X Symbol?. ?**X in the morning and night make your skin glow.? ?Once a girl has tried **X, she wants it everyday.? ?**X appeal is a girl'sbest weapon.? ?There is no such thing as too much **X.? ?Girls just can'tdo without **X.? ?More and more girls are getting addicted to **X.? The complaint was that the advertisement was ?a cheap and vulgar promotion?. And the CCC decision said: ?The word **X, used repeatedly in the promotional messages appearing in the calender, was suggestive and indecent, in the absence of any mention that the word **X has been registered for the brand Lux.?
Distribution of the calender was stopped. Then there is the Lux Hosiery Industries ad for GenX Premium briefs. The visual showed a ?semi-nude man apparently being molested by clothed women?. The complaint was that ?the advertisement is obscene and may hurt a man'ssensibilities?. The ad was withdrawn. Several such complaints submitted between April to June 2006 were upheld. But some complaints were not.
One complaint (against Info Edge Pvt Ltd) was that an employee distorted his boss'sname Hari Sadu by spelling the first name as H for Hitler, A for arrogant, R for rascal and I for idiot. The complaint was that ?Hari? is one of the sacred and pious names of Lord Vishnu and the advertisement is highly sacrilegious and should be withdrawn.
The CCC, however, decided that the portrayal of a fictitious character in the TVC in a humourous situation was not likely to give rise to grave or widespread offence. What is decent and what is not, of course, is a highly subjective matter.
There is the instance of a Marc Sanitation Pvt Ltd ad that presents a visual of a rear picture of a naked woman. The complaint was that the ad was ?indecent? but the CCC condoned it, holding that the ad did not ?give rise to grave or widespread offence?. Then there is the instance of a Hindustan Lever ad for Kwality Walls Please Up Ice Cream. The visual showed ?a boy getting tempted and licking his lips as he sees a girl licking the Walls ice cream and another woman taking it as his sexual advances and pulls him insider her cabin?. The complaint was that the ad had ?sexual overtones and has suggestive gestures?. But the CCC dismissed the complaint saying that the ?advertisement was not so sensuous or explicit, as to give rise to grave or widespread offence?.
Pepsi Food Private Ltd had an ad with visuals showing ?a film personality blowing the skirt of a model walking on the ramp, using his lips and the voice over saying: ?mouth ka karo good use?. The complaint was that the ad was in bad taste. The CCC disagreed. One must say that the CCC has some strange ideas of what is vulgar and what is not. It did not, for example, uphold a criticism of a visual that showed ?a lady coming out of bathroom with water dripping from her body and a man, presumable her husband, sipping the dripping water from her body?. If that is not vulgar, what is? But in such matters obviously the CCC is supposed to have the last word.
That newspaper and TV viewers have a sense of decency can be gauged from the fact that in the space of a year it received 117 complaints of which 67 were upheld and 50 were not. A report says that the number of complaints received in 2005-2006 had reduced considerably. If there is one thing that readers have apparently not complained about is advertisements posing as news. It is a known fact that at least one paper seems willing to provide space as news for any party goers?without the reader being aware that what passes for news is really an advertisement. This is a serious matter and perhaps the Parliament must debate the issue. The Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) has adopted a code for Self-Regulation in Advertising. So far so good. It is a commitment to honest advertising and to fair competition in the market-place. It is the hope expressed by the ASCI that the Code that it has drafted will get increasingly accepted and observed pro-actively leading to fewer false, misleading claims, fewer unfair advertisements and increasing respectability. Some hope, that.
The trouble is that many companies take newspaper readers and TV viewers as morons who can be taken in by sex, vulgarity and cheapness. One way to stop this is to impose heavy fines in a court of law. Not all ads, of course, sell sex. Some just do not provide supporting data to establish sustainability of a promotion, which may not be intentional. But all advertisers must know that they are being watched. And that they cannot get away with murder. But the reader should be glad to know that India has an ASCI and a CCC. At least there is someone around who cares, for public morals.