Marketing Featured South Asia

ASCI, K&S Partners tie up to spotlight unfair trademarks practices used by brands

Mumbai, India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and intellectual property (IP) boutique K&S Partners, have joined hands to release a whitepaper titled ‘Misleading Advertisements and Trademarks – A Registration Conundrum’, which identifies the practice and instances of brands making misleading claims and representations through the use of trademarks.

Brands and advertisers often cite trademark registrations as a defence, these words or phrases mislead consumers. With this paper, ASCI and K&S Partners argue that such a defence is not valid, as making misleading representations violates the ASCI code, the Consumer Protection Act, and the Trade Marks Act itself. 

Moreover, the paper calls for greater scrutiny and restraint in permitting descriptive trademarks to brands, and to ensure that such trademarks are not a false representation of the product.

“At ASCI we see cases where the advertiser uses a trademark registration to defend their direct or implied claims, asserting that a trademark registration means that the claim is good in law. This is not true, and we would ask brands to be cautious in using untrue, exaggerated or misleading phrases to describe their products, whether trademarks or not,” said Manisha Kapoor, CEO and secretary general at ASCI.

Meanwhile, Prashant Gupta, partner at K&S Partners, shared that the issue concerning false, unsubstantiated, and dishonest advertisements, under the guise of descriptive or laudatory trademarks, is grave. 

“Protecting consumers from deception is one of the principal tenets of the ASCI Code, the Trade Marks Act, and the Consumer Protection Act. The Trademark Office needs to raise the threshold for descriptive or laudatory trademarks, failing which, protecting consumers’ rights from fraudulent marks and making informed choices would be severely compromised,” said Gupta.

Marketing Featured South Asia

NS Rajan unanimously elected as ASCI’s new chairman

Mumbai, India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has elected NS Rajan, director of August One Partners LLP, as its new chairman of the board of governors.

Rajan is a public relations veteran with a demonstrated history of setting up and managing firms in the PR industry. He was earlier the founder and managing director of Ketchum Sampark, an Omnicom Group Company.

In a statement, Rajan said that in his leadership at ASCI, he will focus on thought leadership initiatives, industry reports and its ASCI Academy to take ASCI ahead into the future.

He also looks forward to advancing the agenda of the Council to rapidly increase ASCI awareness among consumers so that they engage more readily and in greater numbers, voicing their concerns, anxieties, and questions about what they experience in the form of thousands of ads per day.

“I would also focus on ASCI’s efforts more towards prevention, in addition to the robust corrective mechanisms we have built over the decades. This we would do by using the several initiatives already in play – whether advice, guidance, training, or self-regulation,” Rajan said.

He added, “The third pillar would be to keep ahead of the fast-expanding and fractionalising digital domain to ensure that responsible advertising principles are followed equally across all media and consumer engagements by advertising in every form. A lot has been done by ASCI over the last several years, and I am committed to seeing that the momentum generated by all past efforts is kept alive or even pushed forward with greater speed.”

Meanwhile, outgoing chairman Subhash Kamath commented, “The past two years have been truly transformational for ASCI. Our vision of making ASCI more future-ready by taking on the challenges of a digital world and a fast-changing communication landscape, and by adding value to the industry through more agility, responsiveness, services, and thought leadership, has started showing results.” 

He added, “I’m sure ASCI will continue to grow from strength to strength in the coming years. It’s been a privilege to serve as its chairman and I thank the board, the CCC members and the wonderful secretariat team for making it possible.”

Marketing Featured South Asia

ASCI releases guidelines on harmful gender stereotypes

Delhi, India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) have released a set of guidelines that lay down boundaries for unacceptable portrayals and encourage advertisers to create more progressive gender depictions.

The guidelines were announced in an event held at India Habitat Centre and is presided by Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, following the launch of its GenderNext report in October 2021, a study by ASCI and Futurebrands.

The guidelines encourage advertisers and creators to deploy the SEA (Self-esteemed – Empowered – Allied) framework that guides stakeholders in imagining as well as evaluating portrayals of gender in their advertising by building empathy and aiding evaluation, as well as the 3S framework, which provides a checklist to guard against tropes and implicit stereotypes that creep into advertising.

“Gender portrayal is a complex and nuanced issue and the guidelines provide an interpretation of ASCI’s Chapter III (related to harmful situations), which deals with ads that can cause harm to individuals or society. Gender stereotypes are harmful because they lock individuals in certain roles and perpetuate certain dynamics that are harmful to society. Advertising, through subtle and implicit depictions, reinforces certain harmful stereotypes and overlooks the aspirations of individuals and groups,” ASCI said in a press statement.

These frameworks can prove to be extremely useful for marketing and advertising professionals to improve their advertising ROIs.

Speaking on the guidelines release, Irani said, “While there are women who are happy with the incremental change that has been made in the advertising industry, women of my generation are a bit more impatient. It is time not only for the men but also for the women in the advertising industry to step up. This is a very important move, and I believe that there is a long journey to be undertaken to turn the thinking but it’s required now. Work in this area must move with more and more speed and organisations like ASCI should lead this, the action beginning with its member base.”

Meanwhile, Subhash Kamath, chairman at ASCI, commented, “The new guidelines were created after extensive consultation with many partners- both from industry, as well as civil society organisations, including the Unstereotype Alliance and UNICEF. These guidelines are a big step forward in strengthening ASCI’s agenda to shape a more responsible and progressive narrative. We are grateful to the government and Shrimati Smriti Irani for supporting these guidelines, and to the many partners who have been with us on this journey.”

Marketing Featured South Asia

Ad watchdog ASCI implements greater inclusion in advertising

Mumbai, India – The advertising regulatory body, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), has updated its code to add greater inclusivity in advertising depictions, including new areas of possible discrimination or derision, such as gender identity and sexual orientation, body shape, age, and physical and mental conditions.

The new areas of the ASCI code, in addition to race, caste, creed, gender or nationality, will now be considered violations if an advertisement tries to mock or deride anyone on these bases. These changes to the ASCI code were approved by the board recently.

Talking about the changes, Manisha Kapoor, ASCI’s CEO and secretary-general, shared that they have seen consumers call out ads that mock or deride people, or portray them in unfavourable ways, and it is only fitting that advertising becomes more inclusive and sensitive to this.

“It is not acceptable for example, to associate characteristics such as sluggishness with a certain body shape. Similarly, to deride someone with a physical or mental ailment, or their gender identity would now violate the ASCI code. With this change, ASCI hopes to ensure that advertising becomes more inclusive and sensitised to all sections of our country, and does not perpetuate certain portrayals that have no place in a progressive society,” said Kapoor.

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ASCI, Kantar launches probe on gender portrayals in ads via new report

Mumbai, India – Data insights Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and consulting firm Kantar has released a new white paper explaining how mainstreaming positive gender portrayals has a positive impact on business.

In India, advertising is mainstream, all-pervasive, and plays a role in forming people’s collective psyche. With GenderNext, a study undertaken by the ASCI and Futurebrands it proves how progressive portrayals of gender in advertising benefit not only society but as well as on brands. 

GenderNext, a study undertaken by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and Futurebrands, looked at 600 ads across different categories and spoke to consumers across 10 cities. The study revealed that real women considered themselves more progressive than depictions in mainstream advertising. 

Menawhile, Kantar found that progressive portrayals of women result in advertising that is more effective. Data by Kantar showed that Indian advertisements that depicted progressive gender roles had a positive impact of as much as 32% in short-term product sales and improved a brand’s equity by a whopping 51%. These results and insights prove that progressive depictions of women can drive engagement with brands in a major way.

Kantar’s study, conducted in collaboration with the Unstereotype Alliance and based on the Unstereotype Metric (UM), assesses how consumers react to gender portrayals in brand advertising. According to the research, using progressive depictions can help firms achieve higher marketing ROI. Furthermore, positive gender roles are found to have an even greater impact on India than they do in other rising markets.

Meanwhile, the GenderNext survey found that the bulk of mainstream advertising continues to portray women in negative and non-aspirational ways. For marketing and advertising professionals to comprehend the intricacies of gender portrayal, the study suggests the ‘SEA’ framework and the 3S screener, as well as an inventory checklist for the examination of screenplays or films. This not only aids in the identification of implicit and regressive stereotypes but also provides a model for helping brands create more compelling and powerful advertising. The adoption of such frameworks is intended to give advertisers with a technique to boost their marketing ROIs.

Preeti Reddy, chairwoman for South Asia Insights Division at Kantar, said that mainstreaming positive gender portrayals is an exciting opportunity for creating engaging and impactful advertising. 

“While taking a firm stand against inequality is commendable, there is space to tell vibrant brand stories between the extreme ends of objectifying and deifying women. Without being preachy, subtle subversions on slice-of-life moments, gender roles and responses have the potential to make the viewing experience rewarding for consumers as well as to plant the seed of a fresh mental gender map,” Reddy said.

Reddy added, “Positive gender portrayal is not just about occasional tributes but also about a more conscious integration of progressive portrayal of genders in advertising. Such advertising holds the potential to deliver higher marketing RoI and to help create a more inclusive world.”

Manisha Kapoor, CEO & secretary general of ASCI, commented, “Advertisers can no longer afford to ignore the issue of progressive depictions of women. Women, particularly the younger generation, reject the implicit and explicit stereotyping that creeps into advertising. Women see progressive advertising as their ally in their journeys to more fulfilling lives. It is amply clear that it makes good business sense for brands to portray positive gender roles, adding real value to business and society.”

Marketing Featured South Asia

ASCI launches new service to help endorsers avoid making misleading ad claims

Mumbai, India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has launched a new service called ‘Endorser Due Diligence’, a paid advisory which will feature ASCI’s expertise in advertising assessment, including technical claims that are part of the advertisement.

Through the service, ASCI has established a panel of experts, from over 20 disciplines, ranging from advertising regulation and legal, ayurveda, microbiology, electronics, market research, nutrition, dentistry, product formulations, financial services, and so on. Said panel will assess the representations, statements, and claims in the advertisement from a consumer and technical perspective, examine the evidence in support of the claim where necessary, and thereby help the endorser conduct their due diligence.

According to Subhash Kamath, chairman at ASCI, the ‘Endorser Due Diligence’ will be confidential and non-binding and will be issued in the name of the endorser.

“Endorsers, particularly celebrities, have a huge fan following and they enjoy the trust of millions of consumers. There is therefore a direct moral and now, legal responsibility that they bear to ensure that they do not make representations in ads that could be considered misleading. ASCI has always required celebrities to be mindful of what they endorse in advertisements, and now the law too, requires them to do due diligence in this regard,” Kamath said.

Through the service, the advertisements can be sent to ASCI at any stage, including pre-production. This ensures that the endorser can do their independent due diligence before the advertisement is produced.

Meanwhile, Manisha Kapoor, secretary general at ASCI, commented, “Endorsers may not always be experts when it comes to the products they push and the claims they make. The law makes endorsers liable for the advertisements they appear in, hence Endorser Due Diligence becomes a critical need. ASCI’s service that is speedy, confidential, and based on the assessment of a multi-disciplinary panel can help endorsers do their due diligence in a timely and comprehensive manner, ensuring that consumers are not misled and that the endorser too, fulfils their legal obligations.”

Marketing Featured South Asia

India’s ad watchdog launches new probe on female representation in advertising

Mumbai, India – To help brands and agencies create campaigns with inclusive gender narratives, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) in collaboration with management consulting company Futurebrands has launched the ‘GenderNext’ study, which aims to give actionable insights in representing women in advertising.

The ‘GenderNext’ study includes patterns of female portrayals across multiple categories, such as personal care, fashion, beauty, home and hearth, gadgets and wheels, money, and education. The study presents insights on how advertising portrays women versus how they see themselves and want to be seen.

The study interviewed various women across different life stages and town classes, and according to them, they feel that advertising can be their ally in this journey. The study found that for young unmarried women, common stereotypes used in advertising such as women joyfully undertaking the drudgery of work have not been aspirational for them at all.

“Typical women’s day ads that show women emerge victorious after significant struggle were not considered particularly empowering. Women are tired of ads showing young women being bestowed with freedoms only after putting up a fight,” the study stated.

In line with such misportrayals, the study proposes a category agnostic framework known as the ‘SEA (Self-esteemed, Empowered, Allied) Framework’ that aims to guide stakeholders in imagining as well as evaluating portrayals of women in their advertising by building empathy and aiding evaluation.

The study also proposes a 3s screener for scripts and storyboards, casting, styling to identify stereotype red flags. The screener looks at aspects of subordination, service, and standardization, and solves these negative stereotypes through the lens of self-esteem, empowerment, and alliance.

For Lipika Kumaran, lead author at GenderNext, the study has exposed that mainstream advertising still heavily borrows from an inventory of overused, and sometimes harmful stereotypical tropes.

“A detailed study of over six hundred advertisements revealed several problematic tropes- such as sensualizing the act of eating by women, showing women as spenders in financial advertising, women running around the house while others lounge around, male gaze acceptance in beauty ads, showing women as lower down in tech-hierarchy in gadget ads, male celebrities challenging and instructing women, among others,” Kumaran explained.

Meanwhile, Subhash Kamath, chairman at ASCI, noted that said study acts as a guide for stakeholders – brand owners, marketers, advertising professionals – to aid the creation of more progressive depictions of women in advertising.

“The deep insights on women, and what they feel about advertising is a fantastic input into advertising creation, and we hope that brands and advertisers will be motivated by the findings to depict women in more progressive ways. We also intend to set up a task force to evaluate advertising guidelines on harmful stereotypes,” Kamath stated.

Furthermore, Santosh Desai, managing director at Futurebrands commented that the study has identified some common patterns of discrimination and has also created a framework that enables marketers to identify and eliminate such undesirable representations.

“As an influential form of popular culture, advertising has historically been a significant source for the propagation of gender stereotypes. While things are changing, what this study, initiated by ASCI and carried out by Futurebrands uncovers, is that gender continues to be represented in a skewed and discriminatory manner. Some obvious ways of stereotyping are less visible, but there are many other ways, both subtle and not-so-subtle, in which gender portrayals continue to be skewed,” Desai concluded.

For this study, the primary research involved ad clinics with 160 respondents and 20 focus group discussions across 10 centers, in addition to tapping into Futurebrand’s proprietary study Bharat Darshan. More than 300 people were spoken to via social media.

Marketing Featured South Asia

ASCI’s latest service aids brands in determining potential ad violations

Mumbai, India – With the aim of helping brands create more responsible advertising practices for their upcoming campaigns, advertising regulatory body Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has launched a new service called ‘Advertising Service’ which gives brands non-binding advice, at a pre-production stage, on advertising claims and depictions to further mitigate the risk of ads being misleading, offensive, unfair or unsafe.

Said service, which will be available for all members and non-members of ASCI, and will be under a paid service.

Part of the objective that ASCI holds with the launch of this new service is that aside from being a regulatory body, they also aim to help protect consumers from objectionable ads. . They also added that the service provides confidential quick expertise to help advertisers make more responsible advertising, which in turn, saves them effort, money as well as possible loss of reputation once the advertisement is already in the marketplace.

In addition, ‘Advertising Service’ aims to help advertisers balance creativity with responsibility and is being offered in line with best global practices followed by different self-regulatory organizations.

“What is quite unique in the ASCI Advertising Advice service is that the Advertising Advice panel will also include technical experts in different specialties who can examine the claim and evidence for technical claim support. It is important to note that this service is not intended to be a pre-clearance, and advertisers may use the advice to better their ads in a manner they deem fit,” the regulatory board said in a press statement.

The service, while provided by the body’s technical team and subject experts, is not a pre-clearance of the advertisement, and neither is it a guarantee against complaints being filed by consumers. However, the service is expected to mitigate the risk of advertising being misleading, offensive, unsafe, or unfair. 

“ASCI will process any complaints they receive against such ads as per its normal process. The advisory panel for Advertising Advice service is completely different from the complaints process to avoid any potential conflicts,” they added.

For Subhash Kamath, chairman at ASCi, the newly-launched service as a crucial element in the cause of self-regulation pushed the body, adding that the service gives brands a chance to better prepare their campaigns and mitigate reputational risks.

“While there is no guarantee that consumers will not raise a claim against a brand, the advisory does help brands take steps to ensure that their campaigns don’t violate any norms formulated to protect consumer interest. We believe that this advisory service will provide the necessary support to the advertising ecosystem to create more responsible ads without affecting creativity,” Kamath stated.

Meanwhile, Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general at ASCI, commented that the advisory can be used by brands to great effect while planning their campaigns as brands wish to be competitive and push the boundaries of claims. She also added that with this service, they can support advertisers to make strong claims while not crossing the all-important lines of honesty, decency, fairness, and safety.

“An external scrutiny by experts at the pre-production stage can add tremendous value to campaign development. [In the] post-release of the campaign, any stoppage can cause significant disruption and cost for an organization. But by making this a part of the way advertisers think of campaigns at an early stage, such risks can be mitigated. We see this as a win-win for advertisers and consumers, who then get exposed to fewer problematic ads,” Kapoor added.

ASCI has long been helping advertisers with proper regulations about advertisements, which included their draft guidelines on influencer ads, and COVID-19 related campaigns.

Marketing Featured South Asia

India’s ad watchdog names new creative partner to amp up campaign efforts

Mumbai, India – India’s advertising regulator, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), has appointed independent and integrated agency Infectious Advertising to manage both its above-the-line (ATL) and below-the-line (BTL) marketing and to provide digital creative services to the council. The agency will also be delivering strategic support for campaign development and audience outreach programs.

ASCI is a non-government and voluntary organization that acts as the country’s watchdog to the advertising industry, providing wide regulation to the sector to ensure legal, decent, and truthful implementation of ads. The council investigates complaints across all media such as print, TV, radio, and hoardings, as well as on ads disseminated on SMS, emails, and most especially on the internet. The council also checks for ethical advertising on product packaging, brochures, promotional material, and point of sale material. 

Nisha Singhania and Ramanuj Shastry, founding partners of Infectious Advertising, jointly said, “It’s an absolute honor to be brought on board as ASCI’s creative partner and we look forward to doing some path-breaking work for them.”

ASCI is very consistent in regularly launching campaigns and guidelines to ensure advertisers in the country are properly aligned to the ethical code of conduct. Its most recent ad guidelines are for online gaming for real money winnings. Meanwhile, in February this year, in response to the rise of influencer marketing, it has released draft guidelines for branded content, calling for feedback from key stakeholders. 

Recently acquiring its account, Infectious advertising is also the creative partner of furniture manufacturer Ebco and also manages creative duties for Tata Group’s financial services Tata Capital

Marketing Featured South Asia

India’s Ad Standards Council releases draft guidelines on influencer ads

Mumbai, India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released Monday, draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media.

The guidelines were established by the regulatory body in response to the surging influencer marketing in the country, and the tendencies following naturally of influencers and marketers to insufficiently identify and distinguish that a digital content is promotional.

According to digital marketing agency AdLift, India’s influencer market is estimated at US$75M to US$150M a year as compared to the global market of $1.75B, and ASCI foresees that such medium is poised to increase further in practice as more Indians go online.

ASCI said that when influencers fail to properly identify promotional content, the non-disclosure is misleading, and therefore a disservice to consumers.

The council’s draft guidelines consist of 10 pointers. The direction mainly guides influencers and marketers on how a disclosure label should rightly appear, and where it must be properly placed within a content to achieve the transparency for audiences and consumers. 

ASCI said that branded and promotional content must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content. It is not enough that advertisers label the content but that disclosure labels must be from the approved specifications. 

The reason for this is that some consumers may not be familiarized by the creative ways influencers and advertisers choose to deliver disclosure labels, and therefore labels that are not able to follow the approved specifics will not be considered adequate. Examples of these advertisements are paid music promotion in a video or a promotion of a store or a brand through a post on the influencers’ media handle. 

ASCI said the disclosure label must be upfront, such that it should be within the first two lines of accompanying copy in any given platform, not needing to click ‘see more’ or scroll further to see details. It should also be prominently placed, appropriate for the channel, and suitable for all potential devices, meaning the label is visible regardless of what channel, platform, and device is used. 

The disclosure label must also be in English or translated into the language of the ad in a way that will be well understood by the average consumer who is viewing the ad. ASCI also said that blanket disclosures, those that are put in the profile, ‘bio’ and ‘about’ sections of brands and influencers’ social media accounts will not be considered adequate. 

The council has also specified that in instances where an ad is only a posted image such as in Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture and that it must be seen clearly by an average viewer. The same goes with videos, where in cases that the promotional video content does not carry any text, the disclosure label should be superimposed. 

In regards to the video’s length, ASCI has also given a direction. For example, for videos that last 15 seconds or lesser, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of 2 seconds, while for those that are longer than 15 seconds, but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure label must stay for one-third the length of the video. Meanwhile, for videos that are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features and benefits are mentioned. 

With audio media, on the other hand, the statement must be clearly announced both at the beginning and at the end of the audio. In addition for social media ads, the council also prohibits filters applied to these types of ads, especially if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making, such as shinier hair or whiter teeth. 

It is also expected that the influencer must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them such as ‘twice as better’, or ‘effect lasts for 1 month’, or the ‘fastest speed’, among others. Due diligence can be verified through correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the ad is with scientific substantiation. 

With the said guidelines, ASCI recommends that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carry such presented clauses pertaining to the disclosure label, use of filters as well as due diligence. 

The guidelines will be available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers for feedback until 8 March, 2021. Based on the feedback and inputs, the final guidelines will be issued by ASCI by 31 March, 2021, and will be applicable to all promotional posts that are published on or after 15th April 2021.

Subhash Kamath, Chairman of ASCI, said that Digital is no longer a niche and that consumers have the right to easily recognize promotional content. 

“The guidelines will help consumers identify promotional content and also guide digital influencers. We look forward to feedback from industry stakeholders, including more influencers, which would help us make the digital space more responsible for all,” said Kamath. 

The guidelines were a collaborative effort with influencers. ASCI teamed up with BigBang.Social, a marketplace for social storytelling, to get India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board.

Dhruv Chitgopekar, CEO of BigBang.Social, said, “We realized the need for a responsible advertising ecosystem in place for influencers; promoting ethical practices, fair & transparent expression. These guidelines will benefit consumers and digital influencers. We firmly believe it is essential for digital advertising platforms too. We are delighted to partner with a self-regulatory body that wants to be inclusive of all stakeholders.”

ASCI’s draft guideines on influencer ads also provides a ready reckoner on disclosure lables for each specific social media platform.