India – The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released on Tuesday an official advisory for brands and companies in releasing COVID-19-related advertisements.

The authority said the guidelines are in response to a proliferation of ads with misleading claims around coronavirus cures and preventions.

In the statement, ASCI cautions ads that claim destruction or removal of any virus other than COVID-19, a violation of the authority’s clauses 1.4, and 1.5, pertaining to the distortion of facts and the misframing of information for consumers. 

In cases that an advertiser opts to include such claims, ASCI reminded that the disclaimer “claim not applicable to coronavirus (COVID-19),” or a similar message, must be displayed, and shown in the size and position aligned with ASCI’s specifications. 

Advertisers are also likewise warned to be extra conscientious in making, whether direct or indirect, claims in reducing the chances of becoming infected with the virus, or gaining immunity against it. In such cases, advertisers should be able to substantiate such claims with technical support by recognized or approved health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), or any health organizations of similar stature. Support may also come from well-recognized medical and technical literature or by regulatory-approved clinical research conducted by a recognized medical institute and laboratory.

Similarly, the authority made mention that brands offering products that are not internally consumed or applied to bodies hence, those not requiring a license under the Drug & Cosmetic Act, must be particularly careful in making claims regarding the prevention, immunity, and treatment for the virus unless supported with sufficient data. 

In April 2020, the Ministry of AYUSH has released an order for regulatory authorities in the states and union territories on AYUSH, drugs that have been launched without any rigorous pharmacological studies and clinical trial, to stop and prevent publicity and advertisement of AYUSH-related claims for COVID-19. In the guidelines, ASCI emphasized the order which restricts communications on print, TV, and electronic media. 

ASCI said the released directions are only the first of many steps to safeguard consumers from the plethora of misleading pandemic-related claims

Since the Ministry of AYUSH’s memo in April, ASCI has processed 250 violating advertisements and reported 233 from the healthcare sector to the ministry. 

General Secretary of ASCI Manisha Kapoor said that although the pandemic is a difficult time for everyone, even for brands, it isn’t a reason to resort to negligence.

“Manufacturers and brands have responded to consumer needs arising out of the pandemic. However, we want these products and advertisements to stick to claims and promises that are well backed by adequate substantiation,” said Kapoor.

Kapoor added, “We want advertisers to be more mindful in creating advertisements and making claims related to Covid-19. Given the pandemic and the extended lockdowns, people are obviously concerned.”

ASCI has already rolled out digital banners of the guidelines on its social media pages.