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“I&B to partner with ASCI to curb misleading advertisements”: Narendra Ambwani

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An IIM Ahmedabad alumnus, Narendra Ambwani has spent over 34 years of his career with Johnson & Johnson. He led the rapid growth of Indian operations of Johnson & Johnson by building hugely successful and strong brands like Johnsons’ Baby and Stayfree. His strong focus on people engagement and development made J&J India as one of the “Best Companies to work for” in India.

Ambwani, a professionally trained CEO coach and business advisor, now serves on boards of leading companies in India and acts as business advisor for marketing of FMCG products.

In the coming year, we hope to promote ASCI's guidelines more vigorously among advertisers and creative agencies, so that new ads meet ASCI's standards at the creative stage itself, he said while taking charge as Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) chairman .

During the year 2013-14, the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) met 41 times and considered complaints against 1,937 advertisements. Indiantelevision.com’s Meghna Sharma spoke to the new chairman to see what is on his priority list.



As the new ASCI chairman, what will be on your priority list and why?

Our priorities for year 2014-15 are:

•         Self discipline by creators of advertising – This would ensure that the advertisements are compliant with the self-regulation code of the ASCI at the time of their creation itself.

•         Easier access to ASCI services – More and more consumers now have better access to internet. Social media is also playing a very important role when it comes to consumers expressing their opinion. Our efforts are underway to make it easier for consumers to reach ASCI – be it to complain against objectionable advertisement or for ASCI members to get trained on self-regulation code. We would announce these initiatives in the coming months.

•         Collaboration with the regulators – The new mantra of “Less Government, more Governance” is in the true spirit of self-regulation. Department of Consumer Affairs, FSSAI and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is looking to partner with ASCI to curb the issue of misleading advertisements and protect the consumers’ interest. We are closely collaborating with e-regulators and are a key stakeholder in the Inter Ministerial Committees.

•         Being seen as fair by all stakeholders – For every complaint that we process, one party is always unhappy! If a complaint is upheld, it is the advertisers and if a complaint is not upheld, it is the consumer who may feel that has ASCI been fair. By continuing to keep our processes transparent and decisions providing clear rationale, we would be seen as a fair and unbiased organisation taking very objective decisions. Our aim is to communicate this better with all our stakeholders.

Recently, ASCI had set new guidelines that will not allow ads for fairness creams and other fairness products to depict people with dark skin as inferior to those who are fair. What triggered the association to come up with the new guidelines now?

While all fairness products are licensed for manufacture and sale by relevant state Food & Drug Administration (FDA) under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, there is a strong concern in certain sections of society that advertising of fairness products tends to communicate and perpetuate the notion that dark skin is inferior and undesirable. ASCI code’s Chapter III 1 b already states that advertisements should not deride race, caste, colour, creed or nationality. Yet given how widespread the advertising for fairness and skin lightening products is and the concerns of different stakeholders in society, ASCI therefore felt a need to frame specific guidelines for this product category.

Setting up these new guidelines for the skin lightening and fairness products will help advertisers comply with ASCI code’s Chapter III 1 b which states that advertisements should not deride any race, caste, colour, creed or nationality . Given how widespread the advertising for fairness and skin lightening products is and the concerns of different stakeholders in society, ASCI saw the need to setup specific guidelines for this product category.

What other segments are under scrutinisation? Why?



None at this moment.

You have said that ASCI wants to collaborate strongly with the regulators and consumer groups. When do we see that happening?

ASCI has been in close contact with all the key stakeholders such as regulatory bodies or consumer groups. It is an ongoing process and with the efficiencies that we have achieved in the last few years in terms of speed of complaint redressal, regulatory bodies and consumer groups are seeing ASCI as a strong partner. This collaboration is continuing to strengthen as these stakeholders are now relying more and more on ASCI to process complaints.



As awareness increases, will we see more marketing activities from the association to let more common people complain about ads?

We have seen encouraging responses in the last couple of years and are looking forward to reaching out to the consumers extensively. We organise campaigns and seminars in colleges for the youth to be aware of ASCI. We have a dynamic PR team that helps us spread communication and visibility of the council to our consumers. With our digital medium consumers lodge complaints via the ASCI website, the ASCI Facebook page, email and through smartphones. We also have maintained the traditional mediums i.e. toll free telephone and regular post for increased customer feedback. Growing awareness of ASCI is evident in the fact that the number of complaints that we have processed in the last two years have grown ten folds!

ASCI code of conduct is known to all advertising agency. Then why do we see repeated offence. Do you think the penalty should be more stringent?

By and large, contrary to the perception, we have a very healthy compliance rate with the ASCI’s CCC decisions. There are very few repeat offenders and the compliance rate is more than 90 per cent. With the strong support coming in from the government bodies, we are confident that the compliance rate would only improve further.



Last year, ASCI reduced the complaint processing turnaround time to just 12 days. What can we expect this year?



This year we have some very interesting initiatives planned. We would announce them in the coming months. These are in line with the priorities set for the year 2014-15.

Lastly, any advice for the advertising agencies?

Regulate yourselves, else somebody else would regulate you!

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