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Subhash Kamat: “We are looking for government collabs for ASCI”

ASCI monitors 3,000 digital platforms in addition to print and TV.

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NEW DELHI: Last week, BBH & Publicis Worldwide India CEO Subhash Kamat was unanimously elected as chairman of the board of governors of the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), an independent industry body that works towards protecting the consumers' interests by containing the menace of misleading ads. The veteran ad man replaced the outgoing chairman Rohit Gupta who served in that the position for a year. Kamath has been an active member of The Ad Club in the past and has been serving on the board of governors of Asci since 2010.

Kamat has his work cut out for him: ASCI is not the only body which can crack the whip on advertising: there’s the Central  Consumer Protection Authority which apparently has powers to penalise errant advertisers. There’s a huge surge in political advertising, which does not come under its remit. Then there’s the continuing explosion in digital advertising, online and on OTT platforms.

Indiantelevision.com’s Dolly Mahayan got into a conversation with Kamat on the challenges before Asci, how it is dealing with them, what is he going to immediately focus on, and what kind of a legacy he would like to leave behind. He also spoke about the industry watchdog's guidelines on big and small brands to curb misleading advertisements and what lies in the future around the celebrity influencer guidelines. Excerpts from the interview:

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What will be your immediate role and responsibilities? What are your top priorities? 

We must continue to build on our past milestones, as well as work hard to take our work to the next level. Collaborations across different stakeholders, making ourselves technologically savvier, will be some key objectives so that we are able to address the opportunities of the future stronger and better. In terms of the regulatory context, we have a new consumer protection law and the Central Consumer Protection Authority. Therefore, the context in which ASCI functions has also been transformed. All this makes it imperative for us to think hard about codes, guidelines, regulations, etc. We will build on our past work. The question is what should we do to take this work to the next level? I’d love to see the Consumer Complaints Council and board members working more closely together. The intellectual debate that would follow would raise the quality of decisions and the standards of internal working.

How do you plan to further strengthen the teeth of ASCI?

With the digital revolution influencing brand messaging and engagement with consumers, advertising is evolving rapidly. And with the recent formation of the Central Consumer Protection Authority constituted by the government, self-regulation will be even more crucial in promoting consumer confidence and trust. Our industry today is at a crucial stage.In addition to the above, we will look for more close collaborations with government departments.

How do you plan to regulate the brands and agencies to stop coming up with misleading ads?

We already have a clear code in place that is continuously evolving. Our processes have kept pace too. For instance, we now monitor 3,000 digital platforms in addition to print and TV through the national advertising monitoring service. We now cover 80 per cent of India’s ad spend. We have a transparent and easy complaints redressal process and we offer fast-tracking of it too. Because we’re self-regulated, we have consistently had a compliance rate of well over 90 per cent.

What is the way forward on celebrity influencer guidelines?

The world over, people follow celebrities and get influenced by them. The ASCI code clearly states that celebrities must do due diligence to ensure that the advertisements they appear in do not violate ASCI codes so that they don’t land up misleading consumers. It’s reasonable to expect that celebrities be mindful of what they attach their name to because they have the trust of millions of consumers.

A lot of small agencies across different pockets of the country are less aware of the role and functionality of ASCI. How do you intend to aware of them? 

We already have a robust awareness creation mechanism. We do this through regular interaction with the media and also through very active social media channels. That is why consumers know and agencies know about us and approach us in such large numbers.

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While we see big and small brands coming up with misleading ads across categories, which are the top five  categories with the most misleading ads?

Last year, the food and beverage, healthcare, and education sectors accounted for 79 per cent of the complaints processed by ASCI. These are sectors we’re looking at closely, especially given the claims about Covid2019 preventions and cures.

What will be the key milestone that you would want to achieve in this position?

To be completely in sync with the new digital reality.

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