Industry opines on ASCI’s guidelines on disclaimers

Ad industry veterans dabble on what kind of consequences these guidelines could have.

Mumbai: In an advertisement, be it a television commercial or a digital ad, the most ignored and unread portion is undoubtedly the disclaimer. In a recent survey carried out by ASCI with 130 consumers, it was observed that 80 per cent of respondents did not notice the disclaimer, 33 per cent could not understand the disclaimers clearly even after adequate exposure time had been provided, and 62 per cent of respondents felt that the disclaimer was excessively long. Keeping this in mind, The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), has updated its guidelines for disclaimers made in supporting, limiting or explaining claims made in advertisements.

During their meetings, the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) has also observed that sometimes, the frame of the advertisement that contains the disclaimer was very crowded, and distracted the viewer's focus.

To address these issues, the Guidelines for Disclaimers made in supporting, limiting or explaining claims made in advertisements have been amended by ASCI after consultation with stakeholders. The key additions to the existing disclaimer guidelines are as follows:

  • The use of disclaimers should be kept to a minimum. Long or otherwise complex disclaimers with large blocks of text and difficult words are a deterrent to viewers attempting to read the contents of the disclaimer. In such cases advertisers should modify the headline claim to reduce the need for further qualification through disclaimers.
  • Hold duration and readability of disclaimer - In television commercials or any other video advertisement on digital media, all disclaimers should be clearly readable to consumers. In a single frame in an advertisement:
    • There should not be more than one disclaimer
    • The disclaimer should be restricted to two full-length lines and remain on  screen for more than 4 seconds for every line
  • For regulatory requirements where the disclaimer exceeds two lines additional hold duration should be accounted for. For the purposes of calculating the duration of hold of disclaimers, all forms of text appearing on screen at any one point in time should be counted. This includes both disclaimer text and any text content in the main ad creative regardless of where on screen it appears and whether or not it is repeated in audio.

Other key facets of the disclaimer guidelines which remain unchanged are:

  • A Disclaimer can expand or clarify a claim, make qualifications, or resolve ambiguities, to explain the claim in further detail, but should not contradict/modify the material claim made nor contradict the main message conveyed by the advertiser or change the dictionary meaning of the words used in the claim as received or perceived by a consumer.
  • A disclaimer should not attempt to suppress material information with respect to the claim, the omission/absence of which is likely to make the advertisement deceptive or conceal its commercial intent.
  • A disclaimer should not attempt to correct a misleading claim made in an advertisement.
  • A disclaimer shall be in the same language as that of the claim/s of the Advertisement. In the case of bilingual advertisements, the disclaimer should be in the dominant language of the advertisement. spoke to a few ad industry veterans to know their views on what they think about these guidelines for disclaimers.

Views about the ASCI guidelines for disclaimers

According to Schbang executive creative director Manish Kinger, “For as long as I remember, disclaimers in ads were designed to serve a singular purpose: to somehow manage to barely hit the bar of being accepted as a disclaimer. 80 per cent of the people do not notice the disclaimer does not mean that only 20 per cent disclaimers are doing their job, it means that 80 per cent of the disclaimers are doing the job, as intended by the brand and the advertising agency. Nobody in the agency shows up to work and spends the whole day thinking, ‘how can I make this disclaimer more viewer-friendly?’ The amount of importance it gets on the screen is reflective of the amount of respect it gets in the brief.”

He goes on further, “What do I think about the new set of guidelines? I think, about time. The latest guidelines are more direct, prescriptive and a lot less open to interpretation. Maybe even unforgiving and inflexible but for sure, loaded with the intent of making the consumer take notice. Whether increasing the duration of the disclaimer on screen or reducing the jargon-ness of it or really shortening the length or increasing the font size will eventually drastically improve the reception of a disclaimer, only time will tell. However, I do believe as ad makers, we need to have room for a disclaimer discussion in briefing sessions and sensitize ourselves on the subtle/casual/invisible claims being made in our creative products, and wherever possible, figure out a way to not claimvertise.”

Famous Innovations national planning head Mitali Srivastava Hough points out, “As a part of the advertising industry, I have a positive view of the guidelines set by ASCI with regard to disclaimers in advertisements. These guidelines provide a framework for ethical and truthful advertising practices and help to ensure that advertisements are transparent and not misleading to consumers. The advertising industry plays a critical role in promoting products and services, and it is important that advertisements are held to a high standard. The guidelines set by ASCI help to maintain the credibility and integrity of the industry.”

Thought Blurb Communications founder and chief creative officer Vinod Kunj has an interesting take on this. He says, “An ad’s job is to interest the customer with a promise and hope. The disclaimer’s job is to tell customers not to get their hopes up. Putting the two in the same communication space is immediately creating confusion in the customer’s mind that the ASCI hopes to clear. The only quantifiable new guideline is to put the disclaimer up for four seconds. The rest are still in the area of hopes and dreams. Surprisingly, one of the main concerns seems to be that there are too many disclaimers in the ads and that is the reason for the confusion. At any rate, crafting the claims in an intelligible manner is always good advice.”

Says iCubesWire founder & CEO Sahil Chopra, “Disclaimers are a crucial part of advertisements, clarifying the claims made in the ad and reducing the risks of misleading customers. Recently, India's self-regulatory Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) conducted a survey to identify the effectiveness of disclaimers in ads. However, the survey's outcome indicated that 80% of the consumers do not notice the disclaimers. If consumers cannot read disclaimers, they may be deceived by the claims made in commercials. For example, viewers may believe that a product offers certain benefits without a disclaimer indicating the benefits may vary. In addition, it might affect a brand's credibility, leading to mistrust and a bad reputation for the advertiser and the brand.”

He adds, “To ensure ethical advertising practices, ASCI has tightened the guidelines for disclaimers. Advertisers will now need to make sure disclaimers are concise. In addition, there shouldn’t be more than one disclaimer in a single frame of an ad, and each disclaimer should only be two complete lines, staying on the screen for four seconds. With this increased duration and legibility of the disclaimers, customers will be more aware of a product’s offerings and may not be deceived.”

To what extent unethical practices could be prevented with this particular set of guidelines?

Hough brings out, “The placement of guidelines by ASCI can serve as a deterrent to unethical practices in advertising, but it is not a one-time solution. The advertising industry as a whole must be committed to ethical and responsible practices, and it is up to each individual to ensure that these guidelines are followed. While the guidelines set by ASCI provide a baseline for ethical advertising practices, it is up to each individual to continuously strive for responsible advertising practices.”

“At Famous Innovations, we have a strict code of conduct and ethical standards, and we work closely with our clients to ensure that all advertisements we create adhere to these standards. We believe that it is our responsibility to promote ethical advertising practices and are committed to working with ASCI and other industry stakeholders to help ensure that the advertising industry operates in an ethical and responsible manner,” she states.

However, Kinger of Schbang feels that there is no easy answer to this. “Will the new guidelines make life difficult for those who like to be unethically claim-ish? Absolutely. Will these guidelines ensure an absolute discontinuance of such practices? I am not sure. If disclaimers could change the world, we would have only a handful of smokers today. When the novelty of disclaimer 2.0 wears off, its effect will wear off too. I think information presented like information will be ignored like information, in due course of time.”

Kunj of Thought Blurb Communications elucidates, “When it comes to financial services, addictive games and other products that are in sensitive zones, advertising is trying to reach the gambling gene in the consumer. Like investment tools, the level of risk the consumer wants to take is entirely up to them. There is little that the advertiser can do to modify it. Preventing the customer from taking excessive risk is not up to the advertising message. We are not psychiatrists. The most we can do is to let people know that market movements are not within the purview of the brand or the advertising. Conversely, there is little or no way to determine that a customer’s predilection to higher risk or addictive behavior was brought on by the advertising message.”

“Yes, I believe there should be disclaimers simply stating the obvious, but I don’t see them changing consumer behavior one way or the other. In sum, an ad makes a claim to a consumer, a disclaimer tells the consumer to doubt the claim. Go figure!” he concludes.

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