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Healthcare ads emerge as most violative as ASCI releases Annual Complaints Report

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released its Annual Complaints Report, which offers a comprehensive analysis of advertisements that were considered objectionable in the fiscal year 2023–24.

ASCI examined 10,093 complaints and investigated 8,299 advertisements. The majority of violations were on account of misleading claims at 81 per cent, followed by ads that promoted harmful situations or products at 34 per cent (the same ad can be processed for multiple objections). Digital ads accounted for 85 per cent of ads processed, and had a lower compliance rate of 75 per cent, compared to 97 per cent for print and TV.

This raises serious questions about the online safety of consumers, as was highlighted last year as well. Around 94 per cent of the ads that were processed were picked up suo moto by ASCI. Around 49 per cent of the advertisements picked up by ASCI were not contested by the advertisers.

A total of 98 per cent of cases eventually required modification as they violated the ASCI Code. This year, healthcare emerged as the most violative sector, contributing to 19 per cent of cases, followed by illegal offshore betting (17%), personal care (13%), conventional education (12%), food and beverage (10%), and realty (7%).

Baby care emerged as a new contender in the top violators category, with influencer promotions contributing to 81% of baby care cases. Out of the 1,575 advertisements processed in the healthcare sector, 1,249 violated the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954, and were reported to the sector regulator. Around 86% of the healthcare ads appeared on digital platforms.

Around 1,311 advertisements for illegal bet ting were sent to the appropriate authorities for further action. Of the 1,064 ads that ASCI examined in personal care, 95% of them appeared online, with more than half (55%) being influencer non-disclosure cases. Celebrities continued to appear in ads that were in violation of the ASCI code.

ASCI processed complaints against 101 ads featuring celebrities, 91% of which required modification. 104 celebrities appearing in these 101 ads were found to be in violation of the celebrity guidelines as they could not provide any evidence of due diligence. It may be noted that due diligence is also a requirement under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Saugata Gupta, chairman of ASCI, said, “As digital emerges as a dominant media in which advertisements thrive, ASCI has geared up to the challenges through constant investment in technology. We will continue to improve our processes and expertise to ensure nimble and transparent resolution of objectionable ads. At this critical juncture, we look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to promote ethical advertising and calling out advertisements that eventually erode trust in advertising.”

Manisha Kapoor, CEO & secretary general of ASCI, said, “2023-24 has been a truly challenging year, and ASCI stepped up to this by focusing our efforts on digital. 3200 advertisements were shared with various regulators, such as Ayush, for direct violations of the law. We see this as a continuing area of focus. Sectors like healthcare emerging at the top are a significant concern for all citizens. With the highest number of violative ads seen online, advertisers and platforms must work more closely with regulators and self-regulators to keep consumers protected. ASCI Academy’s recently launched e-learning courses on Responsible Advertising and Responsible Influencing is a significant step to increase the industry’s capacity to create ads with greater understanding of regulatory standards and ensure that consumers are not exposed to objectionable advertising in the first place.”