Surrogate Advertising: Govt’s latest ad guidelines similar to ASCI’s, but legally binding now: Experts

The latest government guidelines aimed at consumer protection seek to achieve a lot – from prohibiting surrogate advertising to laying down conditions for bait and free claims advertising, regulating celebrity endorsements and also those adverts targeting children.

Yet, industry experts are not much enthused about their impact and effectiveness.

The guidelines are largely similar to the existing self-regulatory code framed by the industry body, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI).

The major difference now is that the guidelines are legally binding – and that their violation attracts penalties.

“All large, listed companies have been following guidelines and are driven by the marketing code; so, not much will change for them,” said Abneesh Roy, executive director at

Securities, who doesn’t see any significant impact.

The guidelines increase the onus on celebrities endorsing brands. They need to undertake due diligence regarding any misleading claims and must disclose any material connection with the manufacturer or advertiser of the endorsed product. This is likely to turn celebrities cautious about what they choose to endorse.

“There are some companies that have a conscious strategy of getting a celebrity to endorse their products regardless of any usage of, or belief in the product by the celebrity. Such rampant use of celebrity endorsement may come down,” said Milind Sarwate, an independent director on several Indian boards. “Celebrities too will gauge the impact of these regulations on their brand equity.”

The issue of prohibition of surrogate advertising has the potential to adversely impact the liquor players since they typically resort to such advertising for their products.

“We need to see how the issue of surrogate advertising impacts the liquor companies,” Roy said.

Manoj Menon, head of research,

, believes the prohibition of surrogate advertising, assuming it is indeed getting implemented in letter and spirit, could be beneficial to current players. According to him, the way a ban on advertising of infant foods in the 1990s benefited , the ban on surrogate advertising could benefit the existing brands by increasing the entry barriers.

However, experts agree on one thing: the implementation of the guidelines holds the key to their overall effectiveness. And there are issues in the implementation.

“Advertising is a highly subjective area. It is difficult to craft a set of tight regulations,” said Sarwate. “In any regulation, ‘definitions’ are always a subject matter of interpretation and lawyers may have a field day,” he said.

“Detecting a violation is not going to be an easy task,” said Jehangir Gai, a national award-winning consumer activist. “The machinery itself is weak. And the way our courts and their appellate mechanism function, it can take a long time to seek redressal. Which consumer will really go through the process and follow up on the complaint? Besides, sometimes the advertisement loses its significance by the time it is legally stopped.”

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