Advertising with a Conscience


What type of Company is ASCI? Who are its members?

ASCI is a voluntary self-regulatory organization, registered as a not-for-profit company under section 25 of the Indian Cos. Act. The sponsors of ASCI, who are its principal members, are firms of considerable repute within Industry in India, and comprise Advertisers, Media, Advertising Agencies and other professional /ancillary services connected with advertising practice.

Is ASCI a Government Body?

ASCI is not a Government body. It is a voluntary Self Regulatory Organization. However, ASCI is represented in all committees working on advertising content in every Ministry of the Government of India.

Who Complains against Advertisements to ASCI? What are the number of complaints   received annually?

ASCI used to receive and process complaints against around 170 advertisements prior to start of National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS), from a cross section of consumers and the general public, and this covers individuals, practitioners in advertising, advertiser firms, media, advertisements Agencies, and ancillary services connected with advertising. Since May 2012 ASCI has started monitoring of all most all newly released print and TV ads in India under the NAMS initiative which tracks down around 120 ads per month on an average for suo moto complaint processing..

Does ASCI follow the principles of Natural Justice when handling complaints?

Yes. ASCI gives the Advertiser every opportunity to explain its point of view. You will appreciate that if an Advertisement is to be reviewed for its likely impact on the sensibilities of individual viewers of TV, or readers of press publications (as in the case of your complaint), we require to convey to the Advertiser concerned, the substantial issues raised in the complaint, in the exact context of the specific advertisement, as conveyed by the perception of the complainant. We usually give the Advertiser one week to respond by way of comments. Only then will the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), of ASCI, be in a position to deliberate meaningfully on the issues involved, and to arrive at a fair and objective conclusion, which would stand the scrutiny of all concerned with the right to freedom of expression, and the freedom of consumers to choose the products /services made available to them in the market-place.

How long does it take for a decision on a Complaint to be taken?

Over the past few years, ASCI has made significant changes in the complaint processing system. With the use of electronic communication, weekly meetings of the Consumer Complaints Council and Online Complaint Monitoring Services, the average lead time to take a decision on a complaint is 12 working days from the date we receive a "complete" complaint. This should include full particulars of the Print Advertisement, the name and date of Publication, and clipping or copy of the print Advertisement .In case of a TVC airing, we require the Channel, date and time of the TVC, reasonable description of an A/V, specific claims or visual depictions which are considered to be false, misleading or objectionable and the reasons for the same.

How does ASCI protect the confidentiality of the Complainant?

As a policy ASCI does not disclose the identity of the complainant to the Advertiser or anyone other than to the members of the CCC, at the time of their meeting, which is usually held four times a month.

Can we quote decisions taken by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC)?

Yes, pertinent details on complaints which have been decided on by our Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), which are published in our monthly Compilation reports (normally sent to members of ASCI), which are made available to the Media on request (as in this instance), may be quoted verbatim, with mention of the source ie. "ASCI report on complaints decided by their CCC."

Does ASCI publish details of decisions taken by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC)?

Yes, a Summary of complaints which have been decided on by our Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), are published in our Monthly Compilation reports (normally sent to members of ASCI members) and in its Annual Report.  ASCI also releases to media every month summary of decision on complaints taken by the CCC. Click on "Recent Decisions by CCC on Complaints under the Section Feedback" and on “Press Releases”.

Does ASCI proactively ensure that Advertisement conform to its Code?

Yes, by registering a suo moto complaint. When one makes a complaint by oneself, it is treated as a suo motu complaint. Any Board member, CCC member or staff of the Secretariat can register a complaint which is considered to be a suo motu complaint. It goes through the same process as other complaints, ensuring that the Advertiser is given an opportunity to explain its view point. Since May 2012 ASCI has initiated National Advertising Monitoring Service (NAMS) which monitors on an average 45000 new print and 1500 new TV ads per month to track down any ads which may be making misleading, false or unsubstantiated claims.  Since start of NAMS about 120 ads are processed as suo moto complaint per month on an average.

Do Advertisers abide by the decisions of ASCI?

In the case of complaints which were Upheld by the CCC, during the past year, it may interest you to know that 80% of its advertisers have confirmed in writing to ASCI that they have either withdrawn or modified the ad appropriately . Under the NAMS initiative since January 2013 ASCI has started tracking in print and TV media all upheld complaint ads post communication to CCC decision to advertiser, its agency and media in which the ad had appeared. Initial tracking shows only 8% of ads against complaint was upheld had reappeared meaning 92% has complied. This post CCC decision upheld complaint ad tracking ensures actual monitoring of compliance of CCC decisions.

Does a complainant have to pay to register a complaint?

No. Registering a complaint is free of cost to consumer and all other complainants except in case of intra industry (ie amongst ASCI members) complaint lodged under the Fast Track Complaint Redressal scheme where decision is delivered by Fast Track Complaint Council (FTCC) within 7 days, a fee of Rs 75000 is charged to the complainant.

Does ASCI have any guidelines or rules which Agencies have to follow?

Yes, ASCI has a Code for Self Regulation in Advertising which covers the following principles:
I. To ensure the truthfulness and honesty of representations and claims made by advertisements and to safeguard against misleading advertisements.
II. To ensure that advertisements are not offensive to generally accepted standards of public decency.
III. To safeguard against the indiscriminate use of advertising for the promotion of products and / or services which are regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals to a degree or of a type which is unacceptable to society at large.
IV. To ensure that advertisements observe fairness in competition so that the consumer’s need to be informed on choices in the market-place and the canons of generally accepted competitive behaviour in business are both served.

Does ASCI have any guidelines or rules for a particular Category?

ASCI has specific Guidelines for Advertising of 1) Automobiles, 2) Food & Beverages and 3) Educational Institutions. ASCI has also come up with Guidelines on minimum size of supers required to be shown in TV and Print ad when conditions of claim being made are made out in the ad. This is to ensure that consumers can clearly see the conditions put out for better understanding of schemes and claims being made. Click here to see the Guidelines for Advertising on specific categories as above as well as other additional guidelines introduced from time to time.

What is the power of ASCI?

ASCI's role has been acclaimed by various agencies including the Government. However, it lacked the force of legal recognition. The Government of India has at last, taken note of this and by one stroke on 2nd August 2006 vide a notification in The Gazette of India: Extraordinary {Part II –sec. 3(i)}, made sure that at least as far as TV Commercials go, they abide by ASCI code. The amendment made in Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994 through a Notification dated August 2nd, 2006 now states: "(9) No advertisement which violates the Code for Self-Regulation in Advertising, as adopted by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Mumbai for public exhibition in India, from time to time, shall be carried in the cable service".

What prompted ASCI to have Educational Guidelines?

ASCI has been receiving several complaints from activists, parents and students against misleading claims being made in advertisement of various educational institutions. CCC therefore requested ASCI Board to provide detailed guidelines to evaluate specific claims pertaining to guaranteed placement and passing, recognition and affiliation institution, ranking of the institutions, nomenclature of degrees etc provided so that misleading and false claims can be clearly ferreted out.

What are the main features of the Educational Guidelines?

The Educational Guidelines

• Prohibits institutions and programs from claiming recognition, authorization, accreditation, or affiliations without having proper evidence.
• Requires that name and place of the Affiliated Institution which provides degrees and diplomas on behalf of the Advertiser who may not be accredited by a mandatory authority, is also prominently displayed in the advertisement.
• Educational institutions will not be able to promise jobs, admissions, job promotions, salary increase, etc. without substantiating such claims and also assuming full responsibility in the same advertisement.
• Discourages institutions from claiming success in placements, student compensations, admission to renowned institutes, marks and rankings, and topper student testimonials unless every such claim is substantiated with evidence

What is the main complaint received against Educational Advertisements?

The main complaint received is that Educational Institutions claim ‘100% Placement / Job Guaranteed” or ‘100% Placement Assured’.

Why did ASCI start NAMS?

ASCI receives relatively much less complaints against advertisements v/s developed countries like like UK whose self regulatory body gets nearly 20000 in year. This is because of various reasons main one being awareness of ASCI among consumers is low given population dispersion in India v/s other smaller, compact geographies, Over the years ASCI has focused on increasing its awareness by releasing mass media campaigns, reporting CCC results via media, coming out with complaint receiving mechanism on line and also thru toll free phone etc. but still complaints received by ASCI were about 2000-2500 per annum for 175 advertisements per year on an average. On the other hand, Government’s Department of Consumer Affairs and Consumer Activists believe there has been increasing instrances of misleading advertisements which harm consumer’s interests. Many such advertisements escaped CCC’s scrutiny as complaints against them are not brought to ASCI’s notice. ASCI’s NAMS initiative therefore was launched to ensure that most top Newspapers and all TV Channels are closely monitored to ensure that no ad which makes unsubstantiated, misleading or false claims escapes CCC’s scrutiny.

What does the partnership of ASCI with TAM Media Research entail?

As per the arrangement, AdEx India, a division of TAM Media Research, which already provides service of tracking and monitoring advertisements nationally to the advertisement sector will now check, with support from ASCI trained personnel, all newly released TV and Newspaper print advertisements, specifically for violation ASCI’s ad code related to unsubstantiated, misleading or false claims in the advertisement.

What is the monitoring arrangement under NAMS with AdEX on this? How many sectors   would NAMS monitor?

As per ASCI’s NAMS arrangements with AdEx India division of TAM Media Research identifies advertisements which are in potential violation of Chapter 1 of ASCI code related making of unsubstantiated, misleading or false claims. AdEx will focus its monitoring of advertisements in the Auto, Banking Financial Services & Insurance, FMCG (incl. F&B), Consumer Durables, Educational Institutions, Health Care Products & Services, Telecom and Real Estate sectors where instances of such claims being made occur mostly.

How many Advertisements are monitored every month?

45000 Print advertisements and 1500 TV advertisements are monitored every month on an average.They track 32 national Newspapers (all editions) which contribute to over 80% of national newspaper readership and all TV Channels across the country in all languages.

How would TAM notify ASCI of any misleading Advertisements?

ASCI has trained TAM personnel monitoring tracking of advertisements with examples of complaints made and decisions on them by CCC so that the monitors doing tracking are sensitized to type of claims and advertisements which violate ASCI code’s chapter 1. Advertisements seen as potentially violating Chapter 1 of ASCI Code by the monitors will then be forwarded to ASCI on a weekly basis giving translation in English of the advertisements if not in English or Hindi and reason why the advertisement seems to violating the ASCI code. Based on this input ASCI processes the complaint suo moto as per its complaints redressal process of CCC adjudicating the complaint.

Has an initiative like this been introduced before?

NAMS initiative is a paradigm shift for self regulation in Indian advertising & probably a benchmark for other countries as something like this doesn’t seem to have been attempted at this scale anywhere in the world.

Is there any other country which follows advertising self regulation uses something like this   as a preventive measure?

No. Some countries’ eg France have pre clearance of ad by self regulatory body requirement, UK TV channels also pre clear advertisements just like DD does it in India but there is no monitoring of all advertisements to bring out advertisements which violate ad code of a Self Regulatory Organisation (SRO) by an SRO.


How does ASCI take action against the advertisements?

Post receiving the complaints from TAM, ASCI processes them as per its normal complaint redressal procedure involving its Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) for adjudication. If the complaint is upheld then the ad will need to be modified or pulled out as is applicable for all complaints. Currently 100% of TV advertisements and over 80% print advertisements against whom a complaint is upheld by ASCI’s are modified or withdrawn as confirmation in writing received by ASCI from the Advertiser or its concerned advertisement Agency. Tracking of upheld complaint advertisement AdEx show that only 8% of advertisements against whom complaints have been upheld have reappeared and that too of small advertisers.

ASCI complaint redressal process is slow and by the time its CCC takes complaint upheld   decision the damage in the market place is done?

ASCI has to provide due process for the advertiser against whose advertisement a complaint is made to respond to charges levied against the advertisement. Requirement of providing adequate time for advertiser to respond is mandated by legal advise and courts. ASCI though has recently put up three new initiatives to speed up CCC decision process. One is to have CCC meeting four times a month instead of once a month so decision time is reduced by 12 days on average (from 45 days to 30 days). And two, starting the Fast Track Intra Industry complaint (FTCC) redressal process where decision of complaint from one member advertiser against advertisement of another advertiser is decided within 7 working days. Since March 15 2013 ASCI has initiated Suspension Pending Investigation (SPI) process by which ASCI can exparte ask a Advertiser to suspend an advertisement, pending final decision by the CCC, if prima facie it is seen to cause immense harm or hurt to consumers and society in general.

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