The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is the self-regulatory, voluntary organization of the advertising industry in India. Rohit Gupta, chairman, ASCI, talks to pitch team, about ASCI's initiative to increase self regulation awareness, among both advertisers and consumers. He also talks about ASCI's plans to increase regulations in digital advertising. Q-As the Chairman of ASCI, what is on the top of your to-do list? The prime focus for us will be to further increase consumer awareness. Last year, our total consumer complaints went up by 30 percent and we would like to continue this momentum. The idea is to reach out to larger number of consumers as more & more people become aware of the work we do, the better we can serve them. We already have a very strong process on traditional media, this year we will be focusing on digital side in a big way. We are working together to bring a strong digital process and you will hear an announcement soon sometime next year. We would like to continue to build awareness about self-regulation within the industry, and we will continue to run campaigns to bring more and more people from industry on board. Q-The Consumer Protection bill has been a talking point in the industry. What impact has this had on the industry? How does this bill empower consumers? It is too early to comment on the impact of the bill as the fine print of the policy is still being worked on. The purpose of the bill itself is to safeguard the interest of consumers. If the consumer is exposed to honest communication, the consumers will then make more informed choices. The advertising fraternity will have to be more mindful of the communication they create; they cannot afford a mistake as the consequences can be severe. This Bill will act as a deterrent (to mislead) for a lot of manufacturers and service providers, especially in unorganised sectors, unregulated industries or unscrupulous elements. Q-A controversial talking point is celebrities being held liable for endorsing misleading ads. What are your thoughts on this? Do ASCI have any stand on this? Celebrity endorsement contribute to a large portion of advertising spends and we feel that advertisers will continue to use celebrities to promote their brands. India has more than 1660 pieces of content with celebrities now and total TV advertising spend on celebrity based brands is about Rs 6700 crores which is 25 % of all advertising. The top 20 celebrities endorse about 314 brands between them. ASCI’s celebrity guidelines clearly state that celebrities need to follow a laid down due diligence process that ensure that all descriptions, claims and comparisons made in ads they appear are capable of being objectively ascertained and should not mislead or appear deceptive. Also if celebrities follow the laid down guidelines they should not be worried or concerned. Q-While the guidelines are clear, many brands – including prominent brands who are repeat offenders - continue to make unsubstantiated claims misleading ads. What can be done to prevent this? This is actually not the case; large companies have several brands under their umbrella. Most of them are members of ASCI and we receive 100% compliance from them. ASCI also has a procedure called advertising advise where an advertiser can seek advice on their storyboards before campaigns are made with huge monetary investments. Additionally ASCI also have an e-learning course specifically designed for brand owners and creators of advertisements who can learn about ASCI’s codes through various interactive modules. Q-How do you ensure accountability across all stakeholders - the brand, creative agency, media agency or the media vertical? What are the steps that ASCI is taking in terms of educating both brands and agencies? ASCI work to create awareness within the industry, be it advertisers, agencies or the media. We have several tools that the industry can avail (they have been covered in the question above). Additionally, ASCI consistently undertake awareness initiatives through digital and social for the benefit of the industry.