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The Truth Shall Advertise: Ad Self-Certification Rules Explained

Remember that catchy jingle promising wrinkle-free skin in a week? Or the miracle cure-all potion advertised late at night? Those days might be numbered. India is introducing a self-declaration certificate system for advertiser accountability.

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Manoj Singh
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Clean Up Your Ad

TICE Creative Image | A New Era of Responsible Advertising in India

For decades, Indian consumers have navigated a sea of advertisements, some factual, some embellished, and some downright misleading. But a recent Supreme Court order promises to clean up these promotional waters with the introduction of a self-declaration system for advertisers and advertising agencies. This article delves into the details of this new regime, exploring its potential impact on the advertising landscape and brand stories

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The Supreme Court's mandate for self-declaration certificates is a decisive step towards ensuring ethical advertising practices in India. Read this insightful report based on KPMG insights by Namrata Rana Partner and National Head for ESG KPMG in India & Mustafa Surka  Partner, Forensic Services KPMG in India. The TICE News team has explained this for a larger audience and reach.

The Genesis of Change

Prior to this June 2024 mandate, the Indian advertising industry operated within a framework of self-regulation, overseen by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). While ASCI played a vital role in promoting ethical advertising practices, its enforcement mechanisms relied primarily on public censure. The Supreme Court's order, however, marks a significant shift towards a more stringent system.

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Debate Over Ad Self-Certification Norms Reaches Indian Parliament, Challenges for Media Houses Highlighted

The issue of norms for ad self-certification has reached the Indian Parliament, sparking a debate. Media houses are facing difficulties with self-declaration certification, including registering on the portal and troubleshooting issues, which could act as a deterrent for print and TV media, potentially affecting revenues. Small media houses, in particular, are impacted by the ambiguity regarding non-claim advertisements for SMEs, MSMEs, and startups, says Rajya Sabha MP Kartikeya Sharma.

The Self-Declaration System: A Sworn Statement for Ethical Advertising

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The new system requires advertisers and ad agencies to submit a self-declaration certificate before publishing or broadcasting any advertisement. This certificate functions as a sworn statement, assuring adherence to two key sets of guidelines:

  • Rule 7 of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994: This regulation ensures advertisements are respectful towards national symbols, figures, and religions. It also prohibits content that incites violence, promotes hatred, or discriminates against any group.
  • Norms of the Journalistic Code of Conduct of the Press Council of India: These norms apply to print and digital advertisements, upholding principles of truthfulness, objectivity, and ethical conduct. This essentially means advertisements should avoid misleading claims, hidden conditions, and exploitative tactics.

The Filing Process: Different Platforms, Different Portals

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The self-declaration process is streamlined based on the platform where the advertisement will be displayed:

  • Television and Radio Advertisements: Advertisers need to file the certificate through the Broadcast Seva Portal, a government platform managed by the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting.
  • Print and Digital/Internet Advertisements: The Press Council of India (PCI) has established a dedicated portal for submitting self-declaration certificates for these forms of advertising.

The Checklist: What Does the Certificate Entail?

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The self-declaration certificate acts as a checklist, ensuring compliance with various regulations governing advertising in India. Here's a breakdown of the key points covered:

  • Legal and Ethical Compliance: This section ensures alignment with regulations like the Consumer Protection Act,2019, which empowers consumers against misleading practices.
  • Prohibition of Harmful Content: Advertisements promoting violence, hate speech, or harmful substances like tobacco are strictly prohibited.
  • Respect for National Symbols and Figures: Proper respect for national symbols and figures is mandatory to avoid offending public sentiments.
  • Prohibited Products: Advertisements for products barred by law, such as miracle cures or hazardous substances, are not allowed.
  • Non-discriminatory Content: Advertisements must be inclusive and avoid discrimination based on factors like race, religion, gender, or caste.
  • Protection of Vulnerable Groups: Advertisements must be mindful of protecting vulnerable groups like children and the elderly from exploitation.
  • Adherence to ASCI Guidelines: The existing ASCI guidelines promoting truthful, decent, and honest advertising practices are still in effect.
  • Portrayal of Women: Advertisements must portray women in a positive and respectful manner, avoiding objectification or stereotypical roles.
  • Other Regulatory Provisions Governing Advertising Claims: The certificate also covers compliance with sector-specific regulations, such as those governing food safety claims or pharmaceutical advertising.

Beyond the Certificate: Addressing Vulnerabilities

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While the self-declaration system is a positive step, it's important to acknowledge potential vulnerabilities. These include:

  • Lack of Transparency in Information Sharing: Advertisers might withhold crucial details about claims or supporting evidence.
  • Complexity of Supply Chains: The involvement of multiple parties in ad creation can make it difficult to track down the source of misleading information.
  • Limited Resources for Review: Regulatory bodies might struggle with the sheer volume of advertisements requiring review.
  • Pressure to Meet Business Objectives: Advertisers might prioritize sales over legal and ethical considerations.
  • Ambiguity in Regulations: Interpretation gaps in regulations can create loopholes for misleading practices.

Combating Misleading Claims: The Crucial Role of Stakeholders

To ensure the effectiveness of the self-declaration system, a multi-pronged approach is necessary:

  • Advertising Claim Review: Advertisers and agencies should implement stricter pre-publication/broadcast review processes to identify potential issues and ensure compliance.
  • Proactive Vulnerability Assessments: Regulatory bodies can conduct assessments to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities within the advertising ecosystem.
  • Training and Awareness: Training programs for stakeholders can create awareness about advertising regulations and the consequences of non-compliance.
  • Investigation of Allegations: Proactively investigate any reports of non-compliance.

A Step Towards Ethical Advertising

This new system empowers consumers and fosters trust in advertising. It's a win-win for everyone – advertisers avoid legal hassles, and consumers get a more transparent advertising landscape. But the journey isn't without its challenges. Ensuring proper implementation and addressing potential loopholes will be crucial.

This is a big step towards a more responsible advertising ecosystem in India. Whether it translates into a commercial-free utopia or a new era of clear and honest advertising, one thing's for sure – Indian advertising is on the cusp of an exciting transformation.

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