How ASCI began and why it believes in self-
regulation – 3

Given the overall objective, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a strong believer in the self- regulatory approach for several reasons:

  • It protects consumers by responding quickly and efficiently to concerns, and is better placed to address societal changes
  • It’s good for businesses because it builds trust by contributing to reputation and guarantees a level playing field
  • It adapts to technological developments and drives growth, which also creates jobs

Advertising self-regulation complements legislation by setting and enforcing codes, and rewarding responsible advertising. In India, this is particularly relevant because the goal of the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019 – just like ASCI’s – is to promote consumer trust. A self-regulatory system complements enforcement mechanisms like the Central Consumer Protection Authority that the law has established.

The codes of practice cover specific issues such as marketing to children or of harmful products. An effective programme of advertising self-regulation, therefore, advances the interests of both consumers and the advertising industry.

All members of a self-regulatory system share a common interest in upholding high standards because any erosion of public trust can undermine the entire industry. It also raises standards across the ecosystem through a common embrace of compliance. Thus, those doing business with members of the self-regulatory system can be confident that standards are being met. Such a system is designed to cover all media, including digital. Accordingly, ASCI has begun monitoring digital platforms in addition to the already tracked print and TV media. ASCI has started with food and beverage, healthcare and education advertising on digital media as they accounted for 79% of the complaints processed last year. The service will monitor 3,000 digital platforms, including almost all search, video and display ads which cover 75% of digital ad spends. With this, ASCI is now monitoring a media horizon estimated to have more than 80% of India’s advertising spend on it.

There is another aspect – advertising self-regulatory principles can be adapted quickly to societal changes. Detailed regulation in many cases is not flexible or fast enough to respond to market, societal or technological changes. Rigid regulations may also stifle innovation or involve challenging compliance burdens. Self-regulation is faster and cheaper.

It’s also transparent, as evidenced by the regular publishing of redressals, codes, etc. In India, ASCI has independent complaint-assessment juries that include members of civil society such as retired judges and non-profits. As a result, the organisation is under constant scrutiny.

A relatively new inclusion is training and mentoring. By offering this, self-regulatory bodies raise awareness and, through that, better industry practices.

Lastly, there is a strong incentive to follow self-regulatory decisions because non-compliance can damage brands’ reputation and invite legal action from a government regulator. As such decisions are publicised, advertisers generally comply. In ASCI’s case, there has been a compliance level of well over 90% over the years.

It’s evident then that self-regulation works and is beneficial to everyone involved.