Advertising & PR veteran Mr. Roger Pereira, who is one of the founding
members of ASCI, shares the story of how and why ASCI was established.
The 70s and early 80s were the halcyon days for advertising in India. Suddenly, more and more people began to realise the immense power and potential of advertising. Even recently- nationalised (at that time) banks and public sector corporations took to advertising like infants take to mobile phones, these days! I remember a particular flight I was on from Delhi to Ahmedabad.
I happened to be sitting next to Manubhai Shah on that flight. He was the Union Minister for Commerce and Industry. He was so excited when I told him I worked in advertising. Can your
advertising help my home state of Gujarat attract Guajarati businessmen from Bombay to set up factories in Gujarat?
And on that day in April 1969 was born a relationship between my company, Shilpi, and the young state of Gujarat to foster Entrepreneurial Development right till I left Shilpi in November 1985. More. The Punjab CM, Darbara Singh and the AP CM N T Rama Rao tasked us to replicate this very successful model in their respective states. And we did!
Shilpi was not the only ad agency doing developmental work. Other agencies too had their fair share of path breaking success stories in advertising. Advertising was being successfully employed to emphasise the Ease of Doing Business in Maharashtra, for Family Planning, to Save Water in the city of Bombay during a drought, to wean Mumbaikars back into the Queue system for BEST buses. The causes were mounting. And each a bigger success than the earlier. And then there were those two specially strong brands created and built by Indian advertising talent: Air India and AMUL.
We were on a high in the 70s. We also had some lows. Some really embarrassing lows. There were just one or two or maximum three black (sorry, bad) sheep! But they dragged the whole
profession to its knees, as I shall share later. And then, the Govt. hit back. Imposing a tax on advertising. Had this gone through, we would have been finished! As a profession!
The late Brahm Vasudeva of Hawkins and the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) and yours truly of Shilpi Advertising and the Advertising Agencies’ Association of India (AAAI) were
tasked with meeting the Ministers concerned and convincing them that the proposed tax on advertising would actually hurt the economy.
We met the then Finance Minister. We went armed with a 12 page very well-articulated document on how essential advertising and marketing are in a developing economy. He didn’t
even look at it. Instead, lectured us sternly on how we ad people were disconnected with the mainstream. Our “luxurious lifestyles” were an insult to the teachings of the Father of the
What luxurious lifestyles? None of the three of us could be accused of that! (The late R K Swamy had joined Brahm and I for the meeting). With a ceiling of Rs 5,000 on our remuneration
and taxes hovering in the 90s, luxurious lifestyles were not even a dream! We were literally in the dumps!
In the midst of all this frustration, the great Krishan Premnarayan called to say he had organised a meeting for the two of us with the PM. Back to the drawing board, Brahm and yours truly … working through the nights, after full working days, to trim/downsize a 12 page memorandum to exactly one page–in those days when there were no computers. Not even electronic typewriters!
We had a good meeting with the PM, who introduced us to the genius bureaucrat, L K Jha. He immediately called a few bureaucrats who really do the work on the budget. Within an hour, we
got to the proverbial brass tacks! One of them, whose job it was to identify new avenues of taxation disclosed his perception of advertising agents.
The guys who move from desk to desk in North Block with briefcases brimming with Release Orders, soliciting government statutory ads from junior bureaucrats for release in national
newspapers at DAVP rates. These one man “outfits” who did no value addition was his idea of ad agencies. Eureka! We got it! These were the guys responsible for the misperception of
advertising among bureaucrats! Then, there are those cigarette advertising campaigns appealing to our youth. (I pleaded guilty!) The same was the case with surrogate advertising for alcohol
brands. Finally, those seemingly seductive ads that appear in some dailies!
If you gentlemen can initiate self-regulation in advertising, we will reciprocate by rescinding these pernicious tax clauses, we were advised.
We readily agreed. But neither of us had a clue of how to go about it. Brahm volunteered to check with the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), of which he was an office bearer. And I
volunteered to check with the International Advertising Association (IAA), where I was a Director.
As luck would have it, the IAA had a Board meeting scheduled to be held in London that November 1980. During the lunch break that day, I inquired if any member had experience in
Self-regulation in advertising. The IAA Chairman Hugh Holkar who was also the Chairman of the Daily Mail, happened to also be serving his term as Chairman of the Advertising Standards
Authority (ASA). He immediately made a few calls and scheduled a meeting of the DG of ASA, Peter Thompson, that very evening at the conclusion of our Board meeting.
To cut a long story short, I asked for permission to adapt both their constitution and their Code. (why reinvent the self-regulation wheel?) More. I “invited” both of them as also the Secretary General of the IAA, Bill Sweeney, to Bombay at their expense, for a presentation to Advertisers, Agencies and the Media. Why “invited”? We had stringent foreign exchange restrictions then. All three of them readily agreed.
On my return to Bombay, I dutifully reported back to Brahm and Swamy. Both were exuberant!
We immediately decided to call a meeting under the auspices of the Advertising Club of Advertisers, Agencies and the Media. Mukul Upadhyay, the President of the Ad Club readily
agreed. More, he also got us the support of the legendary Ramkrishan Bajaj. Harish Mahindra, the Chairman of ISA promised support to the hilt. The legendary JRD Tata had also committed
Some Ad Agency members were unhappy. In fact, were opposed to the idea. And tasked Tiku Ganguly of Grants to drum up an alternative. (It was infructuous!) One agency head landed up at
my office in Ballard Estate without notice or warning, and yelled from my Reception, that my career would be ruined if I don’t give up on this proposed self-regulation idea! They also lobbied
with some media barons not to lend support to the cause of self-regulation on the pretext that they had an “existing” code. Fortunately, thanks to N Murali and Mathew, better sense prevailed.
And the Media gave us full support.
Justice Lenten, Lawyers Ravi Kulkarni and Zia Mody, C A Lalit Khanna rallied to our support. The contribution of Brahm to the adaptation of the ASA Constitution and Code with the
invaluable help of Kulkarni, Mody and Khanna was unparalleled. And so, ASCI was born. We had originally wanted to brand it as the Advertising Standards Authority of India. But the powers
that were did not permit it as it had not been notified by statute. And so we agreed to name it the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI). My one regret: we should have had L K Jha to
Roger C B Pereira