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Since 1st March, 1999
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Consumers pull the plug on tall-claim ads

Mumbai, June 7: Even as the country was immersed in cricket, the election opera and the more conventional soaps, several advertisements featuring the biggest brands recently made a quiet exit following consumer complaints.

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) — a self-regulatory body set up by the advertising industry — has released a list of 15 commercials that advertisers withdrew or modified after the ASCI’s Consumer Complaints Council upheld complaints between January and March.

This would indicate that the advertising fraternity takes criticism seriously, sometimes for its own benefit.

Consumers had objected to not just the moral and social message of the adverts, but even the facts they were supposedly based on. In some cases, though, the ASCI took note of the ads suo motu.

A number of complaints were prompted by lack of data to support the superlatives claimed for the product.

The LG Plasma Gold air conditioners ad which said: “When you can give them the healthiest air in the world, why take chances'” — was withdrawn after complaints that there were no technical, industry or market figures to prove that LG’s air is the “healthiest” in the world.

The brand LG print ad, which claimed “no. 1” status even though this was not “substantiated with authentic industry/market data” met a similar fate.

The promotional messages on Nestle Milo packs were modified for the same reason.

The packs claimed Milo was the “world’s largest-selling chocolate energy drink” and “over 20 million cups were enjoyed every day”, but neither claim was substantiated.

The print ad for Philips Slimlite was discontinued for consumers felt it to be misleading since its claim that the light “lasts 30 per cent longer, saves 10 per cent electricity” compared to “ordinary tube lights” did not have an independent research agency endorsing these figures.

Liquor also suffered. The Bagpiper Soda ad, which Herbertsons Limited has said will be modified, came with the baseline “India’s largest. World’s No. 3”. It was pulled up by the ASCI for being misleading — it showed soda while it seemed to refer to whisky.

United Breweries was also told off by the council because an ad for London Pilsner beer was headlined: “Ab cold drink out”, implying it was a substitute for soft drinks. The words “Pint glasses” had been slipped in inconspicuously.

Much like the Fair and Lovely campaign that attracted flak for suggesting a man marrying a dark girl was unlucky, a Maruti Zen ad has also come under fire.

The ASCI, again acting on its own, felt the “New Zen with Katalyst System” ad showing a young woman with the copy: “Sleek. Feline. Sophisticated. Surrender to the new Zen”, reinforced sexist stereotypes.

A Bharat Gas ad was modified following complaints of bad taste — it showed a child telling his younger brother with a dismissive shake of the hand that their mother is crazy.

A Daewoo fridge ad that showed an old man sitting inside a fridge and closing the door was modified since it was feared it could encourage children to repeat the potentially fatal act.

An LML Freedom Motorcycle ad was axed because the bike-rider was adept at flouting every traffic law – not quite the example the public should be set.

The Dabur Chawanprash ad showing a child standing on a sloping tiled roof in heavy rain holding a TV antenna to enable his grandmother watch Ramayana on television, was modified out of fear that children may try and emulate it.

Godrej’s Advanced Intelligel Treatment, a cockroach control product, was discontinued because it mentioned pest control in general and said: “Ensures that everyone stays at home during pest control” — another potential disregard of safety.

An ASCI spokesperson said the withdrawal of ads showed that consumer power prevailed and should be exercised freely.

Advertising professionals explain why commercials are modified or withdrawn promptly. Prasoon Joshi, the man behind Aamir Khan’s Coke ads and national creative head, McCann Erickson, the agency that made the Dabur ad, says: “The advertising community is very sensitive to such issues. We are responsible citizens and we behave accordingly while making the ads.

“When there is a complaint, not only from the ASCI, but from anyone, we react promptly because we do not want to hurt the sentiment of anyone and also because we do not want to harm the brand image, because it’s the consumers that we are finally trying to reach out to. If they are disgruntled, who will the buy the product'” Joshi adds.

But he says a grey zone persists. “There are areas that are difficult to depict — like children as domestic servants. It is a societal truth — but what message is given out of their depiction as such in an ad'

“And ads have to constantly aspire to break the clutter – that’s why we try to do something different and out-of-the-way. But timely criticism like this always brings us back,” Joshi adds.

Other ad gurus feel the same way about the regulation. R. (Balki) Balakrishnan of Lowe, which created the Fair and Lovely campaign and the Bharat Gas ad, says in most cases advertisers abide by ASCI recommendations.

Piyush Pandey, who heads Ogilvy and Mather, echoes him. “The ASCI is a body set up by the industry and we accept its recommendations by and large. But there also bodies within television channels, including DD, that watch over ads,” he says.

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