Advertisers fear 'unviable' ad self-declaration mechanism will hurt innovation, creativity; Ask for practical solutions

Stakeholders and industry experts believe that while the self-declaration is a step in the right direction, the mechanism must not end up squashing the aim of the government's initiative which is to ultimately end the menace of misleading ads that hurt the end consumer.

By  Akanksha NagarJun 10, 2024 7:13 AM
Advertisers fear 'unviable' ad self-declaration mechanism will hurt innovation, creativity; Ask for practical solutions
While Self-Declaration Certificate may encourage compliance, advertisers and various bodies including ASCI, ISA, and DNPA fear that the additional layer of verification adds complexity and delays, which can be detrimental to the media and advertising agencies' efficiency and revenues.(Representative Image: Markus Spiske via Unsplash)

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) will convene a meeting with media and advertising industry bodies on June 11, 2024, to address and discuss the issue of advertisers giving self-declaration certificates (SDCs) for broadcasting and publishing ads on TV, print, digital, and radio from June 18. Through SDCs (directive follows a May 7 Supreme Court order), advertisers will need to certify that their ads do not contain misleading claims and adhere to regulatory guidelines. As per the SC directive, no advertisement will be permitted to run on television, print media, or the internet without a valid Self-Declaration Certificate.

Following the SC's directive, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) introduced a new feature on the Broadcast Seva Portal of for TV and Radio Advertisements and on Press Council of India’s portal for Print and Digital/Internet ads to submit the certificate signed by an authorized representative of the advertiser/advertising agency.

The self-declaration mechanism in its current form has raised serious concerns about its feasibility in an increasingly creative and complex and velocity and volume-driven adscape, where everything from print ads to programmatic advertising co-exist. The ad industry fears the mechanism will also thwart innovation and stifle creativity, and in its place create 'extreme bureaucracy'.

Since the mandate has generated more questions and worries amongst the marketing community, advertisers told Storyboard18 that the ideal outcome would be for all these concerns to be allayed through a deep understanding of the contours of the proposal and how it will work for the vastly different mediums of TV, print and digital along with a re-assurance that the mandate will be updated basis feedback from the industry bodies, media and platform stakeholders and advertising industry veterans.

How will the SDC work?: Advertisers find more questions than answers

Janani Kandaswamy, Senior Category Lead - Brand Marketing, ITC, believes the authorities must clarify what a ‘misleading claim’ implies. “There should be a freewheeling discussion ideally with different representatives of the marketing fraternity to discuss both the relevance and applicability of the mandate."

Kandaswamy says there should be an adaptation of the rules to different types of creatives not only basis the media vehicle but also for the type of claim – rational versus emotional propositions, product-led benefit versus category or a cultural truth, stated versus implicit claims and so on.

Maybe the regulation need not be applicable to all type of ads (like ads which do not have a technical claim that need to be proved). These dilemmas need to be openly discussed between the MIB and diverse voices representing the advertisers from across brands, creative agencies, market research firms, legal and R&D departments, says Kandaswamy.

Another big advertiser, Parle Products, who met with the Indian Society of Advertisers (ISA) last week, has unanswered queries including on whether the government ads are also a part of the SDC and is as confused as any other advertiser on how to go about the SDC process.

“My expectation from the meeting is that since there is a huge representation from various bodies, their sensibilities would prevail and I would expect one common consensus out of the meeting that it should ease the burden on advertisers and all the other stakeholders,” said Krishnarao Buddha, Senior Category Head, Parle Products. While the move seems to be in the correct direction, there are challenges in terms of clarity, he says.

Apart from requesting a detailed framework for implementing SDCs, Smita Khanna, Chief Operating Officer, Newton Consulting India & Newton PR, expects advertisers and industry bodies to likely advocate for practical solutions that balance administrative burden with operational efficiency and ask for a phased rollout allowing advertisers to adjust.

The June 11 meeting will have representatives from ISA, the Indian Newspaper Society (INS), Indian Broadcasting and Digital Foundation (IBDF), Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI), Digital News Publishers of India (DNPA), CII, FICCI and also executives from Google and Meta.

What’s raising the brows

While the advertising industry at large welcomes the regulation and supports curbing misleading ads, many fear that the SDC mechanism would lead to a time-consuming, cost and labour-intensive work which will not provide the desired outcome. Additionally, its need is also questioned given bodies like ASCI and Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) already exist.

The CCPA already regulates various ad categories and enforces duties on advertisers to prevent misleading ads — including bait, surrogate, and children-targeted ads, whereas ASCI monitors and addresses violations in digital advertising.

Advertisers, ad agencies and industry bodies representing both, state that the directive on SDC potentially would lead to significant delays in the launch of ads. For many advertisers, it could mean substantial disruptions in their campaigns, leading to financial and operational setbacks.

Moreover, it places a substantial administrative burden on the MIB, necessitating continuous monitoring, record-keeping, and portal’s bandwidth management to accommodate the influx of lakhs of self-declarations daily.

So, it would be better if instead of certification for each creative, the advertiser was to give a self-certification for a specific product/ service and a specific brand, undertaking responsibility for all the ads to be released in a specified period, suggests Ruppal Walia Sharma, Professor of Marketing, SPJIMR.

According to her, the timeline for implementation is very tight, giving very little time to test the portal and the process. In the past also other initiatives involving technology like the GST portal have faced glitches and unanticipated issues for users when they were launched in a hurry. Another key concern will be related to confidentiality – the full ad description/ script is to be uploaded before release of the ad, she shared.

As per the guidelines issued by MIB, details of the ad to be filled in including product/service being advertised, the ad title, its brief description of 100-200 words, highlighting claims made, full script of the advertisement (in pdf file) and its proposed date.

The Ministry has indicated in the portal demonstration session organised on 7th June 2024, that statutory and classified ads will not be included. But there needs to be greater clarity on the definition of ads which need certification, say experts.

Double-edged sword

It won't be wrong to say SDCs are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they promote accountability and transparency by enforcing advertising regulations. This fosters ethical practices and protects consumers from misleading or harmful ads. However, the additional layer of bureaucracy could increase administrative burdens and operational costs for advertisers.

Hence, striking a balance between compliance and efficiency will be crucial, suggests Khanna.

It may impact productivity, there could be legal consultations, paperwork, and potential campaign delays, leading to higher costs, operational delays and compliance risks. Therefore, she recommends a phased implementation of SDCs allows for a smooth transition. Further, establishing a dedicated support system to address advertiser queries and compliance issues would minimise potential disruptions. Also, continuous dialogue with industry stakeholders to gather feedback and make necessary adjustments to the process would be beneficial.

If the directive is well–structured, not all–encompassing and operating within logical boundaries then, Kandaswamy notes, it has the potential to inculcate rigor in the creative development process. It will ensure authentic storytelling that creates demand, build long-term brand equity and healthy consumerism rather than propagating gimmicky attention-grabbing and moment marketing tactics that do not translate to sustainable business and economic growth.

But as with every other regulation, this one has scope for creating extreme bureaucracy both within and outside the advertiser’s organisation.

“Brand communication decisions that need to be timely for effective market output will get delayed with the number of naysayers and risk avoiders increasing across every milestone. The focus could shift from identifying real consumer insights (hypotheses yet to be validated) to limiting innovation and staying within the boundaries of the tried and tested (already approved by legal) leading to run-of-the-mill products and communication,” Kandaswamy opines.

It is to be noted that advertisers have been playing fast and loose with self-regulatory guidelines. Surrogate ads abound on cricket telecasts. The digital media has been reported with the highest number of violations of ASCI guidelines and with non-compliance as well.

Therefore, while the procedures may be cumbersome, brands must realise that today's young consumer expects a lot more than just product attributes, notes Ramesh Narayan, Founder, Canco Advertising. “They want to know they are buying from a company that is kind to the environment, is honest in its labelling, is an equal opportunity employer and so on. And if the company is all of this, a little effort in making declarations should be acceptable." But Narayan agrees that procedures could always be made as seamless and painless as possible with mutual trust and discussion.

Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, says that the SDC will act as somewhat of a deterrent from advertising dealing in outright deceit. Of course, it will create challenges for advertisers in the form of complicated paperwork and procedural delays, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it compels advertisers to be more mindful of their claims.

Stakeholders and industry experts believe that while the SDC order is a step in the right direction, the process must not end up squashing the aim of the government's initiative which is to ultimately end the menace of misleading ads that hurt the end consumer.

Echoing the views of other industry leaders and bodies calling for more definition and sharper focus in the directive and process for categories of ads and advertisers, Sinha's suggestion to the MIB is also to make it simpler and as less bureaucratic as possible so that while the principles are adhered to, the red tape is minimised. "That should encourage compliance,” he said.


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First Published on Jun 10, 2024 7:13 AM

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