Consumers: A Check on Misleading media

Digital media and advertising have become a part and parcel of our everyday lives. Advertisements, in particular, act as representation of products and services that inform, persuade, and remind consumers. The influential role it plays in shaping consumer attitudes makes it crucial that they represent the true nature of the product or service in a fair manner through appropriate means. 

The advertising guidelines for self-regulation issued by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) work hand in hand with the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) to lay down guidelines in consumer interest. According to the revised 2022 guidelines, any form of misleading advertisement can impose a penalty of up to Rs 10 -50 lakh on manufacturers, advertisers and endorsers. The endorser can be prohibited from making any endorsement for up to 1 year which can extend up to 3 years.

However, in spite of the regulatory efforts, the advertising industry has so far been accused of being an economic waste, of purveying harmful products, representing sexism, deceit and manipulation, guilty of triviality, and intellectual and moral pollution. 

The regulatory body tends to play a less than perfect role in regulating the media that is approved. The onus then falls upon some informed consumers to make sure that media manipulation does not get the better of their consumers.

Sharad goel, an active philanthropist, and a responsible consumer has played his part in challenging some digital media representations that forgo the reasonable standards of media ethics.

His curious eye for detail led him to question a statistical detail for a fairness cream advertisement, claiming to have reached 50 crore Indian households. The advertisement was played out by one of the country’s leading bollywood actors and poses a question to the credibility of what they promote. Upon inquiry, the advertisers had no means to back up their claims and the advertisement was modified to cut out the statistical detail.

Another case brought to attention the violation of driving regulations. A well known automotive company advertised one of their cars being driven by yet another well known bollywood face. However, the car’s number plate had the car model’s name inscribed on it instead of a required car identification number. On being asked, Mr. Sharad Goel states, “I do not have any qualms if it were advertised as a car in a showroom. But when in public domain, being driven on a road, there must be a number plate to identify the car.” His Complaint mandated the automotive advertising norms to include a number plate during on road representations.

The next concerned case was that of a soda brand with a motive to drive consumer attention towards their liquor products through the means of tweaking little details. The product apparent to the consumer eye was a soda bottle while the actor holds onto a glass whiskey bottle towards the end of the advertisement. A Complaint filed by Mr. Sharad Goel brought to attention the unfair representation and the visuals were edited to correct the same.

Another instance that followed was an advertisement of a building material representing Hindu deities. The advertisement shows concern around the not-so-strong foundations of the building they’re sitting inside. They further go on to promote the building material, which according to Mr. Sharad Goel, is a “very careless effort”, and is deemed “insensitive” and “disrespectful” to Hindu sentiments. A Complaint against the advertisement was filed and on the grounds of religious sensitivity, the advertisement was taken down.

Mr. Sharad Goel also raised his concerns regarding the representation of film certifications in bollywood movie trailers. Before his appeal, bollywood trailers briefly included the U/A and A certification in their trailers, which, according to Mr. Goel, is information that concerns consumer decision making. Following his appeal, trailers are now mandated to include their certification logos throughout their trailers.

Furthermore, the ‘smaller-than-visible’ statutory warnings and ‘faster-than-comprehensible’ audios on advertisements, which often contain crucial information that may be useful for consumer decision making, caught his attention. He feels that such information should be communicated to enhance consumer information on the product or service, instead of fulfilling a formality and using it for consumer deception.

While his initiatives to work in the favor of consumer interest has a long standing history, such cases of ignorance and misinformation are plenty. Mr. Sharad Goel himself hopes that his zeal inspires people to follow his trail and actively work towards the overall social upliftment of our society.

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