Cut throat competition and the need to stay ahead of the competition are some reasons why companies resort to misleading advertisements. However, the Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) self regulation in advertisement is now said to stall this to some extent.
The partnership between the Government of India’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) and the Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) could also see a curb in misleading advertisements as now complaints will be taken note of and responded to. Even if there are no complaints and the ASCI finds that the advertisement is misleading they will put a stop to such advertisement. Children particularly are most vulnerable to the advertisements as they get persuaded to eat foods and drink beverages that make tall claims.
Section 24 of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), 2006 pertains to misleading advertisements, as also the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011. The FSSAI has also made a proposal to the ASCI and if the ASCI accepts these proposals then the tall claims about the food products in advertisements could find the F&B Industry at the losing end of the rope. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has always been supporting the ASCI and now with both DoCA and FSSAI willing to partner with them as well, the consumers could be given a true picture instead of the false claims about the nutritive or energy boosting claims in advertisements.
Since the regulations have become stricter and the consumers have become more aware companies have now grown smarter and have begun to advertise some of their foods as health supplements. One milk supplement for children claims that it enhances memory with ‘memory chargers and brain chargers’.
Another one says that it provides thrice as much stamina as compared to other chocolate-flavoured milk supplements. A third claims that drinking their supplement makes children stronger, taller and sharper. None of the claims can be substantiated and so they can be said to be misleading and deceptive. Another children’s supplement manufacturer claims that their product has DHA but the benefits of DHA have not been proved. ‘Helps in children’s growth and development’ is another claim that has been misleading consumers especially who give children these supplements. While the vitamins and minerals included in these ‘health’ drinks are beneficial they are not solely responsible for children’s good health so the tall claims or half truths could now lead to fines of up to Rs.10lakhs if proved fraudulent. This is now possible as DoCA has undertaken to direct complaints to ASCI and so ASCI will be more vigilant about misleading and deceptive claims in advertisement whether on the packaging or in communication.
Some oil companies are also on the radar of ASCI as well as FSSAI as their labels claims are not totally correct. One says that the healthy and tasty soya bean oil has ‘7 stage European refining technology ‘Suraksha Shakti’. Another claims to be the ‘heart of a healthy family’ and uses the word ‘losorb technology’. A mustard oil brand claims ‘heath and vigour and cholesterol 0 gm’ on the advertisement which is definitely not quite correct.
Most of the companies are selling their products as ‘health’ encouraging products as that is what is capturing the consumers imagination with health being high on the list of most consumers. So you have biscuits that claim ‘no added sugar, complex carbohydrates, diabetic friendly’ which may not really be true. Similarly another brand of biscuits claims to be ‘heart friendly and that it helps to reduce cholesterol.’ One company that sells breakfast foods claims that according to research eating low fat breakfast tends to make people slimmer like their special product.
A ‘muesli’ brand says their products contain many fruits which could be half true as the number of fruits may not be so many though the impression the advertisement makes is that there are a huge number of fruits in it. ‘Healthy’ and ‘Natural’ are words that have been wrung dry by advertisements as almost all ‘nutritional’ supplements claim their products to be healthy, full of vitamins and minerals and natural. Claims about the presence of ‘probiotics’ in curd has also caused much concern to authorities. In some products it has been found that the health values and claims on the advertisement are different.
According to FSSAI nutrition value whether through visual, written or oral claims have to be backed by scientific data and if it is not so then the advertisement is misleading.
Now that the ASCI and the government of India’s have a new partnership those found guilty of misleading advertisements and unfair trade practices could find that they can no longer make tall claims. Strict action could be taken against the advertiser and the brand. Advertisers say that they would like to be seen as being responsible and so would not solely be careful because of government restrictions but because they want to be responsible.