To curb misleading advertisements, Centre issues new guidelines


The present guidelines define “bait advertisement”, “surrogate advertisement” and clearly provide what constitutes “free claim advertisements”.

Representational image: iStock

To curb misleading advertisements and protect consumers, the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), under the Department of Consumer Affairs, has issued new guidelines.

‘Guidelines for Prevention of Misleading Advertisements and Endorsements for Misleading Advertisements, 2022’ were issued on June 9 by the CCPA.

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“The guidelines seek to ensure that consumers are not being fooled with unsubstantiated claims, exaggerated promises, misinformation and false claims. Such advertisements violate various rights of consumers such as ‘right to be informed’, ‘right to choose and right to be safeguarded against potentially unsafe products and services’,” the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution said.

Heavy penalty

The penalty for violating the guidelines is also clearly outlined. The CCPA can impose a penalty of up to ₹10 lakh on manufacturers, advertisers and endorsers for any misleading advertisements.

For subsequent contraventions, the CCPA may impose a penalty of up to ₹50 lakh. The authority can prohibit the endorser of a misleading advertisement from making any endorsement for up to one year and for subsequent contravention, prohibition can extend up to three years.

Definitions of ads

The present guidelines define “bait advertisement”, “surrogate advertisement” and clearly provide what constitutes “free claim advertisements”.

As per the guidelines, a “bait advertisement” means “an advertisement in which goods, product or service is offered for sale at a low price to attract consumers”.

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A “surrogate advertisement” is defined as “an advertisement for goods, product or service, whose advertising is otherwise prohibited or restricted by law, by circumventing such prohibition or restriction and portraying it to be an advertisement for other goods, product or service, the advertising of which is not prohibited or restricted by law”.

A “free claims advertisement” shall “not describe any goods, product or service to be ‘free’, ‘without charge’ or use such other terms if the consumer has to pay anything other than the unavoidable cost of responding to such advertisement and collecting or paying for the delivery of such item” among other things, the guidelines stated.

What is non-misleading and valid ad?

An advertisement shall be considered to be valid and not misleading, if “it contains truthful and honest representation; it does not mislead consumers by exaggerating the accuracy, scientific validity or practical usefulness or capability or performance or service of the goods or product”, the guidelines said.

Further, it explained, “It does not present rights conferred on consumers by any law as a distinctive feature of advertiser’s offer; it does not suggest that the claims made in such advertisement are universally accepted if there is a significant division of informed or scientific opinion pertaining to such claims; it does not mislead about the nature or extent of the risk to consumers’ personal security, or that of their family if they fail to purchase the advertised goods, product or service; it ensures that the claims that have not been independently substantiated but are based merely on the content of a publication do not mislead consumers.”

Ads targeting children

Keeping in view the sensitiveness and vulnerability of children and severe impact advertisements make on the younger minds, several pre-emptive provisions have been laid down on advertisements targeting children.

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The guidelines forbid advertisements from exaggerating the features of product or service in such manner as to lead children to have unrealistic expectations of such product or service and claim any health or nutritional claims or benefits without being adequately and scientifically substantiated by a recognised body.

As per the guidelines, the advertisement targeting children shall not feature any personalities from the field of sports, music or cinema for products that under any law requires a health warning for such advertisement or cannot be purchased by children.

An advertisement that addresses or targets or uses children shall “not condone, encourage, inspire or unreasonably emulate behaviour that could be dangerous for children; take advantage of children’s inexperience, credulity or sense of loyalty; exaggerate the features of goods, product or service in such manner as to lead children to have unrealistic expectations of such goods, product or service; condone or encourage practices that are detrimental to children’s physical health or mental wellbeing”, the guidelines said.

Disclaimers

“Disclaimers in advertisements play a pivotal role from consumer perspective since in a way it limits the responsibility of the company. Therefore, guidelines stipulate that disclaimer shall not attempt to hide material information with respect to any claim made in such advertisement, the omission or absence of which is likely to make the advertisement deceptive or conceal its commercial intent and shall not attempt to correct a misleading claim made in an advertisement,” the guidelines said.

Further, it provides that, a disclaimer shall be in the same language as the claim made in the advertisement and the font used in a disclaimer shall be the same as that used in the claim.

Similarly, clear guidelines are laid for duties of manufacturer, service provider, advertiser and advertising agency, due diligence to be carried out before endorsing and others.

The guidelines aim to protect consumers’ interest through bringing in more transparency and clarity in the way advertisements are being published, so that, consumers are able to make informed decisions based on facts rather than false narratives and exaggerations, the ministry said.

Endorsement of ads

The guidelines said that due diligence is required for the endorsement of advertisements.

“Any endorsement in an advertisement must reflect the genuine, reasonably current opinion of the individual, group or organisation making such representation and must be based on adequate information about, or experience with, the identified goods, product or service and must not otherwise be deceptive,” the notification said.

“Where, Indian professionals, whether resident in India or otherwise, are barred under any law for the time being in force from making an endorsement in any advertisement pertaining to any profession, then, foreigner professionals (a person who is not a citizen of India) of such profession shall also be not permitted to make an endorsement in such advertisement,” the notification added.

Disclosure of ‘material connection’

The guidelines have mentioned that if there is a connection between the endorser and the trader, manufacturer or advertiser of the endorsed product, then it should be disclosed.

“Where there exists a connection between the endorser and the trader, manufacturer or advertiser of the endorsed product that might materially affect the value or credibility of the endorsement and the connection is not reasonably expected by the audience, such connection shall be fully disclosed in making the endorsement,” the notification said.



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