Healthcare sector advertisements top violations in India: ASCI in its Annual Complaint Report

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has highlighted the healthcare sector as the top violator in its 2023-24 Annual Report.

BySumit Jha

Published May 23, 2024 | 7:00 AM Updated May 23, 2024 | 7:00 AM

Healthcare sector advertisements top violations in India: ASCI in its Annual Complaint Report

Out of the total complaints received by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the highest number–19 percent–were related to healthcare, according to the council’s 2023-24 report.

On Wednesday, 22 May, ASCI published its Annual Complaints Report, providing a comprehensive analysis of advertisements considered objectionable during the fiscal year 2023–24. ASCI examined 10,093 complaints and investigated 8,299 advertisements.

The majority of violations, 81 percent, were due to misleading claims, followed by advertisements promoting harmful situations or products which accounted for 34 percent (as a single ad can be processed for multiple objections).

Digital ads accounted for 85 percent of the ads processed and had a lower compliance rate of 75 percent, compared to 97 percent for print and TV ads.

This raises serious concerns about online consumer safety, an issue highlighted last year as well. Notably, 94 percent of the ads processed were identified by ASCI on their own initiative.

Of the advertisements reviewed by ASCI, 49 percent were not contested by the advertisers. A total of 98 percent of cases eventually required modifications as they violated the ASCI Code.

This year, healthcare emerged as the most violative sector, contributing to 19 percent of cases. This was followed by illegal offshore betting (17 percent), personal care (13 percent), conventional education (12 percent), food and beverage (10 percent), and real estate (7 percent).

Baby care also emerged as a new contender in the “top violators” category, with influencer promotions contributing to 81 percent of the baby care cases.

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The healthcare ads

Out of the 1,575 advertisements processed in the healthcare sector, 1,249 violated the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act of 1954, and were reported to the sector regulator. Notably, 86 percent of healthcare ads appeared on digital platforms.

ASCI also stated that 99 percent of the total healthcare ads required modification.

“Over the years at ASCI, healthcare has been a sector of concern with regard to misleading advertisements. In an era where healthcare choices are abundant and information is readily accessible, it is crucial to acknowledge the potential harm caused by misleading ads that abuse the trust of consumers and take advantage of their vulnerability,” said ASCI in its report.

The report further highlighted that 190 advertisements were from clinics, hospitals, and wellness centres making exaggerated and misleading claims about their services, care, and cures for chronic conditions.

Additionally, 129 ads were from pharmaceutical companies promoting drugs and medicines with claims regarding prevention and cure, superior quality, and leadership. Medical supplies and health apps constituted the remaining seven ads.

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Surge in violative personal care ads

ASCI investigated 1,064 ads related to personal care, with 98 percent requiring modification. “Sixty-seven percent of these ads were not contested. These are instances where advertisers acknowledge the error made in the ad and promptly modify it or take it down,” said ASCI.

The report added that 95 percent of these ads appeared on digital platforms, with 55 percent flagged for influencer disclosure violations. Twenty ads featuring celebrities were found to be misleading.

“Over the past few years, there has been a noticeable surge in new D2C brands stepping into the beauty and personal care sector. This uptick can be attributed to enhanced consumer consciousness coupled with a notable rise in disposable income,” ASCI noted.

“These factors have sparked a diverse array of preferences, ranging from customized, eco-friendly, to luxury product offerings, thereby presenting attractive opportunities to cater to new demands and growth prospects for both established and emerging players in the market,” it said.

The report highlighted that the digital landscape, in particular, has emerged as a fertile ground for brands to flourish. From placement to marketing, social media today is a lucrative platform for brands.

ASCI also reported that 1,311 advertisements for illegal betting were sent to the appropriate authorities for further action. Of the 1,064 ads examined in personal care, 95 percent appeared online, with more than half (55 percent) involving influencer non-disclosure cases.

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Baby care ads among top 10 violators

ASCI reported that the baby care sector in India is witnessing significant growth, driven by factors such as a rising population, increasing disposable incomes, and growing awareness about baby care.

Parents today want the best for their babies, making them vulnerable to misleading advertisements, which can erode their trust and potentially harm their baby’s health.

“For the first time, baby care has made it to the top 10 violators in the list owing to influencers promoting products and services without disclosing material connections,” said ASCI.

The report noted that 81 percent of the 91 ads processed were from influencer promotions without a disclosure. Furthermore, 99 percent of these ads required modification, and 76 percent were not contested by the advertisers.

Ninety-one percent of these ads appeared on digital platforms.

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Celebrity and influencer ad violations

Influencer violations accounted for 21 percent of all cases. The highest number of violations from influencers came from the personal care, fashion and lifestyle, and food and beverage sectors.

Celebrities continued to appear in ads that violated the ASCI code. ASCI processed complaints against 101 ads featuring celebrities, 91 percent of which required modification.

In these 101 ads, 104 celebrities were found to be in violation of the celebrity guidelines, as they could not provide any evidence of due diligence. It is important to note that due diligence is also a requirement under the Consumer Protection Act of 2019.

The top five violative categories for celebrity violations were personal care (22 percent), food and beverages (21 percent), illegal betting (20 percent), healthcare (9 percent), and durables (6 percent).

In addition to processing objectionable ads through its own processes, ASCI reported 3,200 advertisements directly to various regulators for legal violations.

Besides the 1,311 offshore illegal betting ads escalated to the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and the 1,249 healthcare ads reported to the Ministry of AYUSH for potential violations of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954, other reported categories included real estate (493 ads), alcoholic beverages (82 ads), and tobacco and tobacco-based products (65 ads).

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)