Consumer Protection
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The article is written by Subodh Asthana, a B.A. LLB(Hons.) student of Hidayatullah National Law University, Raipur. In the article, the author discusses the relevant ill practices adopted by the organizations along with the regulations and Ethics specified by the different pursuant authorities.

Introduction

In today’s competitive, globalised and liberalized market, it is free for all advertisers to publish anything which now and then after the exploitative practices to battle the challenge among various brands. For a long time, the advertising business has rehearsed and advanced deliberate self-guideline. Most sponsors and media perceive the significance of keeping up buyer trust and certainty. The hover of self-guideline in advertising is enlarging step by step. Indeed, even the code of morals drawn up by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has not had a lot of effects since it doesn’t give answers for each exploitative practice.

Meaning of advertising Ethics

Advertising is a method for correspondence with the clients of an item or administration. Commercials are messages paid for by the individuals who send them and are planned to educate or impact individuals who get them, as characterized by the Advertising Association of the UK. In this day and age, advertising utilizes each potential media to get its message through. It does this by means of TV, print (papers, magazines, diaries and so on), radio, press, web, direct selling, hoardings, mailers, challenges, sponsorships, notices, garments, occasions, hues, sounds, visuals and even endorsements.

The advertising industry consists of companies that are hired by companies who want to advertise their product and often asked to make advertisements that directs the viewer’s attention to the advertisement and in return of humongous money charged these advertisers add some “MAGIC MASALA” to the product which sometimes affects the sale of the no demanded product resulting in demand from zero to infinity. Sometimes these advertisements are directed to a specific group such as children or some peer groups. Some unethical practices are often followed by advertisers like adding unnecessary claims to a specific product.

E.g. An advertisement portraying that underwear can manage to get you a girlfriend and girls are attracted to you after watching this some consumers must have really tried but sadly after trying they will be under dilemma that they have been cheated, these companies can go to any extent to earn more and more profits.

Meaning of Ethics

Ethics implies a lot of good rules that administer an individual’s conduct or how the movement is led. Ethical advertising implies a method of correspondence between a merchant and a purchaser. Therefore ethics in advertising implies a lot of well-characterized standards which oversee the methods for correspondence occurring between the vendor and the purchaser. Ethics is the most significant component of the advertising business. In spite of the fact that there are numerous advantages of advertising then there are a few focuses which don’t coordinate the moral standards of advertising.

A moral advertisement is the one which doesn’t lie, doesn’t make phoney or bogus cases and is in the point of confinement of decency. These are sure standards and good commitments which must be trailed by organizations and establishments.

Meaning of Consumer Protection

However, Black’s Law Dictionary defines “a consumer” as: 

“A person who buys goods or services from personal, family or household use, with no intention of resale, a natural person who uses products for personal rather than business purposes.” 

Consumer Protection is a collection of protection laws which imposes some regulations on advertisers so as to ensure some rights of consumers, now the question arises who is a consumer. 

Section 2(f) of the Competition Act, 2002 defines consumers as a person who purchases any products or services for a consideration which has been paid and guaranteed under any arrangement of conceded payment and incorporates any client of such merchandise other than the person who purchases such merchandise for consideration paid or guaranteed or incompletely paid or somewhat guaranteed, or under any arrangement of conceded payment when such use is made with the endorsement of such person, regardless of whether such acquisition of products is for resale or for any business reasons or for personal use.

Thus there are some legal rights which remain violated by these deceptive, false and misrepresented advertisements, which are often overlooked by authorities but it must not always be the case as far rights of a person are concerned.

Unethical Practises

There is no doubt that advertising is very essential in order to get a consumer about different products, it is a pervasive process and omnipresent as products tend to produce so for selling this tool is required Advertising contributes to having both negative & positive influence on society. It is criticized for encouraging materialism, manipulating consumer to buy things they do not need; stereotyping, fraudulent & so on. So we need advertising ethics and some self-regulation so as to avoid these criticisms concerning influence in today’s market on consumers and to know as to why there is need for these ethics and how it is related with the rights of an honest consumer. Some of them are as follows:

  1. Puffery/Fraudulation: Now a day’s ‘puffery’ i.e. “metaphor of idea” forms to be the main element in advertising. From one viewpoint the critic pundits denounce it, while supporters opined that it is safeguarded for sponsors and advertising experts opined it as a helping operator to separate their brands from the contenders. Puffery is viewed as an ‘assessment’ and not ‘truthful data’. Publicists guarantee that the purchasers are sufficiently wise to recognize truth and distortion. Besides they are not aimlessly going to think about everything in that capacity introduced in a promotion. In any case, the investigations uncover that regularly numerous individuals begin trusting them and purchase those items that have overstated cases in their notices. With the utilization of enhancements misrepresenting the “quality” and utilizing different “offers” promoters performed their items to such a degree, that reality takes a rearward sitting arrangement. E.g. There is a famous slipper portraying that a person can fly in air after he/she buys that slipper which is really an exaggeration of a fact, also that a mountain climber must purchase a mountain dew so that he/she could climb the highest peak of a mountain range.
  2. Deceptiveness or falseness in a product: A study shows that when false and deceptive things about a product are shown again and again by the means of media, a consumer is forced to buy the product. False and subjective claims about the products, is sometimes believed but are untruthful and misleading. E.g. If a retailer claims that he is offering a special discount on his goods as part of a festival celebration, while he is actually using the festival as an excuse to get rid of old and outdated goods, then he is deceiving consumers. 
  3. Offensive and Nudity: Consumers can be seriously injured or offended mentally by advertising in an infinite number of ways. E.g. the way the advertisements of Contraceptives & Personal Hygiene are promoted, lays a lethal in the mindset of the people and has a serious impact on the children. Therefore a strict Regulation must be taken. It is not necessary to portray particular sex as a symbol for something.
  4. Persuading people to buy products even not needed: As indicated by numerous critical pundits that advertising ought not to convince by playing with buyers feelings, tensions, mental needs and wants, such as status, confidence, allure and so on. Be that as it may, they should simply provide raw data valuable in settling on buy choices, for example, value, execution and other target criteria. E.g. an advertisement depicting that richness of a person could be valued through a bathroom freshener.
  5. Stereotypes: It includes exhibiting a gathering of individuals in an example or way that needs singularity. In our general public, we have numerous generalizations like South Indians are erudite people; Punjabi’s are uproarious and so on. Relative and little girl in-law consistently battle, father out of the house the board and so on. Ladies. The most disputable of the generalizations depicted in Ads is that of ladies and neglecting to perceive the changing job of ladies in our general public. Critics charge promoters to frequently portray ladies as distracted with excellence, family unit obligations and parenthood.
  6. Women used as sex symbols in advertisements: The most prone section of society that is mostly used by these peanut minded advertisers, portraying the modesty of women in a negative sense, basically in deodorants and condoms ads the modesty of women in society as a whole is tarnished. They are often portrayed in a salacious state in these advertisements.
  7. Children and adolescents as target groups: A study shows that children aged from 2-11 years watch 22hours TV per week and see approximately 30000 commercial ads. Studies also reveal that children are the most sophisticated group who keenly and with due attention watch advertisement and thus, giving scope to these advertising agencies to attack these groups and these groups by the means of showing children in their advertisements gain a lot of market or share in a country. Nearly 80% of the advertisements are targeted towards the children in one form or the other.
  8. Unhealthy Brand Comparisons: Advertisements nowadays are engaged in unhealthy competition practises making it tough and tedious for a consumer to think which product to buy and purchase. This practice often develops a question mark in the consumer’s mind. A right example that could be seen in this case is the conflicts between different kinds of toothpaste-like Pepsodent, Colgate and Patanjali.
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Guidelines Laid By IAE & ASCI

With the growth in technology, new ways of reaching consumers have emerged, and it is essential for advertisers to maintain high levels of honesty and ethics. Thus, International advertising ethics means a set of specific principles that regulate the methods of communication between the buyer and the seller. In addition, advertising ethics covers ethical concerns about the advertising message, the consumers targeted by the advert, advertising of controversial products and services and the effects of advertising on social values. Some of the guidelines listed by the Institute for advertising ethics and Advertising standards councils of India are as follows:

Guidelines By IAE

Guideline 1– Advertising, marketing interchanges, news, and publication all offer a typical goal of truth and high moral gauges in serving general society. Research shows that consumers place high an incentive in legit and moral advertising. While the industry has for quite some time been focused on the best expectations of truth and precision, professionals should additionally improve their advertising ethics so as to fabricate and keep customer trust. 

Guideline 2– Advertising and all marketing interchanges experts have a commitment to practice the most noteworthy personal ethics in the creation and scattering of business data to consumers. The principal crucial of IAE is to regulate industry experts about the significance of honest, moral advertising. The objective is to pass on their duty to show polished skills consistently. 

Guideline 3– Advertisers ought to obviously recognize advertising, advertising and corporate interchanges from news and article substance and diversion, both on the web and offline platform. As we keep on obscuring the line between business correspondences and publication content, consumers are progressively being deluded and treated dishonestly. To keep away from customer disarray and doubt, the industry must endeavour to unmistakably isolate paid advertising from genuine news. 

Guideline 4– Advertisers ought to unmistakably uncover every single material condition, for example, payment or receipt of a free item, influencing support in social and customary channels, just as the character of endorsers, all in light of a legitimate concern for total honesty and straightforwardness. The fame of online networking and verbal marketing brings up issues about the believability of substance. Advertisers must be straightforward about whether bloggers are communicating their own conclusions or are being remunerated by a brand. There must likewise be total honesty in regards to the credibility of remarks on Facebook, Twitter and other internet-based life stages. 

Guideline 5– Advertisers should treat consumers genuinely dependent on the idea of the crowd to whom the promotions are coordinated and the idea of the item or administration publicized. Additional consideration must be utilized when advertising to youngsters and other helpless crowds to abstain from deluding or abusing them. Advertisers ought to likewise utilize carefulness dependent on the idea of the item or administration, particularly liquor and physician endorsed drugs. 

Guideline 6– Advertisers ought to never bargain consumers’ personal security in marketing correspondences, and their decisions with respect to whether to take an interest in giving their data ought to be straightforward and effectively made. As advertisers grow progressively propelled methods for online social focusing on, consumers stress over their protection. Because of buyer concerns and government alerts, marketing and media exchange affiliations are propelling an online self-administrative activity to give consumers more noteworthy authority over the assortment and utilization of web based review information. 

Guideline 7– Advertisers ought to follow government, state and neighbourhood advertising laws, and help out industry self-administrative projects for the goals of advertising rehearses. The Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and Food and Drug Administration are only a couple of the administrative bodies that advertisers can look to for direction with respect to moral practices. The advertising industry has likewise made an excellent self-administrative program called the National Advertising Review Council (NARC) that spreads both grown-up and youngsters’ advertising. 

Guideline 8– Advertisers and their organizations, and on the web and disconnected media, ought to examine secretly potential moral concerns, and individuals from the group making promotions ought to be offered consent to express inside their moral concerns. Setting aside the effort to talk about and resolve moral quandaries is fundamental to rehearsing the most noteworthy moral models. The industry must keep up an open environment where experts don’t hesitate to express their sentiments, both positive and negative. The fundamental consideration behind all advertising ought to be what is best for the purchaser, and this will prompt the best game plan.

Guidelines By ASCI

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a body that brings together advertisers, ad agencies and the media, has drawn up a detailed and elaborates code on the Code of the Advertising Standards Council of India is listed below in four chapters.

Chapter 1 

The promotions must be honest. All portrayal, cases and examinations identified with issues of unbiasedly ascertainable certainty ought to be fit for substantiation and they are required to deliver such substantiation as and when required to create by ASCI, commercials must not twist actualities or misdirect the consumers by methods for suggestions or oversights, promotions will not be allowed to contain any case so overstated as to prompt grave dissatisfaction in the psyches of consumers. 

Chapter 2 

To guarantee that promotions are not offensive to for the most part acknowledged guidelines to open fairness, commercials will contain nothing profane, obscene or terrible to cause grave or far-reaching offence. 

Chapter 3 

No commercials will be allowed which will, in general, impel individuals to wrongdoing, issue, viciousness or prejudice and partitions any race, position, shading, ideology or nationality and antagonistically influences well-disposed relations with a remote state, promotions routed to kids will not contain anything in outline or something else, which may result in their physical, mental or moral mischief or which abuses their powerlessness, Advertisements ought to contain nothing in contravention of law. 

Chapter 4 

Notices containing correlations with different makers or provider or with the items, including those where a contender is named are admissible in light of a legitimate concern for lively challenge and open edification with viewpoint, topic of items and no consumers will be deluded because of such examination, Advertisements must not utilize the name or initials of some other firm, organization or establishment, nor take image of another firm and its items, Advertisements shall not be so like different promotions when all is said in done design, duplicate, trademarks, visual introduction, music or audio cues as to probably misdirect or befuddle consumers.

Self Regulation and Consumer Protection Laws

Self Regulation

In spite of such sanctions and regulations put forth by the ASCI and some important regulations there persists a loophole in law because of which these advertisers are thinking to take the things for granted, unethical advertising continues to be an apprehension. Thus, there needs to be stringent self-regulation by the advertising units and companies which used to be earlier so as to perform some rights of a consumer.

 Self-regulation by advertisers and agencies 

Self-regulation starts with the communication of customer and agency when imaginative thoughts are created and submitted for thought. Most organizations have explicit rules, principles and approaches to which their advertisements must follow. Perceiving that their promotions think about the organization, sponsors cautiously examine all messages to guarantee they are predictable with the picture the firm wishes to extend.

Self Regulation by Trade Associations 

Numerous industries have additionally created self-administrative projects that are especially valid in industries whose publicizing is inclined to the discussion, for example, alcohol and mixed refreshments, drugs, and different items showcased to youngsters. Many exchanges and industry affiliations build up their own promoting rules or codes that part organizations are relied upon to comply with.

Self-Regulation by Media 

The media are another important self-regulatory mechanism in the advertising industry. Most media maintain some form or advertising review process and, except for Political ads, may reject any they regard as objectionable.

These should also be self-regulations in the policies and bye-laws of the companies itself so as to avoid these unethical practices which are even followed by the top 1000 companies listed in Forbes magazine.

Laws Pertaining To Consumer Protection

There are a number of Laws and Regulations that prohibit false and misleading advertisements. These have been enacted to protect consumers from various forms of exploitation. Some of them are listed below:

  1. Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act– The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, fundamentally forbids four sorts of commercials relating to drugs and magical cures. Section 3 of the Act says that no individual or organisation will take any part in the distribution of any ad advancing a medication or prompting the utilization of medication for: 

(a) The acquirement of the unnatural birth cycle in ladies or prevention of origination in ladies. 

(b) The support or improvement of the limit of individuals for sexual delight. 

(c) Correction of the menstrual issue in ladies.

  1. The Cable Television Network Regulation Act and Rules: The Act mandates that all advertisements transmitted through the cable television network adhere to the Advertising Code formulated under it. Section 6, Chapter II of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 says that “No person shall transmit or re-transmit through a cable service, any advertisement, unless such advertisement is in conformity with the prescribed advertising code.
  2. Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006: This is relatively new law has a provision to deal with false and misleading advertisements pertaining to food. Here, the word advertisement includes advertisement and publicity through all media, including electronic media. Even promotional material on labels, wrappers and invoice are brought under the definition of the act.
  3. The Infant Milk Substitute, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 1992 and the Infant Milk Substitute, Feeding Bottles and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Amendment Act, 2002: This law denies commercials and advancement of baby milk substitutes, nourishing jugs, and newborn child food sources on the grounds that their advancement makes a misguided judgment and accordingly deceives customers into accepting that newborn child nourishments or milk substitutes sold in the market are as acceptable or superior to mother’s milk.
  4. Cigarettes and other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) Act, 2003: The law clearly prohibits advertisements & promotion of cigarettes and other tobacco products. It says under Section 5: Prohibition of advertisement of cigarettes and other tobacco products that: 

No individual occupied with or indicated to be occupied with the generation, supply or dissemination of cigarettes or some other tobacco items will publicize and no individual having authority over a medium will cause to be promoted cigarettes or some other tobacco items through that medium and no individual will participate in any commercial which legitimately or in a roundabout way proposes or advances the utilization or utilization of cigarettes or some other tobacco item.

In addition to the laws mentioned, there are various regulators in the other fields where the same is not covered by a statute. Like for advertisements related to banking, there is a sanction by RBI, for companies by SEBI etc. And even if the consumer is not listened to or is not satisfied then he/she may directly appeal to a court or consumer councils set up by the state. The consumer can directly appear to Central Consumer Protection Council, State protection consumer or district consumer protection council after determining the gravity of matter if there is a violation of his right as aforesaid in the third chapter by ASCI.

Conclusion

Advertising ethics are those principles, morals and values which have to be followed by the advertisers and the companies advertising the product so that a consumer is not misrepresented and his rights are not violated. Advertising ethics and consumer protection are relative terms as both terms are related to each, if there is a violation of any advertising ethics then consumer rights come into the picture so as to protect the rights of a consumer, but there should also be stringent implementation of these laws so as to protect the rights of consumers which are often violated by some unethical practises viz. Puffery(metaphor of idea), Deceptiveness or falsity of a product, Nudity or offensive, children and adolescent as target groups, women as a sex symbol and much more unethical practises which is practised day today so as to violate consumer’s right.

Thus, in order to curb these unethical practises there need to be stringent laws with their effective implementation so as to censor all the deceptive or false advertisements, as per COPRA Act 1986 there need to be consumer councils for the rapid or the speedy disposal of a case. 

Advertising Companies and Advertisers should also try to implement some types of self-regulation in their organisation on ethical grounds so that consumers also have trust on their product and this may also not lead to the violation of consumer’s right. All the advertising companies should follow the strict advertising self-regulation which are followed by the top 1000 companies listed on Forbes.

Thus, in order to curb all these evil and unethical practises, all the laws relating to consumer protection must be stringent or the government must try to persuade all the advertising companies to follow some norms or guidelines laid down by them or anybody so that rights of an innocent consumer is not abridged.


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