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Relief for celebrities, guidelines to check veracity of ad claims now possible; Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman, ASCI explains how

Srinivasan Swamy, Chairman, ASCI

Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) recently announced a set of guidelines that will help celebrities to perform due diligence on a product or brand they wish to endorse. Srinivasan Swamy, chairman, ASCI speaks to FE’s Shinmin Bali about the process involved that can help a celebrity arrive at an informed endorsement decision.

What is the process under the new guideline formed by ASCI for celebrity endorsers, regarding due diligence?
The guideline will allow celebrities, as defined by ASCI, to ascertain the veracity of the claims being made by an advertiser. There are two ways a celebrity can do this. One is to do the background checks and research on their own. This would be by taking into account everything that the brand in question has done or said about the product in terms of claims in the past. Celebrities should not rely on futuristic claims being made by the brand. They should look at the information they can get a hold of right up to that point.

Another way is approaching ASCI for assessing the claims. If a query is raised with us by a celebrity about an advertiser’s claims, the first step would be to check the query within ASCI and test the veracity of the claims. If it is found that a particular product or a part of the communication’s claims need a deeper understanding of the subject at hand, an expert could be called in to determine whether the claims being made are true or false. The findings will be presented to the celebrity and recommendations will be made by ASCI about how the claim can be re-looked at in light of the findings.

At which point in the process is a celebrity expected to consult with ASCI — before signing on with the advertiser or at the stage of the creation of the advertisement?
There is no hard and fast rule to this. We would encourage celebrities or even agencies to raise concerns when they feel the need to. The earlier, the better. In any case, post an assessment of the concern, we would be providing the inquiring party with a report stating the finding and ASCI’s recommendations.

Does the celebrity’s responsibility for claims made about the product extend across all products or is it limited to some specific categories?

The guidelines are applicable across categories. However, we feel that celebrities involved in endorsing sectors such as real estate, financial securities or auto may find the guidelines more useful than others.

Referring to the point made by ASCI, “Celebrity should do due diligence to ensure that all description, claims and comparisons made in the advertisements they appear in or endorse are capable of being objectively ascertained and capable of substantiation and should not mislead or appear deceptive,” how would a celebrity (or anybody on their behalf) be able to ensure this, considering celebrities do not have that kind of core competence?

Take for example a shampoo being advertised that wants to claim to reduce hair fall by ‘X’ percent. Or a case where a builder is making a certain claim about the property the advertiser wishes to advertise. A celebrity cannot be expected to have the most relevant and necessary information at his disposal to weigh the claims being made against the truth. Once approached, ASCI will bring in experts, if the claim cannot be verified in-house, to test the truthfulness of the same.

Will a celebrity be held legally responsible if an advertisement is found to be misleading or the claims are unsubstantiated? What will the legal implications be?
That is not how ASCI functions. For every query raised with us by a celebrity, at the end of the review we will be furnishing the celebrity with our opinion and recommendations. The findings are something that a celebrity can use to build their case regarding having done due diligence before endorsing a product. It will allow to gauge the kind of information the celebrity had access to with respect to the product or brand they are endorsing.