Government set to issue guidelines for advertisers on surrogate ads crackdown

The guidelines set to be released by the CCPA, aim at addressing advertisements that promote goods, products, or services in a manner that circumvents legal restrictions or prohibitions.

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The BJP-led NDA government, as part of its 100-day plan, is moving swiftly to safeguard consumer interests with forthcoming guidelines on surrogate advertisements, pesky calls, and greenwashing, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The guidelines on surrogate advertisements, which are in the final stages of preparation by the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA) and set to be released by the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), will soon enter a phase of public comment and feedback. These guidelines, detailed and comprehensive in nature, aim to address advertisements that promote goods, products, or services in a manner that circumvents legal restrictions or prohibitions.

In December 2022, CCPA's 'Prevention of Misleading Advertisements' guidelines defined surrogate advertisements as those which indirectly promote goods or services whose direct advertising is legally restricted or prohibited. Such advertisements may use brand names, logos, colours, layouts, or presentations associated with restricted products, thereby implying association without explicit mention. However, the guidelines clarify that mere mention of a brand or company name, which may apply to both restricted and non-restricted products, is permissible if it does not violate other provisions outlined in the guidelines.

While surrogate advertising remains a significant issue for restricted categories, over the past three years, ASCI has handled complaints against 49 ads potentially violating guidelines on valid brand extensions. Among these, 36 ads were related to alcohol, 12 to betting platforms, and 1 to Pan Masala, necessitating modifications to comply with regulatory standards in 98% of cases. Additionally, ASCI reported 1,085 instances of advertisements directly violating laws to central and state regulators during this period, with 765 involving illegal betting ads and 320 directly promoting liquor.

ASCI has been continuously updating its guidelines, with the latest revision in December 2023, focusing on aligning advertising expenditures with legitimate brand extensions to prevent misleading practices. Meanwhile, the DoCA has formed a committee comprising representatives from DoT, TRAI, COAI, BSNL, Vodafone Idea, Reliance, and Airtel to draft guidelines addressing unsolicited calls. These draft guidelines are currently open for public feedback until July 21st, aiming to refine regulations aimed at curtailing such practices.

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