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Healthcare Ads Most Errant in FY24, Industry Self-Regulatory Body Says

The Advertising Standards Council of India said in its annual complaints report that four of five norms-violating healthcare-related advertisements involved potential violations of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954.
Photo: Nick Youngson/Pix4free. CC BY-SA 3.0.

New Delhi: Healthcare-related ads accounted for a majority of advertising norms violations in the financial year 2023-24, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which is the industry’s self-regulatory body, has said.

The ASCI said in its annual complaints report that 8,062 of a total of 8,229 ads it scrutinised needed at least some modification.

Some ads directly violated the law (39% of the total) while others violated the ASCI’s guidelines on influencer and celebrity endorsements.

In its scrutiny of healthcare-related ads, the ASCI said it recorded 1,569 norms violations (19% of total ads scrutinised), of which 1,249 potentially violated the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, 1954 (DMRA), which regulates the advertisement of drugs.

Over nine in ten (91%) of ads that potentially violated the DMRA ran afoul of section 3(b) of the law, which deals with claims to maintaining or improving consumers’ capacity for sexual pleasure.

The council said it also recorded 190 ads made by clinics, hospitals or wellness centres “making tall misleading claims about their services, care and cure to chronic conditions”.

Its findings come on the heels of the Supreme Court pulling up Patanjali Ayurved for publishing misleading advertisements in violation of the DMRA.

According to the ASCI’s compilation of errant ads, five ads Patanjali published in FY24 potentially violated the DMRA and a total of 26 ads it published needed at least some modifications.

Next to healthcare, ads related to betting, personal care and traditional education respectively constituted the most norms violations.

Ninety-five percent of errant personal care ads appeared digitally, the ASCI said – in fact, 85% of all ads it scrutinised were digital – and 55% of ads in this sector violated its guidelines related to disclosures by influencers of collaborations.

It said 20 personal care ads featuring celebrities were misleading.

Ads related to baby care made up 1% of all ads requiring modification, the council said, noting that this was the first time this sector made it to the top ten sectors accounting for norms violations.

Violations of influencer guidelines accounted for a large majority (81%) of baby care ads involved.

The ASCI also pointed to the difficulty in regulating digital ads, including due to the short lifespan of ads and the fact that many ads mimic generic content. This means “thousands of ads created everyday get away without being monitored”, it said.

Three-quarters of digital ads were compliant with ASCI recommendations as opposed to 97% of print and TV ads, it added.

Close to half of all ads the ASCI scrutinised were “not contested”, meaning they were modified or withdrawn promptly.

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