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2 in 3 consumers have come across 3 or more misleading advertisements: Survey

Consumers witnessed a change in advertisements during the pandemic. In 2020, advertisements for hand sanitizers grew 100% on television, while advertisements for personal care and hygiene products constituted 20% of overall television advertisements according to a report on TV advertising by TAM Media Research. However, consumers started to complain that while some of these products were genuinely useful, many brands falsely promoted the COVID cure or immunity from it.

According to an online portal, Grievances Against Misleading Advertisements (gama.gov.in), which is run by the Department of Consumers Affairs, over 6000 complaints of misleading advertisements were received by the platform from 2019 to 2021. Also, the self-regulation industry body, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) found out that over 300 advertisements in 2020-22 made were untested claims related to COVID-19. Only 12 such COVID-19 ads were found to be scientifically correct during the period. Consumers have been complaining that in many instances even celebrities and influencers, knowingly or unknowingly, are seen making unsubstantiated claims such products. Recently, the CCPA ordered the discontinuation of Sensodyne advertisements in the country for defying norms, as the ads showed dentists practicing outside India endorsing the products. It also asked Naaptol Online Shopping Ltd to discontinue misleading advertisements, while imposing a penalty of INR 10 lakh after 399 complaints were registered against the brand. Both these actions by CCPA were appreciated by many consumers on LocalCircles.

In India, consumers can lodge complaints at the GAMA portal relating to a misleading advertisement seen across any media, including digital platforms, which then gets forwarded to ASCI who then issues advisories to the companies. However, consumers have expressed concerns about resolution and the scope of companies covered under ASCI. In addition to national brands, consumers report that a large number of regional and local brands, businesses, and service providers make misleading claims regularly through local advertising in newspapers, hoardings, Whatsapp messages, etc. where there is literally zero redressal. In 2020, after the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 was brought into effect, the Government of India formed Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) under the act, which has the authority to regulate matters (investigate and enforce, recall, refund and/or return of products) with regards to violation of consumer rights, unfair trade practices, and false or misleading advertisements. The CCPA is now authorised to issue orders where misleading ads can call for penal action, with punishment ranging from a fine up to INR 10 lakhs to imprisonment for up to 2 years.

Misleading advertisements, however, continue to be a key area of consumer concern in India and consumers via LocalCircles in September 2020 had demanded that the Government should bring out an advertisement code and regulate the same. Another previous survey by LocalCircles revealed that 80% of consumers want regulation of misleading advertisements to be done by a government body instead of an industry body. LocalCircles has also conducted an extensive survey on cryptocurrency ads, which revealed that 74% of Indians as saying that cryptocurrency advertisements do not highlight the risks involved in an effective manner.

While the CCPA has been taking some suo moto action against misleading ads, LocalCircles has conducted another survey to gauge consumer pulse on misleading ads and their regulation. The survey has tried to understand the number of times Indian consumers came across a misleading advertisement in the last 24 months or since the COVID pandemic began. It then attempted to understand if any consumers bought products or services after watching the ad only to find later that they were misled. Also taking cognisance of redressal bodies that are there to act against misleading ads, the survey sought consumers’ pulse if such mechanism has been effective. The survey received more than 33,000 responses from consumers residing in 312 districts of India. 67% respondents were men while 33% respondents were women. 43% respondents were from tier 1, 31% from tier 2 and 26% respondents were from tier 3, 4 and rural districts.

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