On January 20, 2020, the Advertisement Standards Council of India (ASCI) released guidelines for usage of Awards and Rankings in healthcare advertisements, which came into force from 1st February, 2020. Awards and rankings are increasingly being used by advertisers to make superiority claims for their products and services in advertising. Consumers are sometimes misled into believing that an award or ranking which is given to a brand, product, institute or service makes it superior and /or more authentic.
Therefore, it is necessary to validate that awards and rankings used in advertising are sourced from credible, recognized, independent bodies which employ ethical processes, rigour and appropriate research so that superiority claims made by advertisers are substantiated and do not mislead consumers.
The guidelines create awareness for advertisers for appropriate usage of reference to awards or rankings in advertising; to ensure that their claims are not misleading. The guidelines will also assist the advertisers to understand the rigour required for claim substantiation and pitfalls to avoid so that their claims pass the muster with ASCI's Consumer Complaints Council (CCC).
The guidelines are applicable to all advertisers and will particularly be relevant for healthcare services and the educational sector which tend to use such superiority or leadership claims. In the health services sector, misleading claims about rankings and awards lure patients in choosing the service provider which can hamper patient health, quality of care received and result into financial losses.
Salient features of ASCI Guidelines
These guidelines are developed to guide advertisers for appropriate references to award/s or ranking/s claim/s in advertising:
- Rankings should not be used as an alternative for consumer or scientific research or testing to substantiate the effective use or performance of service and products.
- Awards/rankings in advertisement should clearly indicate the name of the awarding body and the month and year in which the award/ranking was pronounced to indicate the validity of award/ranking.
- . The permission/consent of the person, institution or organisation conferring the award/ranking before being used in the advertisement.
- Awards/rankings based on surveys done in one area region/category/department cannot be extrapolated to include a larger territory (say, India, Asia, World)/overall and institution respectively
- . To substantiate the award/ranking claim, the advertiser needs to give an undertaking that there is no commercial relationship or conflict of interest between the awarding organisation/the research agency/ jury members and the advertiser and that they are two independent entities.
- In case of a complaint lodged at ASCI against an advertisement claiming award/ranking for a healthcare enterprise/hospital/treatment, then the concerned advertiser will be required to provide details on the protocol/process followed for conferring the award/ranking on the product/service.
The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is a self-regulatory council which seeks to ensure that advertisements conform to its Code for Self-Regulation, which requires advertisements to be legal, decent, honest and truthful and not hazardous or harmful while observing fairness in competition. ASCI looks into complaints across ALL MEDIA such as print, TV, radio, hoardings, SMS, emailers, internet / web-site, product packaging, brochures, promotional material and point of sale material etc. ASCI's role has been acclaimed by various Government bodies including the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA), Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Ministry of AYUSH as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The association with these Government bodies is to co-regulate and curb misleading and objectionable advertisements in the respective sectors1.
Originally published 28 April, 2020
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