The Price of Misleading Advertisements
BY MR. ASHIM SANYAL, COO CONSUMER VOICE
Did you know irresponsible advertising can boomerang? Businesses are not allowed to make statements that are incorrect or likely to create a false impression. The Consumer Protection Act 2019 provides provisions for deterrent punishment to check misleading advertisements. The authority will have power to impose a penalty on a manufacturer or an endorser of up to 10 lakh rupees and imprisonment for up to two years for a false or misleading advertisement.
This rule applies to their advertising, their product packaging, and any information provided to you by their staff or online shopping services. It also applies to any statement made by businesses in the media or online, such as testimonials on their websites or social media pages.
It makes no difference whether the business intended to mislead you or not. If the overall impression left by a business advertisement, promotion, quotation, statement or other representation creates a misleading impression in your mind—such as the price, value or quality of any goods and services—then the behaviour is likely to breach the law.
Celebrities are great influencers. With a large population of India, living in villages, a celebrity endorsing a product or service, serves as a promise of quality and builds instant recognition and credibility. In many cases, the benefits of product or claims made in adverts may be misleading or not supported by any data.
In India, as in several advanced economies, there is only one body for Self-Regulation in Advertising – the ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India), which is concerned with safeguarding the interests of consumers whilst monitoring/guiding the commercial communications of Practitioners in Advertising on behalf of advertisers, for advertisements carried by the Media, in their endeavours to influence buying decisions of the Consuming Public.
The goal is prevention rather than punishment, reflecting the purpose of civil law in setting things right rather than that of criminal law. The typical sanction is to order the advertiser to stop its illegal acts, or to include disclosure of additional information that serves to avoid the chance of deception. Corrective advertising may be mandated, but there are no fines or prison time. However the new Consumer Protection Act 2019 has harsh provisions for both.
ASCI assists the consumer by making available the rights, regulations, obligations and procedures for refund and return, complaints, faulty products and guarantees of products and services. They also assist businesses and industries by developing clear laws and guidelines in relation to unfair practices and misleading or deceptive conduct. It aims to promote fair competition and trading in the country.
To sum up, the focus on misleading advertising rests on false or deceptive practice in relation to a specific list of key factors, omission of material information (unclear or untimely information) and aggressive practice by harassment, coercion or undue influence.