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Why has the Advertising Standards Council of India set new charity guidelines?

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

August 16, 2023 | 5 min read

We catch up with the regulatory body’s chief exec, Manisha Kapoor, to hear the reasons behind the Mumbai-headquartered ASCI’s new rules.

ASCI launches a new set of regulations for charity advertising in India

ASCI launches a new set of regulations for charity advertising in India

In keeping with its proactive action on looking at consumer-led categories that need regulatory hand-holding for better governance, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has looked at and unveiled a set of guidelines for advertisements for charitable causes.

The chief job of the guidelines, as per ASCI’s CEO and secretary general Manisha Kapoor, is “to strike a balance between allowing charities to do their important work, and at the same time, be fair to consumers who are viewers of such advertisements.”

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Charities primarily work for a noble cause and help plug the gap between the underprivileged and the needy people who are matched with potential donors to help them with funds. With the huge reach of social media, charities – including crowdfunding platforms – have been pushing their messaging via sponsored ads and organic posts to tap potential donors.

However, according to the ASCI, there have been “some concerns about ads that are creating distress with the use of overtly graphic images.” Also, with crowdsourcing platforms, consumers are often in the dark about what amount of their donation goes to the beneficiary and what may be kept by the platforms for administrative fees or charges.

Kapoor says of the new rulebook: “To balance the needs of the charities, beneficiaries and viewers, it was felt necessary to bring some guardrails. The ASCI has in the past received complaints on this issue and we feel that creating the guidelines makes it clear as to what the lines are.”

It is also about helping consumers make an informed decision about supporting a charity, as they may not always be able to distinguish the modus operandi of a crowdsourcing organization versus a traditional charity. “Disclosures are needed regarding administrative fees charged out of the funds collected from such appeals,” says Kapoor.

A simplified call for action

Over the last few months, the ASCI has revisited many category frameworks and developed newer rules from time to time in a changing marketing landscape. It has also made the complaint process more robust and accessible for an average complainant.

So, what can a recipient do on being fed an offensive charitable cause ad in a digital ecosystem? Consumers can complain to the ASCI via its website or on a dedicated WhatsApp number along with the link or screenshots. The ASCI will investigate such cases. The independent jury of the ASCI, the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC), will make its recommendation after examining the ad, the complaint and the response from the advertiser. According to Kapoor, due action will be taken if it is found to be violating these guidelines.

The new rulebook has takeaways for marketers, too, says Kapoor, “since transparency and disclosures are very important.” She adds that consumers know that content has an agenda, do not like to be misled and have a greater affinity with brands they see as trustworthy and transparent. Brands should consider whether they wish to risk their reputation, trust and goodwill, which take years to build and can be wiped out quite quickly.

While engagement is critical, brand marketers must examine what they are willing to do in the name of engagement. “The use of shock tactics, over-the-top promises and claims are put-offs to consumers who have a lot of choices in terms of brands and content they wish to engage with.”

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