Stop Misleading Advertisements

The moment we open our eyes each morning, advertising is there to greet. Whether it is reading newspaper or listening radio or watching television or browsing internet, advertisements pursue us all day long. An average Indian is exposed to 5,000 to 10,000 commercials a day.....a huge number! And most of them are grossly misleading and unethical, misleading consumers into believing or buying based on factually incorrect or distorted information.

In India, there is no single agency to regulate misleading advertisements. There are plethora of laws and regulations under which action against misleading advertisements can be taken by different agencies. But, they work in isolation and have not been able to safeguard interests of consumers.

The advertising media’s own Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is the only self-regulatory body in India. Since media generates revenue from advertising, an intricate nexus is formed which ultimately results in a win-win situation for both the advertisers and the media, at the cost of consumers.

Under Consumer Protection Act the Consumer Forums are empowered to award compensation for any loss or suffering caused on account of misleading ads, which is an unfair trade practice; they can also award punitive damages and costs of litigation. But most important, they can direct the advertiser to issue corrective advertisement. This is the most important provision and can really have a deterrent effect, if used effectively. Unfortunately, this provision has hardly or perhaps never been used.

With a view to deal with this menace Consumers India has been organizing Talks and Panel Discussions; motivating students to study and reveal the truth about misleading ads during Internship with Consumers India and taking up strong advocacy campaigns.

Some such activities are briefly mentioned below :

Advocacy to set up a strong regulatory authority to save consumers from Misleading Advertisements

Advertising in USA is regulated by Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a United States administrative agency since 1914. In the year 2011, they imposed fine of

  • $ 25 million (US Dollars) on Rebook for their shoe brand claiming “Better legs and a better butt with every step.”
  • US $ 900,000 on Nivea for touting the claim that regular use of its “Bio-slim Complex” significantly reduces consumers’ body size.

Consumers India made several appeals to Prime Minister, Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Minister of Consumer Affairs in GOI and others to set up an independent regulatory authority, which could come up with exemplary punishment like Federal Trade Commission did in USA to safeguard consumers from the onslaught of misleading advertising, playing havoc with the health and well-being of our consumers. If deterring punishment is imposed against firms/ brand owners for making unsubstantiated claims, this may induce some fear in advertisers and consumers may have substantially reduced risk of being exposed to misleading ads.

Studies to reveal the truth about misleading ads

This issue has fascinated large number of students, who have studied various aspects of misleading advertising during internship with Consumers India. Those issues have also been taken up with the authorities. Some of them are highlighted here.

Truth about Misleading Advertisements Relating to Cosmetics and Consumer Care Products

Ankur (IIFT Delhi), Ashwathy Kumar (IIFT Delhi), Barleen Kaur (IIM Indore), Chetan Joshi (Faculty of Law, Delhi University) & Kritika Dutta (Miranda, DU) studied the subject during internship with Consumers India and found that whether it is fairness cream or deodorant or soap or toothpaste, companies are all the time trying to fool consumers with false, unsubstantiated claims. While purchase decisions made on the basis of some ads lead to loss of hard-earned money, there is no dearth of cases where health and money both are lost!

As per CSE Report, out of 32 fairness creams tested for mercury, 14 had it in the range of 0.10 ppm to 1.97 ppm. The report also mentions about the presence of Chromium and Nickel in substantial concentration in number of Lipstick brands tested by them!

The use of heavy metals is banned in cosmetics under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules. The report indicates the most worrying trend in India of poor enforcement, leaving consumers to the whims and fancies of uncaring profit mongers!

Truth about Misleading Advertisements Relating to Revital

Divya Ludhani, Niharika Yadav and Princy Bansal, students of Lady Sri Ram College of Delhi University studied Misleading Advertisements with focus on Revital during internship with Consumers India. Revital is described as a daily health supplement which is a combination of eleven Vitamins, nine Minerals and Ginseng. Priced at Rs 240 (30 capsules) it rides high on the positive health concept giving the user mental and physical vitality due to aggressive but misleading advertising with the brand punch line of "Jiyo Jee Bhar Ke".

Ginseng, which is one of the ingredients of Revital, has allegedly caused several deaths in Germany, USA and UK due to its serious side effects. It is understood that WHO had cautioned the regulatory authorities to curb the non-medicinal use of Ginseng. However, it continues being promoted openly in India through misleading advertising, as an ingredient of an OTC product like Revital!

The ingredients in Revital are not capable of taking care of any deficiency/malnutrition. For example, Revital has 2000 IU of VITAMIN A. If we look for natural sources, spinach (frozen/boiled-1/2 cup) provides 11,458 IU per serving and carrots (raw-1/2 cup) provide 9,189 IU per serving.

If we look at Vitamin D, Revital has only 200 IU of this sunshine Vitamin. If one has deficiency of this crucial Vitamin, therapeutic dose prescribed by Doctors is around 60,000 IU per week!

Revital has been approved as a dietary supplement under Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (now Food Safety and Standard Act). This not only allows them to sell drugs at a price higher than the one fixed by the government for the ingredient drugs but also helps in avoiding quality control and inspection by the drug authorities!

Truth about misleading ads relating to hair replacement and spot fat reduction

Vinayak Agrawal, a B Tech student of Delhi Technological University and Jyoti Yadav, a BA (H) student of Lady Sri Ram College of Delhi University studied misleading advertisements relating to hair replacement and spot fat reduction during internship with Consumers India.

There are several taglines which the clinics offer to attract the consumers in lure of the treatment they provide. For example when they say 'a hair transplant can restore a full head of hair', they are hiding the fact that hair transplants do not create any new hair; they simply move hair from the back to the front. So, it is physically impossible for a bald man to attain a full head of hair from a hair transplant.

Many clinics claim that the hair transplant is as simple as 'walk in walk out' or one can 'get instant solution', while realistically it may require 6 to 8 surgeries. The clinic thus tries to lure customers to take that all important first step. Once a patient has his first hair transplant, there is no going back. He is then committed to getting additional surgeries.

Similarly weight loss clinics lure consumers by their advertisements like 'Lose weight without diet or exercise' while the fact is that achieving a healthy weight requires sensible food choices and a healthy life style.

'Lose weight permanently! Never diet again', 'Lose 30 Kilograms in 30 days' 'Reduce inches from your waist and thighs' are some other popular taglines used by weight reduction clinics to fool consumers.

The major findings emanating from such studies are disseminated for the benefit of consumers. They are also shared with the authorities. Issues like 'Celebs liable for false advertising' (Times of India - 4th February, 2014) have also been taken up with the suggestion to impose penalties on celebrities, which should be higher than the hefty payments received by them, if they are party to misleading advertising!

For further details please see :-



Consumers India

E-7/16, Vasant Vihar

New Delhi-110057