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Indian Advertisements, Indian Consumers and Ethical Conundrum: Confusopoly?

ET Cases, 14 pages
AUTHOR(S) : Kumar Gambhiraopet and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

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Indian Advertisements, Indian Consumers and Ethical Conundrum: Confusopoly?


“Never write an advertisement which you wouldn’t want your family to read. You wouldn’t tell lies to your own wife. Don’t tell them to mine.”

- David Mackenzie Ogilvy

In May 2015, Indian film actress Kangana Ranaut was asked by an interviewer, “Why did you recently turn down a deal worth Rs. 2 crores which needed you to endorse fairness (skin- lightening brand)?” She replied, “Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the concept of fairness. Especially, in such a case, as a celebrity, what kind of example would I be setting for younger people? I have no regrets about turning this offer down. As a public figure, I have responsibilities. My sister (Rangoli Ranaut) is dusky, yet beautiful. If I go ahead and be a part of this campaign, then, in a way, I would be insulting her. If I can’t do it to my sister, how can I do it to an entire nation?” While this statement went viral, the purport kept the marketers and consumers thinking.

In response to the Debate: #2MinuteMuddle: How did it go unnoticed? (aired on Times Now on June 2nd 2015) Rajiv Narayanan, Head, Sales, AdIQuity Mobile (Flipkart), had written a post on his Facebook (on 3rd June 2015) wall – “Years ago (circa 1998), there were strict rules and policies on what ads we could take. Any product suspected to be a ‘magical drug’ was rejected outright. Where have your high standards gone now? I see multiple ads for such products daily. Be it diabetes or drugs that provide ‘vigor’. Prompted to post this seeing the double standards taken by Times Now, on celebrity endorsement and their responsibility to check if products are good and safe. I hope TOI had verified that the product in picture (Exhibit I) is absolutely safe! Shame!”..............................

Advertising Campaigns and Business Practices: Conscious Violations or Consumer Volitions?

Several Indian advertisements were in news as their purport was questioned, debated and complained against. Some of the prominent ones were related to Tata Sky, Idea Cellular and a few pharmaceutical companies’ business practices.........

Celebrated Creativity or Calibrated Callousness?

Also, several Indian companies’ advertisements were found to be culturally intimidating and infuriating a major section of the Indian social strata. A few recent culturally-insensitive advertisements – for instance, by Kalyan Jewellers, Lenskart, Fastrack, etc., have been questioned across several platforms.........

Campaigns and Complaints

ASCI, India’s self-regulatory body comprising of companies from advertising, marketing & media, has been receiving several complaints involving untruthful, unsubstantiated and misleading advertisements. ASCI expects all the Indian advertisements to comply with its four basic codes: Honesty (Is it misleading the consumer?; Does the product actually deliver the claims being made?); ..............

Advertising Violations or Consumer Volitions?

According to Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC), for the financial year of 2014-15 there was many a violation related to Indian advertisements. Vulgarity & Excessive Violence topped the category wise violations in advertisements during April-November 2014 (Exhibit VIII)............

Indian Advertisements and Regulatory Bodies

In order to understand the adequacy and functional effectiveness of ASCI’s self-regulatory framework in India, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) had conducted a comprehensive survey (Exhibit X) with top tier professionals in the advertising & marketing space in the country. According to its findings, most of the communication professionals across the sectors were of the opinion that the existing self-regulatory framework is inadequate as well as ineffective.............

Cause-related Marketing in India

Campaigns like Tata Tea’s Jaago Re and Aircel’s ‘Save Our Tigers’ have been some of the most often cited cause related marketing campaigns in India. Several others too have adopted Social Cause Marketing route to connect with some of the pressing and pertinent social issues (Exhibit XII).............


Exhibit I: D-Diabetes – Misleading Ad Published in Times of India

Exhibit II (a): Kalyan Jewellers Ad featuring Aishwarya Rai

Exhibit II (b): Lenskart Controversial Post on Facebook

Exhibit III: Poster – Calling People to Protest Against Titan’s Fastrack Defamed Ad

Exhibit IV: Ad Campaigns – Socially Undesirable Representations

Exhibit V: ‘Come Out of the Closet’ Campaign by Fastrack

Exhibit VI: Misleading Ad Campaigns

Exhibit VII: Some of the Misleading Ads Upheld by ASCI in December 2014

Exhibit VIII: Category-wise Violations in Ads (April-November 2014)

Exhibit IX: Violations in Ads (April 2014-March 2015)

Exhibit X: FICCI’s Survey on Efficacy of ASCI’s Self-regulatory Framework

Exhibit XI (a): ASCI’s ‘Swacch Ads Abhiyan’ Poster

Exhibit XI (b): #ASCI Ambassador on Facebook

Exhibit XII: Social Cause Marketing Campaigns

Teaching Note Preview

Indian Advertisements, Indian Consumers and Ethical Conundrum: Confusopoly?



This case study enables an interesting discussion on marketing ethics and social responsibility. In India, despite the regulatory bodies like Advertising Standards Council of India‘s (ASCI) measures to protect consumers from misleading advertisements, the deluge of such ads continues to haunt consumers. The case study helps differentiate between misleading ads and ethical marketing and unravel the myths and realities behind creative exaggeration. It briefs about the strategies on how marketers target the vulnerable consumers, tinker with their perceptions and mislead them focusing on the significance of the regulatory body ASCI and the Department of Consumer Affairs (DoCA). However, amidst this communication clutter there are brands which had been advocating cause-related marketing, and green marketing. Why do brands leap into campaigns which involve creative exaggeration? Where should marketers draw the line? For the programs devised by the regulatory authorities to be truly successful, there has to be a change in the overall communication landscape. Suitable for understanding the concept of marketing ethics this case study questions the credibility of the regulatory bodies to put an effective tab on the unethical marketing practices.

Prerequisite Conceptual Understanding (PCU)/and Prior Viewing

The students/participants should be encouraged to read the following mandatory reading bereft of which a meaningful discussion and adequate analysis of this case study wouldn’t be possible:

  • • Leon G. Schiffman, et al., “Marketing Ethics and Social Responsibility”, Consumer Behavior, 10th Edition,Pearson Publications, 2010 – To understand what is responsible marketing and identify the major social and ethical criticisms of marketing


Mandatory Viewing

The following videos must be watched for detailed analysis of this case study:

  • • “IDEA: Haryana”,, January 12th 2015 (accessed date: June 2nd 2015)
  • • “MAGGI veg atta noodles”,, January 2nd 2015 (accessed date: June 2nd 2015)
  • • “Horlicks Exam Time”,, March 13th 2012 (accessed date: June 2nd 2015)


Case Positioning and Setting

This case study can be used in MBA, Executive MBA or Executive Development Programs, for the following course:

  • • Consumer Behaviour Course: for “Marketing Ethics and Social Responsibility” – To examine the perils of unethical marketing and the role of cause related  marketing and social responsibility and define how marketers can advance society’s interests via such practices.


Assignment Questions

  • I. What do you understand by Exploitive Targeting and what are the different forms of exploitive targeting? From the case facts, can you establish how a few Indian companies, through their objectionable advertisements, resort to exploitive targeting? What according to you would be the ideal way to curb such unwarranted practices?
  • II. How do companies manipulate consumers? How do you think the companies (and their advertisements) highlighted in the case study tinker with consumer perceptions and possibly mislead them?
  • III. .............


Preamble to the Case Analysis

This case study is meant to sensitize the participants/students to the overt and covert marketing/business practices that companies adopt to “influence” the  buying decisions. Marketing ethics and social responsibility are being touted as subjects of self-restraint, self-regulation and self-discipline. An effective and efficient regulatory mechanism is also warranted to ensure that enough deterrents are enforced to exact a responsible conduct from the companies.

Through several instances of exploitive targeting and manipulating consumers, this case study meanders through the ethical conundrums augmenting students/participants’ questioning on moral standings of many a business practices. Accordingly, this case study can be orchestrated in the classroom in the suggested manner.

Suggested Orchestration

The classroom discussion and analysis for this case study was facilitated under four broad sections as explained through the Classroom Orchestration [Exhibit (TN)-I]...........

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This case study is meant to introduce the importance of marketing ethics and social responsibility. Marketing ethics being an all-encompassing moral sign post for companies' marketing and selling activities, especially through their marketing communications - advertisements, advertorials, sponsored buzz marketing, etc., calls for self-restraint and conscious pacing. Whether it is Idea cellular's IIN or Tata Sky's 'Ab bachchey seekhein TV se' or some of Indian pharmaceutical companies selling Indian version of Viagra, etc., thoughtful scrutiny in the light of Advertising Standards Council of India's (ASCI's) code of conduct, would only multiply the ethical conundrums involved in many such marketing communications. Despite several initiatives from ASCI, Department of Corporate Affairs, etc., Indian advertising seems to flaunt the ethical fabric of Indian society. What are the ways and means to align Indian advertisements with morally and ethically acceptable standards? How would these advertisements affect consumer behavior and the respective brand's loyalty?

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To examine how few Indian companies, through their unwarranted advertisements, resort to exploitive targeting and debate on the ways to curb such practices
  • To learn how companies manipulate consumers by tinkering consumer perceptions to possibly mislead them in the light of several 'objectionable' Indian Advertisements
  • To understand how companies can advance society's interests through social-cause marketing and discuss on the ways to sustain such 'impactful' corporate activities
  • To discuss and debate on the role of ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) in ensuring that Indian advertisement do not polarize Indian society in any of the undesirable ways - economic, cultural, social, political affiliations

Case Positioning and Setting
This case study can be used in MBA, Executive MBA or Executive Development Programs, for Consumer Behaviour Course:

  • Consumer Behavior Course : "Marketing Ethics and Social Responsibility" - To understand what is responsible marketing and identify the major social and ethical criticisms of marketing

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