The advertisements have a significant influential role in consumer choice. A good advertisement makes a product appealable to consumer but many times advertisements turns out to be misleading and false. For example an advertisement that claims to provide a water purifier that kills hundred percent safe water, or refrigerator that keeps food germ free, or a face cream that prevents dark spots from coming back and many more. The misleading advertisement of health and nutrition related products or drugs can have serious repercussions for consumer. These advertisements not only violate the consumer’s right to information but can also affect their lives to a degree. False promises, exaggerated results, not revealing important information are few examples of content that makes advertisement misleading. The utmost concern is that false & misleading advertisements now have a wider canvas. While earlier, one saw them only in the print media, besides other convectional media such as pamphlets and hoardings, today you can see them TV influencing a large number of people & impacting the illiterate as well.
There are some fundamental principles of the self-regulatory measures which a company selling a product or advertising any services should take into account such as to ensure the truthfulness & honesty of representation & claims made by ads and to safeguard against misleading advertisement, to ensure that the advertisements are not offensive to generally excepted standards of decency, to save guard against indiscriminate use of advertising for the promotion of the products which are regarded as hazardous to society or to individuals do a degree or of a type which is unacceptable to society at large and to ensure that ads observe fairness in competition so that the consumers need to be informed on choices in the market place and the cannons of generally accepted competitive behaviors and business are both served.
The consumer can approach various forums for complaining and claiming relief for false and misleading advertisements like Advertising Standards Councils of India , for drugs, magic remedies health gadgets and treatment for various ailments they can approach Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisement) Act, for advertisements on television they can approach Cable Television Network (Regulation)Act 1955, for complains pertaining to food they can approach Food Safety and Standards Authority, for complains regarding insurance they can approach Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority, for complains about telecommunication advertisements they can approach Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, for complains relating to banking and non-banking financial companies they can complain to Reserve Bank of India. Although, for various kinds of misleading or false advertisement there is a certain authority or regulatory body assigned to complain and claim relief, the Consumer Protection Act is one law under which consumer can complain and claim redress such as compensation or any other relief for loss or injury caused by any type of misleading advertisement.
The definition of unfair trade practice which includes advertising a product by misleading or false advertisement, is given in section 2(1)(r) of the Consumer Protection Act and section 14 of the Act provides the directions that court can give to deal with such practices and this includes directions to the advertiser to discontinue such advertisements and not to repeat it. They can also award compensation for any loss or suffering caused on account of such 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. National Consumer Dispute Redressal Commission (NCDRC) is an apex authority to deal with the consumer cases. The consumer first files a complaint in District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum. The decision of District forum can be challenged in State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, which can again be challenged in the apex authority of NCDRC. The complaint includes the some important sections. A complaint should start with brief introduction to the complaint. It should briefly define a transaction complained of like details of goods or services that were availed date of purchase, amount paid, bills or receipt and any other relevant information. It should include a defect deficiency which explains the grievance as to the ‘wrong’ claimed to be done by the seller which can be a unfair or restrictive trade practice or a defect in service provided or charging unfairly. The complaint should include a paragraph on rectification that addresses the attempts by the made by the buyer to set things right which includes negotiation, or complain in writing or in any other form. Apart from this any other information or facts which are relevant to claim relief can be added in the complaint. The complaint should include details of documents provided as an evidence or name of witnesses. The complainant must mention the nature of relief he wants to claim through the complaint such as removal of defect, replacement of goods, return of price paid, compensation for any injury or loss that happened because of defect etc. the complainant should fulfill the conditions of pecuniary and territorial jurisdiction of the court in which he is filing a complaint and it should be filed within the time limit prescribed under section 24A of the Consumer Protection Act.
In the case of M. R. Ramesh VS M/S Prakash Moped House, the apex consumer court (NCDRC) warned against advertisements that use fine print to hide crucial information pertaining to products and services, thereby misleading the consumer and by awarding substantial compensation to the consumer, who was misled by such an advertisement, the National Commission made it clear that it would not take such violations of consumers’ right to information lightly. It was advised to manufacturers and service providers that “advertisements should not mislead and should give a clear picture of the quality of the goods sold”. This case was with regard to a motorbike (Hero Honda CD-100) that Mr. M.R. Ramesh bought. His contention was that at the time of purchase, he was assured that the bike would run 80 km on a litre of petrol. However, the bike gave 22 km less than promised. He filed before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, New Delhi, an advertisement published in October 1993, wherein the manufacturer had made such a claim about the mileage of the motorcycle. The manufacturer, on the other hand, brought on record advertisements issued during the period which carried an asterisk on the numerical figure of 80 and at the foot of the advertisement in small print, said “at 40 kmph/130 kg” , thereby qualifying the claim. The National Commission made two important observations in this case. Firstly that there was no explanation from the manufacturer as to how the advertisement shown by the consumer did not carry any such qualifying statement and secondly that even advertisements that specified at the bottom in fine print, “40kmph/130 kg” or “under standard conditions” were not intelligible to the consumer and were therefore deceptive.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, a complaint can also be filed by the governments, state as well as the central on behalf of consumers, but the Departments of Consumer Affairs hardly have the required infrastructure for such work. So complaints of false and misleading advertisements filed before the consumer courts today are mostly filed by those who are directly affected by such advertisements and have suffered financial loss. Today, we need proper laws for strict action against misleading and false advertisements and also a strict enforcement of these laws. The consumer should be made aware of their rights and redressal mechanisms so that they can claim these rights. Misleading advertisement should not only be complained against but should also be scrutinized and banned as it also affects the section of society that does not have information about their rights and access to the authorities.
(This is submitted by Bharti Singh, A Law Student)