The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has directed the Indian paint giant, Berger Paints India Ltd, to remove their recent advertisement which claimed the company's product to be effective against 99 per cent of 'COVID virus'.
The regulatory body has given January 14, 2021, as the due date for the company to either suitably modify or withdraw the advertisement.
The ASCI's order comes in response to a law student's complaint against Berger Paints' advertisement - "Berger Silk Breathe Easy".
On December 2, Aman Banka, a law student of Uttar Pradesh's Lloyd Law College, came across the Berger's new advertisement on YouTube. The ad claimed that the paints provide protection from bacteria, 'COVID virus', reduce SOx and NOX gases, and are approved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).
On the same day, Banka mailed the company regarding the product's claim on its effectiveness against the novel coronavirus and requested the company to provide certification of approval from IMA in the public domain within 48 hours. Banka also said that if the company fails to do so, he would move to the court for the misleading advertisement.
Responding to the complaint, the company said that all the claims were certified by multiple well known, recognised laboratories. The company added that the product was tested by Berger's own Research & Development Department.
Berger, however, told that the IMA gave the approval only for the antibacterial action, and not for the other claims made in the advertisement.
The company did not clarify the part that claimed protection against 'COVID virus'. The company did not even provide the IMA certification it claimed to have received.
The official website reads that the paint is formulated with 'Nano-Silver technology, and is effective against 99% of COVID virus within 30 minutes of exposure on the painted surface. The same has been tested by Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology (Government of India Certified Laboratory).'
Replying to the company's mail, Banka listed down the legal offences Berger has committed, including breach of ASCI code, breach of The Consumer Protection Act and Criminal offence (given the claim put millions of lives at stake).
"I, being the consumer, feel cheated," Banka spoke to The Logical Indian.
After receiving an unsatisfactory answer from the company, he filed a complaint with ASCI on December 4, seeking information on the claims.
The self-regulatory body sought for expert opinion on the matter to clarify if the claims were technical.
Ad Misleading To Consumer
After seeking the details of the issue, verbatim, the complaint was considered by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) at their meeting to the advertiser.
The regulatory body said that the advertiser did not seek an Informal Resolution (IR) of the complaint and a telecon with the ASCI Secretariat for further guidance, rather submitted a written response.
The advertisers, in its written response, asserted that the tests claimed were carried out by their R&D Lab and by independent and accredited laboratories.
The company provided test reports on anti-viral efficacy, anti-SARS CoV-2 efficacy, and the declaration of due diligence from the celebrity who endorsed it (Kareen Kapoor Khan).
The company also submitted additional data of studies carried out at IMTECH, Chandigarh, that supported the claim about efficacy against the viruses responsible for COVID-19.
After viewing the advertisement, the written response, and the technical expert's opinion, the CCC observed that the company's claim of '99% efficiency within 30 minutes of treatment' was qualified.
The efficacy study was conducted at Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Biotechnology, along with SARS-CoV-2 (virus responsible for COVID-19). The study result concluded that SARS-CoV-2 specific RNA (E&S target gene) was not detected after 30 minutes of treatment.
However, the test conducted does not fall under the standard testing protocol for proving the efficacy of products, as the advertisement claimed.
The qualification also depends on various other aspects - the time span for which the protection would last, the type of room in which the testing was done, the period for which virus has to be in contact with the paint to be neutralised etc.
There were no clarifications provided by the company for the concerns mentioned above.
The Council said that such kinds of viruses are carried in aerosol droplets present in the air, and there was no proof to which extent the paint would protect it.
"This would be crucial from a consumer's point of view to understand. These depend on many factors as to what would be the agitation in the room, and the dead spots present in the room," ASCI said.
The Council concluded that the company lacked the data to prove the product's efficacy. The claim of 99 % protection against 'COVID virus' was inadequately substantiated and is misleading to a regular consumer.
"It is misleading to normal consumers, who may not have the bandwidth to understand the contention of the claim, as explained by the advertiser. Given the current pandemic situation, the claim is likely to mislead consumers that the product offers protection from Coronavirus and is likely to lead to widespread disappointment in consumers' minds. The Website advertisement contravened Chapters I.1, I.4 and I.5 of the ASCI Code," the Council added.
The Council also advised the Banka to report immediately to the authorities, if the company fails to comply with the orders.