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Advertisers and advertising agencies will be brought to book if they ignore newly-introduced guidelines aimed at preventing “false and confusing advertising” and prohibiting advertisements on treatment of more than 20 diseases.
The Ministry of Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism released the guidelines on October 22, 2012, following consumer complaints about misleading and unscrupulous advertising. According to the ministry, the move is intended to protect consumers from being misled and cheated.
The guidelines forbid any form of promotion of the diagnosis and prevention of serious ailments such as cancer, convulsions, diabetes, high blood pressure, impotent, paralysis and venereal diseases. They disallow false advertising related to the quality, quantity, standard, price and type of products and services.
Advertisers are now required to make their disclaimers distinct and easy to read and understand. They must also be able to substantiate their claims.
There have been complaints about untruthful claims about cures for diseases, low-budget tours that have hidden costs and shampoos that promise smooth, silky hair after a wash but do not produce the desired result.
The guidelines came in the wake of a recent amendment to the Consumer Protection Act 1999. Errant advertisers face a maximum fine of RM50,000 or a prison term of up to three years. Advertising agencies can be fined up to RM100,000 for the first-time offence and RM200,000 for subsequent infringements.
In enforcing the guidelines, the Advertising Committee on the Prevention of False and Confusing Advertising has been set up. It is composed of officers from various ministries, officials of consumer groups, representatives of advertising associations and academicians.
The guidelines come in the form of a handbook prepared by a committee following the amendment of the Consumer Protection Act 1999, disclosed the Minister of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism, Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yacoob.
The guidelines mainly cover false or misleading advertising in print and electronic media. They also refer to the unethical use of the halal logo.
Advertisers are advised to have proper approval from relevant authorities. The parties concerned include manufacturers, local or foreign, service providers and ad agencies, big and small.
A example of misleading advertising is when a T-shirt is promoted with the claim the it is made of 100 per cent cotton. However, it turns out that the item is mixed with other materials.
Advertisers are warned in advance before the crackdown begins from January 1, 2013. They may need reliable copywriters, scrupulous marketers and, more importantly, high professional standards and business ethics.