The central government has finalised a national guideline to make all advertisements, celebrity endorsements and claims over products and services by companies ethical, factual and transparent. The "Misleading Advertisement Guidelines" has received all necessary approvals and will be notified soon, a senior official said.

The guideline covers all types of misleading advertisements including surrogate ads where companies are often seen advertising a permissible non-core product instead of its key product that is legally not allowed to be advertised. Similarly, the guideline cautions against free claims that are not justifiable and bait advertisements which usually attempts to entice consumers without a reasonable prospect of selling the advertised goods or services. "The guideline will provide all stakeholders in the advertising ecosystem a clear understanding of their responsibilities and liabilities. They can understand how and to what extent they can create, carry out or endorse advertisements," the official said.

One of the key features of the guideline is that it defines what a desirable advertisement is and what is not. Thus, for any advertisement to be considered to be valid, it should contain truthful and honest representation. It should not be misleading by exaggerating the accuracy, scientific merit or practical usefulness. It should also not present the legally existing rights of the customers as a distinctive feature. Claims made that the product or service is universally accepted or misleads the consumer about the feature at the risk of the consumer's personal security will also be considered as "misleading advertisement".

Celebrities who endorse claims of products and services that have no rationale or scientific basis may also find the new guideline troublesome. "The endorser cannot just say that he or she was acting, but will have some responsibility over the message they are conveying because people are using your celebrity status to push their commercial products," the official said.

Advertisements that are addressed to children to persuade them to buy goods or services that they cannot evaluate have also been flagged under the new guideline. In a way, the guideline carries specific instructions for the endorsers, advertisement agencies and companies. Though the guideline will be advisory in nature, the government expects stakeholders to be more responsible once it gets published. The National Consumer Protection Authority is also empowered to initiate investigations against misleading advertisements and violations of the guidelines will be tracked by the authority.

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