ASCI in talks with Centre to refresh crypto ad guidelines

New Delhi: The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is in discussions with the government to refresh guidelines related to cryptocurrency advertising, to include adequate disclosure of risk, ensuring that consumers don’t mistake crypto products to be legal tender and are not misled by exaggerated claims or by unfair comparisons with regulated asset classes, ASCI general secretary Manisha Kapoor said.

On Tuesday, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in Parliament that the government is studying the ASCI guidelines on misleading advertisements so that it can take a position on complaints of deceptive crypto ads.

The ASCI is in “active discussion with the government and other experts” on crypto guidelines and seeks “to resolve issues that concern consumer interest”, Kapoor told ET.

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As such, ASCI’s existing code already requires all advertising “to be honest and not exploit consumers’ lack of experience or knowledge”, and this applies to ads across all categories, including crypto products, she said.

Amid the controversy on lack of regulation and a possible regulatory clampdown on the sector, cryptocurrency exchanges such as CoinSwitch Kuber, WazirX and Bitbns
have paused advertising. In recent months, including during the T20 World Cup, cryptocurrency exchanges had
spent an estimated Rs 50 crore on advertising across mainstream and social media channels. While Amitabh Bachchan and Ayushmann Khurrana had signed up as brand ambassadors of CoinDCX, Ranveer Singh has endorsed CoinSwitchKuber.

The ASCI is a self-regulatory authority for advertising in the country, and while its guidelines are not legally enforceable, all violations of the entity’s guidelines are considered (by ASCI) as a violation of the government’s rules. The council works closely with the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (Fssai), and the Ayush and information and broadcasting ministries.

“While the crypto exchanges have paused advertising and are awaiting clarity from the government, they are all making blueprints for fresh advertising which will show claims that are toned down,” said a media buying executive working directly with one of the big crypto exchanges.

“Even the celebrities associated with these brands have sought clarity. They too don’t want to risk being seen endorsing a category which doesn’t have clarity,” another executive from an agency representing one of the celebrities said.

Both requested not to be named.

The ASCI has previously noted that celebrities endorsing crypto exchanges or any products and categories that don’t have clarity about their products or services
could be held accountable for misleading claims. The guidelines fall under the Consumer Protection Act, which came into effect last year.

Both CoinDCX and CoinSwitch Kuber raised large rounds of funding this year and turned into unicorns — in other words, their valuation crossed $1 billion.

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