“Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain” must probably be one of the greatest lines ever in the MCU that the marketing & advertising fraternity would love to use over and over again. However, the advertising multiverse seems to have been using the “Darkhold” more than ever, casting some dark spells, taking shortcuts to fame or rather overwhelming sales. This article talks about how the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) is trying to tackle the dark patterns in consumer buying behaviour and advertising, the loopholes in data privacy & protection and how surrogate ads are being trickier than ever.
Dark Patterns in Advertising
Firstly, what are these dark patterns that we are talking about? They can be any kind of questionable practices or tactics used by advertisers that influence consumers to buy a product or a service. Most of these dark patterns are identified in the ed-tech platforms, crypto companies (which are still in their nascent stage trying to breathe free) and plenty of other industries that are misrepresenting their products or services through – misleading ads.
Recently, there was a controversy regarding ed-tech platforms using the same student’s name and rank that he secured to promote their learning app and it caused quite an uproar in the digital realm. But, how do advertisers introduce dark patterns? They can be in the form of spam, in-stream videos or audio while surfing the internet. A new Digital India Act is currently being paved by The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. This move is aimed at tackling the issues pertaining to e-commerce, data privacy and misleading ads online.
Data Privacy vs. Advertisements
This doesn’t seem like a fair fight, does it? It’s like comparing apples and oranges, but advertisements thrive on consumer data. The more personalised data that advertisers receive, the more unique the communication will be, but is that the only way to communicate? Companies are not 100% transparent. When a consumer clicks on “I Agree” without completely reading the terms and conditions, the companies take full advantage of that. There are companies that make better use of consumer data, and then there are companies that use “Dark Patterns” to profit from it.
Cookie preferences have become quite subjective and they mean differently to different companies. Understanding the purpose of consumer consent is quite complicated.
Tackling the Tricky Surrogate Ads
Surrogate advertising has become a trend to promote alcoholic brands in a non-conventional way just like they’ve been doing for years. There are cricket series sponsored, calendars are done, mineral waters sold… all under the name of “Surrogate Advertising” and even this is one of the “Dark Patterns”. To tackle this challenge ASCI has created a set of criteria. The problem is that the Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) guidelines say that surrogate advertising should not be allowed, but the brand extension part should be allowed. This rule has made it difficult to draw a fine line between surrogate ads and brand extensions. When the law allows brands to do that, anybody can dodge the stronghold of Advertising’s Sorcerers Supreme putting their best spells forward to protect consumers from the dark patterns in our universe.
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