The Advertising Quality Council of India (ASCI) has asked Byju’s owned children’s coding startup WhiteHat Jr to pull down its ads in a major blow to WhiteHat Jr, which it says made questionable and baseless statements.
As Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general of ASCI, the advertising self-regulatory body, tells Forbes India, “ASCI has processed 15 complaints against seven WhiteHat Jr advertisements.” Five of these ads are possibly in breach of the ASCI code, she points out.
“One such commercial has also been taken up by ASCI suo motu,” Kapoor says. ASCI did not find an infringement for two ads, and lawsuits against them were not upheld. One of these ads may be in potential breach of the Emblems and Name (Prevention of Inappropriate Use) Act, and for this potential breach, she adds, the plaintiff was directed to approach the government.
The aggressive allegations on social media made by WhiteHat Jr have also come under the scanner. “Some ads have come under fire on social media in recent times, and ASCI has been tagged,” she says. The ASCI team linked to the advertiser and was told that some of the social media ads are old and have already been removed. “The advertiser has also assured ASCI of their cooperation in the future to adhere to the ASCI code,” adds Kapoor.
WhiteHat Jr has been on an aggressive marketing spree, promoting coding lessons for kids with pervasive TV and social media advertising. Any of the messaging of this advertising has been challenged. A testimonial on the company’s website until early this month, for example, shows a child touted to have created the first eye testing app in the world. “It’s going to take him to Silicon Valley, where he’ll meet top scientists and engineers,” the promotional message announced.
Forbes India was seeking to cross-check all of the arguments made by WhiteHat Jr, which was acquired in April this year by India’s largest ed-tech firm Byju’s. There are all the applications that the kids say to be created on Google Play. Many of the games, however, have a few thousand downloads and sub-par ratings, and most importantly, they are registered on WhiteHat Jr’s behalf, not on that of the child who created them.
As a recent Forbes India story reveals, numerous individuals who have opposed the company’s promotions and/or product have had their posts quickly wiped off the internet, on grounds such as ‘copyright infringement.’ WhiteHat Jr has also come under fire on social media for allegedly censoring dissent. This has been found on YouTube, Quora, Reddit, Twitter, and LinkedIn platforms.
As it turns out, the pandemic has seen a flood of brands from all walks of existence, such as soaps, disinfectants, paints, herbal and ayurvedic goods, and even fabric, making false claims of curing Covid-19 or destroying 99.9% of viruses. In April, AYUSH ‘s ministry sought the support of ASCI to warn it about misleading advertising. ASCI has since processed 250 ads and reported 233 to the ministry from the healthcare sector.
In June and July, ASCI investigated complaints against 363 advertisements, of which 76 were promptly withdrawn.