MUMBAI: Brand owners in India recorded a sizeable increase in the number of official complaints they made concerning their competitors' advertising over the last 12 months, as competition rises in the country.

Alan Collaco, the secretary general of the Advertising Standards Council of India, the regulatory body for the sector, said it had launched an ad monitoring service in May 2012 "because of the huge increase in the number of misleading advertisements."

In the last fiscal year, companies in India formally objected to 784 ads, compared to 176 in the preceding 12 months. ASCI upheld 640 complaints in the latest year compared with 103 in fiscal 2011/12.

In 90% of cases over the most recent financial year, companies that were the subject of complaints voluntarily withdrew the contentious ads, but some ultimately pursued the issue to the courts.

As an example, Hindustan Unilever and Reckitt Benckiser recently became embroiled in a case over the competing claims of their washing-up brands, where the latter was instructed to modify its ads.

"Advertisers are becoming bold as they target customers of a rival product. This is because competition is increasing," Anuradha Salhotra, managing partner at a Gurgaon-based law firm, told Livemint.

From the advertising side, Prathap Suthan, managing partner of independent advertising agency Bang In the Middle, said the country lacked strong consumer bodies that could criticise brands, and consumers were left confused.

"I am not even sure if there are government bodies that actually bring things into public conversation," he said. "And since might is right, and silence works in favour of lies, we [consumers] continue to be at the receiving end."

Elsewhere, Kiran Khalap, co-founder of the Chlorophyll Brand and Communications Consultancy, advised that brands needed to focus on the needs of the customer, rather than on the claims of competitors, as a means of influencing consumers.

Data sourced from Livemint; additional content by Warc staff