Revisiting Advertisement Laws Through the Lenses of Virtual Advertising

  • Shubham Gupta


Advertisement is the promotion of a product, services, and brand to a targeted sample space to engage the interest of the masses. The field of advertisement is evolving with technological empowerment. Advertisements come in a lot of forms, from written to interactive videos.  In the current outbreak of COVID’19 pandemic, advertisement is one of the strongest hit industries. This industry depends on the economical aspects of other industries. In these times of turmoil all the other industries are facing economical trauma, most of the organizations have stopped or not-renewed their contract with the advertisement agencies. The sports events which greatly contribute towards these agencies are waiting for their fate. Additionally, these agencies are dependent on the physical presence of staff and interpersonal connections, and still rethinking the way to protect their drowning economy.

This brings our attention to the regulations regarding advertisements. In India advertisements are regulated by the “Advertisement Standard Council of India”. TheASCIhas adopted “a code for Self- Regulation in Advertising” (ASCI Code) which applies to everyone concerned with the advertisement. Although India has a separate body for regulating advertisement yet India lacks in regulating dynamicity in the field of advertisement.


One of the grey areas in India, regard to the advertisement is Virtual Advertising.  It is a method of using digital technology in a pre-recorded or a live show to insert virtual images. It is a new way of targeting a specific audience even in the events which involve international interest. In this method, the advertisement hoardings which exist in the playfield are changed at the time of broadcasting it to different corners of the world. For instance, in a match between India and Australia taking place in Australia the advertisements for the hoardings will be changed when it will be broadcasted in India. The concept behind the same is that Indians having nothing to do with local brands existing in Australia.

Virtual advertising creates an impression in the mind of the people that such hoarding is actually there in the field. The major controversy is the extent of manipulation it can cause. Sometimes even the hoarding inserted in the background is also virtually created and none is there in reality. The major use of Virtual Advertisement is in the field of sporting events as it involves venture with other countries and creates more scope of diversity in the sample space. The regulation in this regard is therefore necessary as it has the potential to damage the quality of the game by manipulating the frame by bombarding it with advertisements. This model has great potential but requires proper guidelines for each game separately keeping in mind the placement and scope of advertisement in the frame.


Despite the existence of various legislative provisions regarding advertisements, regulating it has always been a hot potato. The author believes the reason behind the same is the absence of uniform laws, rules, or code concerning the regulation of the field capable of reaching the masses. The industry since the beginning of the era of advertisement resisted creating a uniform code and a single regulator.

Although ASCI Code is recognized by various Indian laws and is adopted by the various advertising bodies yet this code is only to complement the legal controls under these laws and in no way is to replace or usurp them. There exist various other laws which in some way or the other have the capacity to regulate some parts of the advertisement. Some of which are elaborated further.

First, the “Press Council of India Act 1978”, it was brought into force to ensure and preserve freedom of speech and expression in newspaper and news agencies. Second, “Cable Television Network Rules, 1994” aims to provide cable services to the satisfaction of the subscribers and ensures no illegal usage of this cable television network. Third, “Code for Commercial Advertising on Doordarshan and All India Radio”, this act provides for laws concerning the general and special advertisement. Additionally, it regulates various body related to the advertisement. Fourth, “Electronic Media Monitoring Centre” (EMMC) its task is to monitor the content television. It reports the programs and advertisement which violates the code. Lastly, the “Code of Conduct of the News Broadcasters Association”, this code mentions standards and parameters in which the broadcasters should work.

The regulations provided above are mostly concerned with the advertisements that take place in television, newspaper, radio, and magazines. In the era of social media and online shopping, these regulations are obsolete. The approach of the judiciary in terms of the advertisement has also remained confined under the umbrella of the existing regulations and it has not ordered anything out of the box. Hence the legal position of India is nowhere close to regulating Virtual Advertisements.


In the current times, all the sporting events are barred hence all Indian sports associations including the Board of Control for Cricket in India have started to lose money. The cancellation of the Indian Premiere league was a big hit to the BCCI. To recover the loses, the need of the hour is virtual advertising. It increases the traffic and can cover masses of two countries increasing the sample space with a significant number. This will help the brands to come back in the game by showcasing the advertisements which are not actually there on there on the hoardings.  Recently, IPL chairman Brijesh Patel in the general council meeting spoke about the value of introducing Virtual Advertising. One BCCI official also mentioned “Virtual advertising images will be unique to regions. The ad image a fan is watching in India will be different from what a viewer in the US market would be watching. The board would stand to benefit monetarily if we can put it together soon”.

In these times when the economy is floating on the shoulders of digitalization, it is important for the sports associations to introduce their own guidelines in regard to virtual advertising. The sports associations being the autonomous bodies should not wait for the legislation regarding the same. This will help these associations to recover losses they’ve borne in these times of crisis. In the coming times when the government will approve of sporting events, there is a high probability of calling no audience in the stadiums. Hence this method of advertising will help them in recovering the previous loss and the losses which will occur because of the absence of the audience. Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) one of the largest sports associations in the world has brought up its own guidelines regarding virtual advertisements.

These guidelines impose various conditions to prevent the abuse of this technique to the detriment of the game. It is designed in a way that enables match organizers and national associations to be benefitted from its potential. Firstly, these guidelines restrict virtual advertising for any illegal act or an act which may constitute an illegal act. Secondly, all the concerned people related to the broadcasting, hosting, marketing rights should be well informed and contractually bound for its application. Thirdly, it will be applied during the transmission in the flat surfaces which in reality may or may not have been used for advertisement. Some surfaces are explicitly forbidden by these regulations like any area which does not exist and is specially created, any or all person in the stadium, any object either stable or movable which is not there for publicity, and in the air space above the stadium. Some surfaces are explicitly mentioned by these regulations which may be used for virtual advertisement. These areas include the field of play including the penalty area and the circle until the players enter or are present. Hence they can showcase the advertisements before the players enter, in the half time and the moment they leave the game. Lastly, these guidelines also have the provisions of disciplinary actions in case of no pursuance of these guidelines.


Through the analysis of advertisements laws through the lenses of virtual advertising it can be concluded that Indian regulations lack the structure of dynamism. The stringent and obsolete laws of India are not fit in the present era of digitalization and technological advancements. Virtual Advertisement is one of the emerging offshoots of advertisement and has the capability to create a dual economy by reaching multiple masses at the same time. The guidelines released by FIFA about virtual advertising can be held as a base for the Indian sports associations and hence they can frame these regulations on similar lines. It is high time that India changes its approach regarding the up-gradation of laws. The after-effects of the ongoing turmoil are going to be fatal in our economy. Hence all the approaches, rules, and regulation which might introduce new industry in the country should be considered for deliberations by the government.

The author is a 3rd Year law student at NLU Odisha.

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