Competition Commission of India readying TV ad campaign against cartelisation

NEW DELHI: A nation intermittently bombarded over the past several decades by messages highlighting the dangers of smoking, the cruelty of crackers or the crime of dowry is about to get a new one, this time on the perils of cartelisation.

A message that mirrors as much as it seeks to address the concerns of a globalising India and a changing society at a time the national discourse is dominated by talk of collusion and rent-seeking.

India’s competition watchdog is readying a television advertising campaign to educate consumers on the perils of cartelisation, exhorting them to reject collusion between manufacturers or service providers for profit maximisation. The Competition Commission of India (


) has asked the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity, the media arm of the information and broadcasting ministry, to emulate the popular “say no to smoking” and “say no to crackers” television campaigns while fashioning its impending tryst with the airwaves.

The TV campaign from CCI will mark a sharp shift from social messages ranging from gory images of cancerous lungs to coaxing responsible citizens to pay up taxes to avoid what happened to their greedy neighbours, underscoring the coming of age of the Indian economy that is increasingly attracting global names and business practices.

“The thrust would be to educate common citizens as cartelisation has the largest and most direct impact on the aam aadmi in terms of the prices paid by them,” said CCI chairman Ashok Chawla, a former bureaucrat under whose charge the commission has launched several high-profile investigations against a raft of industries.

“This will go a long way in establishing a trusted network of sources of informants and whistle-blowers… Any firm which can form a cartel already knows about its ills.”

Early responses to the planned media campaign are by and large positive.

“This is a brilliant initiative by the commission. Most people view cartels as something occupying industries and not consumers. This will help change the perception,” said Amitabh Kumar, a former CCI director-general and now partner at law firm J Sagar Associates.

The regulator, which has conducted more than 50 advocacy events involving focus groups such as lawyers and government departments, is hoping to encourage the average consumer to turn informer and approach fair trade authorities with information on possible collusion between competitors. Until now, CCI has not succeeded in tapping inside information in any of the 125 reports it has submitted and it largely depends on media reports and complainants.

Globally, anti-trust bodies rely heavily on evidence from employees to establish cartel behaviour, bid riggings and abuse of dominance.

But while the cause is viewed as noble, advertising gurus wonder how it can be communicated effectively, saying it may not be easy to communicate this complex message in a 40-second advertisement, especially since cartelisation is scarcely a subject of daily conversation.

“The cartelisation campaign is similar to the bad breath problem. The one who can help solve it doesn’t know it exists. A person going to buy a bag of cement is indifferent to the companies charging the same price. So identification will be a hitch,” said Biju Dominic, chief executive officer of Finalmile, a consulting firm dealing with human behavioural sciences.

However, the commission is turning to television as just one of the means to reach out to potential informers.

As ET reported earlier, the watchdog is also looking to make details of its ongoing investigations public on its website to encourage insiders to come forward and take advantage of the lesser penalty provisions.

In June, CCI in a landmark judgement slapped 6,300-crore penalty on 11 cement producers for cartel behaviour.

This is the highest punishment levied by the commission, which had earlier slapped a penalty of 630 crore on real estate giant


for abusing its dominance in the high-end property market.