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Patanjali’s incurable habit of using misleading and inaccurate ads is beginning to hurt it

Ramdev-India
EPA/STR
Not 100% pure.
This article is more than 2 years old.

Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Ayurved is in a spot of bother.

Despite the roaring success of the past few years, the high-flying ayurvedic and herbal products brand has fallen foul of many of the country’s regulatory agencies.

On Dec. 15, a court in Uttarakhand slapped Patanjali Ayurved with a fine of Rs11 lakh for “misbranding and putting up misleading advertisements.”  

The fine is related to a 2012 case filed by a local food safety department after samples of pineapple jam, salt, mustard oil, and honey manufactured by the company didn’t stand up to scrutiny. These products violated the packaging and labelling norms (pdf) set by the Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).

This isn’t the first time the Rs5,000-crore consumer goods company, which sells everything from toothpaste to energy bars, has got into trouble. Patanjali’s habit of taking digs at rivals and making highly exaggerated claims in its advertisements has riled authorities earlier, too. Between 2015 and 2016, over two dozen Patanjali ads came under the scanner for violating various advertising codes.

In fact, yoga guru Ramdev has himself appeared in many of them, urging consumers to shun brands of “foreign” companies, which allegedly contain harmful chemicals. Predictably, he has urged them to use Patanjali’s products, which, he claims, have natural and safe ingredients.

Such marketing tactics, although not entirely uncommon in India’s consumer goods sector, have put Ramdev at loggerheads with authorities such as the FSSAI and the Advertising Standard’s Council of India (ASCI). ASCI is an independent regulatory body that monitors advertisements to check for false claims. These agencies have accused Patanjali of grossly exaggerating its products’ benefits while showing other brands in poor light.

In turn, Ramdev has publicly threatened to sue ASCI, dubbing it “unconstitutional.” In August, he even alleged that the agency was acting at the behest of his foreign competitors. “ASCI’s actions are nothing but a collective conspiracy by some multinational companies..,” he said.

Nonetheless, here are some of Patanjali’s advertisements that have come under the spotlight:

BrandClaimsASCI’s observations
Patanjali Aarogya Kachi Ghani Mustard OilA majority of competing products in the market are adulterated with cheap palm oil“Unfairly denigrates” other brands (May 2016)
Patanjali Kesh Kanti Natural Hair Cleanser and oilOther brands contain mineral oil, which is carcinogenicFalse and “misleading by ambiguity” and “gross exaggeration” (March 2016)
Patanjali Jeera Bites BiscuitsMade from 100% wheat flour, is cholesterol-free, and low on sodium saltClaims “not substantiated” and are “misleading by ambiguity.” The advertiser didn’t provide any quantitative declaration of ingredients (May 2016)
Patanjali Dant Kanti toothpasteThe herbal product is trusted by crores of Indians and profits from the brand go to an educational charityClaims not “adequately substantiated” and are “misleading by ambiguity and exaggeration” (May 2016)
Patanjali HoneyCheaper and safer than competing brandsDirected to either modify or withdraw the campaign for misleading and for unsubstantiated claims of purity (Sept. 2016)

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