ASCI Issues Final Influencer Advertising Guidelines, Experts React

Marketers believe that certain rules and guidelines are always good for any industry/sector to grow and flourish

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has unveiled the final guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media. The draft guidelines initially were issued in February and feedback from all stakeholders – advertisers, agencies, influencers and consumers – was sought. To ensure a collaborative process and expert inputs, ASCI tied up with Big Bang Social to get digital influencers’ views on board. The guidelines will be applicable to commercial messages or advertisements published on or after June 14, 2021. The guidelines make it mandatory for influencers to label the promotional content they post.

As digital media consumption becomes the norm, the distinction between content and promotional advertisements becomes critical. The marketing landscape is transforming, and influencer marketing has become mainstream. Therefore, consumers have a right to know what content has been paid for by brands and the guidelines intend to bring this transparency to influencer marketing. Since ‘Influence equals action’ is a reality now – consumers today not only buy products and services endorsed by influencers, but they also buy into the brand stories they create. Thus, these guidelines safeguard the interests of consumers, influencers, marketeers, and the advertising industry.

When the draft guidelines were shared, they sparked vigorous conversations within the influencer community and among other stakeholders. They received feedback from more than 25 different stakeholders over two months, some of them included industry associations like IAMAI, IBHA, advertisers like PepsiCo, P&G, Nestle, HUL, Tata, Star, we also received comments from voluntary consumer organizations. Dolly Singh, Vishnu Kaushal, Ayesha Billimoria, Aanam C, Scherezade Shroff Talwar aka Sherry Shroff, Raghav Meattle, Varun Duggirala and more. ASCI took note of all feedback, concerns and suggestions to arrive at the final guidelines

“We received an overwhelming positive engagement and feedback from influencers and others for the draft guidelines, as well as suggestions to finetune and clarify some points. After extensive discussions, we are now launching the final guidelines that balance the interests of consumer, influencers, agencies, advertisers and all other stakeholders. I urge everyone to follow the ASCI Code and the guidelines and be part of this change promising transparency and responsibility,” said Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI.

One of the key questions raised was how ASCI would monitor potential violations of these guidelines. For this, ASCI has identified a French technology provider, Reech.

Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI added, “The Reech Influence Cloud platform uses Artificial Intelligence to identify lack of disclosure on posts of a commercial nature on social media. Machine learning algorithms and pattern searching Regex (Regular Expression) maximize accuracy. As part of ASCI’s increasing focus on digital content, we will continue to deploy advanced technology solutions to keep track of advertisements that violate the ASCI code.

Along with the guidelines, ASCI is aiming to develop an inclusive educational approach to shape the narrative of influencer advertising. To achieve this, ASCI is launching the ASCI.Social platform, a one-stop destination for all information related to the guidelines themselves. The digital platform will be interactive with dos and don'ts, FAQs, information related to the guidelines etc. Over time, ASCI.Social hopes to create a community of social media influencers, consumers, advertisers, and talent management agencies.

Dhruv Chitgopekar, Founding Partner, Collective Artists Network and CEO of BigBang.Social mentioned, “The guidelines were the need of the hour considering the rapid growth in branded communications to consumers via social media. We have guidelines for traditional media advertising but, with the boom in influencer marketing, these are essential. We got on board on ASCI’s behest, lending our learnings from extensively working with social media influencers and understanding of brands to the effort. I’m pleased with how comprehensive and practical the final guidelines are.

Dolly Singh, digital influencers pointed, “The digital marketing space is growing rapidly and so are its participants. This is the right time to have a codified system of disclosure. I fully support this move by ASCI because it will result in viewers having even greater trust in influencers like me.”

Industry Reactions:

Neena Dasgupta, CEO & Director, Zirca Digital Solutions

I sincerely hope the regulators have drafted these guidelines keeping all concerned parties in mind. I have always maintained that certain rules and guidelines are always good for any industry/sector to grow and flourish, but there needs to be enough caution to ensure that they are not lopsided/biased. In the upcoming guidelines, I am expecting a certain degree of fairness and consideration for the influencers, that does not restrict their creativity and subsequently their livelihood nor does it get intrusive for the viewers with over-the-top labeling. I am also expecting these guidelines would apply to influencer community and brands equally so that none exploits another and can mutually benefit”

Ritesh Ujjwal, CEO, Co-founder, Kofluence

This new set of guidelines are great for the influencer marketing industry. With a steep rise in internet users consuming advertising on various digital platforms, this was the need of the hour.  As far as following the guidelines goes, I strongly believe that it always pays in the long run, if you are transparent. People these days are well informed, therefore, influencers should establish trust with their followers, and for that transparency is the key. Adding a simple Paid Partnership with X brand will prevent the follower base from feeling deceived, with an added bonus of no bashing in the comments section.

Ramya Ramachandran, CEO & Founder, Whoppl

The new regulation will enable us 100% transparent & verified communication which will elevate the confidence of users who are consuming the content & take a measured purchase decision. As an agency, this will enable us to push our creative boundaries to come up with influencer campaigns that are much more thought-provoking while still being relatable & engaging.

Ankit Agarwal, Founder, Do Your Thng

This was a long time coming. The blurring of the line between ads and simple user-generated content needed to be corrected. Users not only have the right to know the difference between the two, they all but demand it. Disclosure labels are unquestionably a step forward in that direction. 

Besides helping bolster the trust audiences were increasingly hemorrhaging in content creators, the guidelines will hold brands and marketers more accountable. I am gratified ASCI has moved the needle in organizing a niche where entropy was just about beginning to reign supreme.