Industry Gives Thumbs Up To ASCI Influencer Draft Guidelines

It is expected that these guidelines are going to build more trust between the artists and their audience with increased transparency, along with marketers channelizing verifiable information

While influencer marketing is not a new concept, its gradual addition to social media advertising plans has only given a push to its already growing popularity. According to a recent study by AdLift, India’s influencer market is estimated at $75-$150 million a year as compared to the global market of $1.75 billion. This is an industry that has become mainstream within the advertising space, and is only expected to grow as more Indians go online.

Given its positives, as influencer marketing grows, we can't ignore the blurring lines when speaking of advertising ethicality. While this industry has been isolated from any regulations till now, we have often seen brands leveraging this in a dishonouring way. 

In keeping with the changing marketing paradigm, ASCI’s close watch on the advertising content on digital platforms led to the body issuing draft guidelines for the influencer community today morning. These guidelines will help enable consumers to easily recognise promotional content on digital platforms and combat misleading information. The guidelines for influencers advertising on digital media will be available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers for feedback till March 8, 2021. Based on the feedback and inputs, the final guidelines will be issued by ASCI by 31st March, 2021. This guideline will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after 15th April 2021.

In view of the above development, industry leaders came forward and spoke on how these guidelines are to impact the future of influencer advertising. 

“As the word opinion leader suggests, influencers are leading opinion and influencing purchase decisions, across categories. A lot of time the content is promoted as a part of the larger story and seeded in subtly, making the whole placement look rather organic. However, consumers have full right to know what is paid and what is organic. It’s quite basic. I’ve observed several influencers labelling sponsored content and I think industry bodies making it a mandate only benefits the consumers at large,” believes Ankita Chauhan, Group Head Strategy, Tonic Worldwide.

“Influencer marketing has reached a critical mass in India and it is the right time to have these clear guidelines from ASCI that protect consumers from being misled. The draft guidelines by ASCI which are open for public discussion for the next few days has transparency at its core and should be welcomed by the advertising industry. The most important guideline on prominent labelling has been rightfully specified for each social media channel – will help the consumer from getting misguided by influencer advertisements,” asserts Ashwini Deshpande, Co-founder & Director, Elephant Design.

The fact that the influencer industry been unregulated so far, some brands sneakily get away with things that would not be considered ethical if it were to be shown in a TVC or an OOH. Rajni Daswani, Director, SoCheers adds, “The guidelines will serve as a good guardrail in these cases. However, on the flip side, the popularity of influencer marketing in a brand’s marketing budget is due to the flexibility of communication that allows them to showcase the benefits of their products & services in different ways without it looking very promotional. With these guidelines kicking in, we might see the overall engagement and reach with influencers drop and might see it get the same status quo as a paid media ad on digital. I think while these guidelines are necessary, they should not be extremely stringent so as to avoid creating a dent in the overall influencer marketing industry that is growing at a faster pace than ever.”

Kunal Kishore Sinha, Co-founder, ClanConnect suggests that ASCI’s newly issued guidelines for influencer marketing will unlock a wealth of new opportunities for the fast-evolving segment that will result in positive outcomes for the sector in the long run. “When a major industry body such as the ASCI deems that there is a need to introduce guidelines for influencers and the influencer marketing community, it shows how the market has evolved and has assumed a mainstream stature in the larger advertising space. These guidelines will not only streamline the space and offer a direction but also ensure that there is an added sense of social responsibility amongst the influencer community.

Needless to say, we welcome this move by the ASCI for the segment as it will act as a guiding light for new and established content creators, who will now be more mindful of the kind of content that they are bringing to their target audiences,” he mentions.

Dharika Merchant, COO, WORD and Alchemy Group also agrees that the guidelines are a positive step towards regulating the industry, since these directives will primarily require all promotional posts to be more transparent. "The industry gets introduced to new brands and a new influencer on almost a daily basis, thereby making it difficult for the consumers to make an informed decision. With these regulations, consumers will now be able to easily identify between an advertisement or organic content. We welcome this change and are excited to see how this transforms the industry for good. This will enable both brands and influencers to now work more creatively to produce content that helps the brand and the audience," she reiterates. 

Draft Guidelines For Influencer Advertising On Digital Media

The below guidelines are a collaborative effort between the influencers, ASCI and BigBang.Social, to get India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board:

1) Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Therefore, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels. Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered as adequate as consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement. Examples of such advertisements could be paid music promotion in a video, promoting a store or a brand through a post on the influencers media handle

2) The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront (within the first two lines of any given platform, such that a consumer need not click on see more or have to scroll under the fold), prominent (so people don't miss it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when) and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be visible regardless of the device used, or platform such as website or app etc.).

3) The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it is well understood by the average consumer who is viewing the advertisement.

4) Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate because people visiting the site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on another page

5) If the advertisement is only a picture post such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture and it should be ensured that the average consumer is able to see it clearly.

6) In the case of video not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label should be superimposed on the video in a manner that is easily visible to the viewer. For videos that last 15 seconds or lesser, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of 2 seconds. For videos longer than 15 seconds, but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure label stays for 1/3rd the length of the video. For videos which are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits etc are mentioned. In live streams, the disclosure label should be placed periodically, for 5 seconds at the end of every minute so that users who see part of the stream can see the disclosure.

7) In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.

8) Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making- eg. makes hair shinier, teeth whiter etc.

9) The influencer must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them such as 2X better, effect lasts for 1 month, fastest speed, best in class etc. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.

10) It is recommended that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence

Ready Reckoner for Social Media Platforms

1. Instagram: Disclosure label to be included in the title above the photo/beginning of the text that shows. If only the image is seen, the image itself must include the label

2. Facebook: Include the disclosure label in the title of the entry or post. If only the image/video is seen, the image/video itself must include the label eg FB story

3. Twitter: Include the disclosure label or tag at the beginning of the body of the message as a tag

4. Pinterest: Include the disclosure label at the beginning of the message.

5. YouTube and other video platforms: Include the label in the title / description of the post.

6. Vlog: Overlay the disclosure label while talking about the product or service

7. Snapchat: Include the disclosure label in the body of the message in the beginning as a tag.

8. Blog: Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.

Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI states here, “The digital space is vast. However, promotional content is often indistinguishable from regular posts. Consumers have the right to easily recognise promotional content. The guidelines will help consumers identify promotional content and also guide digital influencers. We look forward to feedback from industry stakeholders, including more influencers, which would help us make the digital space more responsible for all.”

Dhruv Chitgopekar, Founding Partner, KWAN, and CEO, BigBang.Social also adds, “We realised the need for a responsible advertising ecosystem in place for influencers; promoting ethical practices, fair & transparent expression. These guidelines will benefit consumers and the digital influencers. We firmly believe it is essential for digital advertising platforms too. We are delighted to partner with a self-regulatory body that wants to be inclusive of all stakeholders.”