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Influencer & brand are in charge of the decision: ASCI's Manisha Kapoor on new guidelines

ASCI Secretary-General Manisha Kapoor addresses all the FAQs of the Influencer Guidelines and the process behind the formulation of the rules

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Updated: May 31, 2021 9:56 AM
Manisha Kapoor ASCI

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) launched a thorough set of guidelines for influencer advertising on Thursday, putting a greater emphasis on transparency for the viewers. The guidelines, which primarily highlight the requirement to put a clear disclaimer with sponsored content and ads, are being very well received by the industry. However, there were several concerns that the digital marketing experts and some influencers raised with exchange4media.com. In an exclusive conversation with the publication, ASCI Secretary-General Manisha Kapoor answers all those questions and also talks about the process behind the formulation of the rules.

Edited excerpts:

What was the whole process behind creating these guidelines?

Influencer marketing has been a rapidly growing phenomenon in the country and last year’s lockdown really catalysed its performance. ASCI noticed that the reach of these influencers and also brands’ involvement with them was increasing. So, we decided to set out some regulations to safeguard the consumer interest as it is quite difficult sometimes to distinguish between a piece of content and an ad on these platforms.

We set up an internal task force to identify the need points and then worked closely with several brands, agencies, influencers, and platforms to formulate the draft guidelines. We also had some of the international guidelines to guide us on the way. 

Then we put them out for suggestions in February and we heard from a lot of Indian and international stakeholders, in fact, several students pitched in too, and that’s how we came up with this set of guidelines. 

Having said that, it is just the beginning of the process for us to regulate the influencer space. We will continuously keep adding to and evolving these guidelines.

Tell us more about how the Reech Influence Cloud Platform will work?

It is an AI-powered software that looks at patterns in text, videos, etc to detect commercial content. And it is reasonably accurate with its predictions. 

ASCI has been a self-regulating body and has been working with various mediums, including TV, print, and digital too, but the influencer ads are a little different ballgame and it is not manually possible to go through each piece of content. That’s where Reech is going to help us.

In case of flouting of any guideline, what will ASCI’s course of action be?

We will write to the influencer and the brand, both, about the flouting of our guidelines. And they can then decide to either add the disclaimer or make their case in front of us. They are very well in charge of the decision if they want to contest our findings and we will give them a fair representation in front of a panel.

Many are worried that the guidelines might be difficult to pick up by micro & nano influencers living in remote areas and may be promoting something as simple as a local bakery. They might not even know in the first place that such rules are in place. What are your thoughts?

There is nothing very complicated about the guidelines. You just have to add a little disclaimer. Sure, it could be a little confusing in the beginning but we have given them time to understand the whole process. The rules are applicable after 14 June. Secondly, we are always reachable in case anyone has any doubts. One can always go to ASCI.social to understand the guidelines. 

For educational purposes, we are relying a lot on the ecosystem right now. Several influencers have stepped up saying they will post about it on their platforms. We are also working with influencer management agencies to make sure each influencer gets to know about these rules. Then obviously there are publications like yours who are supporting us in getting the word out.

Some are asking if celebrity endorsements will fall out of this bracket as there are separate ASCI guidelines for them?

Every influencer on digital platforms comes under the purview of these guidelines. The rules cover everyone and they will have to put the disclaimer on these ads.

Another concern is how the influencers will take up these changes. They might want to hide the disclaimer deep in hashtags?

If one reads the guidelines carefully, it has been clearly mentioned that the disclaimer should be clearly visible to the viewers. It can’t be buried in "read more" sections or hidden in any manner. The labels have to be upfront to meet the guidelines.

Will it be required to put the disclaimer on negative reviews too?

Definitely, if there are any material connections involved. For example, if you are going to a restaurant to eat something and pay for it, without the restaurant asking you to, you don’t have to put the disclaimer. But if you have received something as a gift or purely for review purposes without paying anything for it, you need to put the disclaimer.

Any message for the community?

I just want to say that do not complicate these guidelines. It is a very simple requirement, to put a disclaimer, that can help the viewer understand if it is a piece of content or an ad, so they can make an informed decision to watch it or not. And if you have any iota of doubt or confusion around if something is an ad or not, the simplest solution is to mark it as an ad.

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