Influencer advertising landscape geared for a reboot post new ASCI guidelines?

Industry observers opine that the draft guidelines are a welcome move and could mean increased transparency and authenticity for the space

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Published: Feb 23, 2021 9:03 AM  | 9 min read

It's amazing how influencer marketing has blazed into the scene, helping brands and companies get their products and services introduced into new markets. The growing market size suggests that influencers are more likely to drive and impact consumers’ buying and spending decisions going forward, as social media becomes pervasive and functional beyond communication. 

Keeping this in mind, in a bid to enable consumers to easily recognise promotional content on digital platforms, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has now released draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media. 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. The guidelines will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after 15th April 2021. How will it impact the influencer advertising landscape once it comes to effect? Industry watchers weigh in.

A welcome move 

Jo Broner, Spokesperson (Paris), WIBA (World Influencer and Blogger Awards) opines that the laws are likely to bring in due discipline in the environment. “It's a welcome move. At the heart of it, ASCI is recognizing the digital influencer space as part of the mainstream industry now, which is very good news for the influencers. It is going to build more trust between the artists and their audience with increased transparency. It also means the marketers have to channelize verifiable information and not unverifiable marketing claims. Influencers connect with curated communities, who listen to them for the credibility they bring, so they have an inherent moral responsibility to not breach the trust of their audience,” Broner notes. 

Last September, the body associated with TAM Media Research to monitor more than 3,000 digital platforms for misleading marketing messages. With the guidelines, ASCI will assist consumers, brands and content creators to ensure all stakeholders’ interests are preserved through a self-regulatory approach. 

Kunal Kishore Sinha, Co-founder, ClanConnect-an influencer marketing platform believes that 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. 

“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. 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. An extremely positive move from the ASCI, these guidelines will act as a catalyst for more organized and structured platforms such as ClanConnect to set new benchmarks for the industry as a whole. Platforms such as ours will play a major role in assisting content creators in navigating through the various regulations and conform to them without any inadvertent missteps,” Kishore says.  

While one could argue that the digital medium is censor-free and that we shouldn’t bind original content creators with guidelines as it could hamper creativity, Neha Puri, CEO and Founder, VavoDigital-a cloud-based influencer marketing agency doesn’t think that this change is intended to constrain creativity but in fact, further builds trust in the consumers' mind that a product being promoted holds that same importance in the life of the influencer. 

"UAE in 2019 saw the potential in the influencer marketing industry and launched an NMC influencer marketing license. The influencer marketing industry in India is growing and I believe every growing industry needs certain rules and regulations in place to streamline the industry. I believe content creators are looked up to for the fact that they are convincing the consumer to buy a product, in a way they are advertising, and advertisements must comply with the relevant advertising standards,” Puri explains.

Of paid partnerships and disclosures

Draft Guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media state that disclosure labels on promotional posts must be placed within the first two lines.

Madhur Acharya, Marketing Head, WOW Skin Science, a brand that has leveraged influencer-marketing in a big way feels that the draft guidelines are a step in the right direction and that brands and influencers need to be more clear about paid partnerships and make it visible to the consumers. 

“This kind guideline has become imperative since digital media and consumption of digital content has increased exponentially and there is no difference in terms of consumption in urban vs rural. In such a situation, brands and influencers have to be more responsible towards their consumers and not make promotions look like actual reviews. This will definitely garner better brand loyalty and trust since brands will be seen as being more honest, forthcoming and transparent,” Acharya remarks. 

The guidelines clearly state that influencers need to mark advertised content with disclosure labels. 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. 

Ankita Chauhan, Group Head Strategy, Tonic Worldwide notes that she has observed several influencers labelling sponsored content and feels that industry bodies making it a mandate only benefits the consumers at large. “As the word opinion leader suggests, influencers are leading opinion and influencing purchase decisions, across categories. A lot of the 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 the full right to know what is paid and what is organic. It’s quite basic,” Chauhan remarks.

According to the guidelines, 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. 

Ashwini Deshpande, Co-founder & Director, Elephant Design feels that 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.” The guidelines have ensured three prominent things. Any content where the brand has paid the influencer and has had reasonable control over the content needs to be called out as 'advertisement' and that the influencer must make it obvious that the content is an 'advertisement'. Also, it establishes that if the influencer is making some specific claims, they should be diligently substantiated by the advertiser or brand owner,” Deshpande observes.

No filter needed

Another important guideline put forward is that filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making, for instance -- "makes hair shinier, teeth whiter" etc. 

Influencer and Internet personality Sanjyot Keer believes that these guidelines suggested by ASCI such as non-usage of filters when referring to ‘whiter teeth’ etc. and claims such as 2x better are in the favour of the consumer. 

“As a creator, we always look into these claims before highlighting it in our branded content, but unfortunately, I see TV ads, which are regulated, and brands not following such norms. The rise of influencer marketing and its potential is huge and yes there should be guidelines in place but the guidelines should also not hinder content viewing experience. Working with the platforms is a better way to start and content creators also should work with brands with their due diligence keeping their viewers in mind,” Keer asserts. 

Moreover, it recommends that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence. 

Rajni Daswani, Director at SoCheers states that given the influencer space has been unregulated so far, we have seen 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.  

“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. Digital consumers today are smart enough to understand what is an advert versus what is organic, and hence brands are willing to pay more to get their promotional material to look as organic as possible,” Daswani notes. 

She hints that 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. 

“These guidelines will be like a double-edged sword for creators as well. While they will get a lot more say in putting out content that will work on their pages, influencers/creators who are doing a lot of branded content might see a hit in their engagement & reach numbers. Quality content will continue to win nonetheless. For brands, would suggest giving influencers a little more freedom in designing the content in a way that will bring out the brand benefits, as well as get content to perform better on their channels,” Daswani asserts. 

According to eMarketer, 84% of marketers are leaning towards launching at least one campaign involving an influencer; more so in the times of a pandemic where people are spending most of their time on their phones or laptops. Furthermore, marketers who have already launched influencer campaigns are impressed with the results, with a whopping 81% calling this form of partnership quite effective. 

Viraj Sheth, Co-Founder & CEO of an influencer marketing agency- Monk Entertainment feels that the move will help in building more transparency amongst all parties involved, moving forward. 

“Influencer marketing has been growing tremendously and is now viewed as a serious marketing medium by brands. Digital content creators now hold a similar status to that of celebrities and have the potential to shape the opinion of the masses. It was long pending that the Indian influencer marketing industry followed suit and implemented a framework similar to the FTC guidelines in the West,” says Sheth.


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