Industry lauds ASCI's 'thorough and practical' influencer guidelines

Experts also raised concerns about the guidelines' impact on micro & nano influencers and celeb endorsers

e4m by Mansi Sharma
Published: May 28, 2021 9:24 AM  | 8 min read

Estimated to be an industry worth over Rs 500 crore, influencer marketing has shown unprecedented growth within just a few years of its existence in India. Growing digital penetration, the rise of social media giants like YouTube & Instagram gave birth to a robust creators economy and the organic reach it could provide the brands lured an interesting amount of money to this market.

However, it remained unregulated till yesterday, causing concern to the industry at several levels. This made the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) release its first set of influencer marketing guidelines on May 27, which primarily focused on bringing in more transparency to the system. The industry, delighted, welcomed this intervention with open arms. 

Need of the Hour 

Digital & influencer marketing experts noted that this was certainly the need of the hour to introduce these guidelines as the industry size is swelling up with each passing day, newer names getting popular every moment. 

Grapes Digital Founder & CEO Himanshu Arya said, “Influencer marketing has become an integral part of the communications and marketing campaigns of brands and has evolved a lot in the past few years and this is why the guidelines were the need of the hour. It will facilitate digital media to serve their consumers unequivocally and make influencers more responsible towards the content they post.” 

For Avalon Meta Digital Content Creator and CEO & Founder Varun Mayya, the guidelines are a way to bridge the gap between how customers perceive ads on traditional media vs digital media, “The consumers' mindset has changed massively over the last few years and they're much more sophisticated now. Influencers should be mindful of the products and companies they advertise and be upfront about the fact that they're paid to promote them. When you see TV, you know Shah Rukh is paid to do the ad but on Social Media this is mostly absent. You're following a person because you find them genuine and helpful but all of a sudden when they're promoting some fitness or haircare product and you don't know whether it's genuine or not. These guidelines should be able to bridge that gap and I hope that advertisers also take this as seriously as the creators."

A Thorough and Practical Set of Guidelines 

During the virtual launch press conference of the guidelines, ASCI Secretary-General Manisha Kapoor had pointed out that the regulatory body gave ample time to research and develop these guidelines and worked closely with all possible stakeholders involved: the brands, the agencies, and the influencers. And that has certainly worked well in the favour of these new guidelines. 

DDB Mudra Group Digital Head - North Vishal Mehra agreed, “I think ASCI has given a lot of thought to it and they have come out with a really thorough, practical, and clear set of guidelines. I think it is a win-win-win for the consumer, the brand, and the influencer as it brings in a lot more transparency & credibility in the system. And people love brands that are responsible & real.” 

ClanConnect Co-founder & COO Kunal Kishore Sinha further said, “The set of guidelines will majorly shape the future of sponsored posts and influencer-brand collaborations in India. The set of rules and regulations will go a long way in regulating the vast and multidimensional world of influencer marketing. Going forth, consumers can expect much more transparency as they navigate through the social media universe. On our part, we are geared up to guide influencers through the intricacies of the newly-launched guidelines, helping them meet all the requirements so they can focus on what they do best – create impactful content." 

For Greater Transparency & Credibility 

What has impressed the industry the most is the level of transparency the new guidelines bring to the table. As per the norm now, every influencer will have to add relevant hashtags like #ad, #sponsored, etc with every post they are making for brands having material exchange involved, not limited to just money. Even long-form content, including web series on OTT platforms, will have to run a complementary text on the screen for the duration of a product integration appearing on screen. 

OpraahFx Founder Pranav Panpalia highlighted that it has been a norm in western countries for influencers and brands to follow very stringent rules in terms of communicating to their audiences the nature of their brand promotion. “With ASCI establishing similar guidelines in India, I believe it will enable advertisers, brands, and creators to be transparent with their audiences. This also helps elevate creators' reputation in terms of being honest with their audience.” 

Do Your Thng Founder Ankit Agarwal added, “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 haemorrhaging 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.” 

Creativity, Reach, Business 

When any industry gets regulated, the question about the impact on artistic and creative freedom, the reach, and the larger business viability does come into question. Similarly, the stakeholders scanned the ASCI influencer advertising guidelines too under this lens. 

Pulp Strategy Founder & MD Ambika Sharma figured while it will not have any impact on the reach of sponsored content or hamper the creativity of any influencer, to some extent it might impact the business for the latter. “Brands will now need to be more responsible in their choices and the content that an influencer creates, its equivalent to advertising and the claims need to be monitored carefully for accuracy.” 

Pollen Business Head Aarushi Sethi highlighted, “There have been instances in the past wherein influencers have used the “paid promotion” tag on their posts. I have never seen this tag affect the reach of the campaign in a negative manner if the content strategy is on point. Advertisers too should embrace these guidelines as it increases an influencers’ accountability towards the product he/she chooses to endorse.” 

Pranav Panpalia rather indicated that the rules will help the brands reach an even more targeted audience. “Giving a disclaimer of a brand being promoted (prior to the content), helps viewers make an upfront choice about whether they want to continue to consume the said promotional content. Continuing to consume such content simply implies that s/he indeed is interested to listen to the brand’s promotional pitch.” 

The Blind Spot 

While the new norms and regulations are being welcomed wholeheartedly, the industry has identified certain blind spots too, which it is hopeful ASCI will soon be working upon. 

Arya pointed out, “A lot will depend on influencers as well and how they will abide by the new guidelines. The influencer industry is huge, and there are a massive number of nano-micro influencers. ASCI is a self-regulatory body and it can't punish/summon people who don't resort to the guidelines. There is a greater need to be aware of micro and nano influencers. I will call it the first step towards making transparency and trust the ethos of influencer marketing." 

IPLIX Media Co-founder Neel Gogia raised some questions about the practicality of these guidelines for the creator community. “In my opinion, the current recommendations might not be applicable to every influencer or every tool of influencer marketing. The lines are a little blurred. For instance, a non-monetary association under which an influencer shares an unbiased product review will be labelled as an AD, leaving consumers in a tough spot. This will be difficult to implement for a tech or an auto influencer as they cannot buy every product for review as they are of high monetary value, and in fact, not all the reviews are positive as well so they cannot be labelled as an AD. 

“Furthermore, organic and value-added content creation with genuine product integration is being given priority by the brands, agencies, as well as influencers at the moment and the current recommendations, might not be aligned with this objective. For a YouTube content creator with long-format vlogs labelling the entire integration section as an AD will lead the audience to ignore the content even if it is adding value to them. A mention of 5-10 seconds should suffice rather than a full-length mention. I believe platform labels like ‘Includes paid promotion’ and ‘Paid partnership with’ on YouTube and Instagram respectively, offer that clarity for sponsored posts.”

Mehra also showed concern about the celeb endorser and influencer divide these guidelines might create. ASCI has a separate set of guidelines for celebrity endorsements and it doesn’t include them putting a disclosure on any content being an ad.  “The only thing I feel that needs a little more thought is how ASCI guidelines are seeing the celebrity endorsers, the likes of Virat Kohli or Deepika Padukone for example. And I am sure that ASCI is working towards that direction to regulate the whole digital industry better.”

The industry is, however, excited about these new rules and is adopting a wait-and-watch response to fully gauge how it will all pan out in the long run.

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