The new guidelines will be applicable to commercial messages or advertisements published on or after June 14, 2021
Following the draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media issued in February by the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the advertising body on Thursday unveiled the final guidelines. The guidelines make it mandatory for influencers to label the promotional content they post and will be applicable to commercial messages or advertisements published on or after June 14, 2021. “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,” ASCI said in a statement.
According to the guidelines, all advertisements published by social media influencers or their representatives, on such influencers’ accounts must carry a disclosure label that clearly identifies it as an advertisement. For industry experts, the ASCI guidelines will impact the influencer marketing space in a positive way. “The guidelines mean that there is a recognition for the entire industry. Bringing the industry under these guidelines in terms of transparency and accountability will bring in more credibility in what an influencer says,” Ambika Sharma, founder and managing director, Pulp Strategy, said, adding that a lot of self moderation will have to happen. It puts responsibility on everyone in the ecosystem right from brands, influencers to agencies to follow these guidelines.
Furthermore, a disclosure is required if there is any material connection between the advertiser and the influencer, where material connection isn’t limited to monetary compensation. Material connection could include but is not limited to benefits and incentives, such as monetary or other compensation, free products with or without any conditions attached including those received unsolicited, discounts, gifts, contest and sweepstakes entries, trips or hotel stays, media barters, coverage, awards or any family or employment relationship, among others. According to Ambi Parameswaran, founder, Brand-Building.com, getting a sample pack of a certain product versus getting a certain amount for promoting the same product cannot be grouped together. “Moreover, as many global companies have certain corporate governance rules which allow for acceptance or giving gifts worth some amount of money. Similarly, putting a cap in terms of value or amount, for instance gifts above these amounts would be considered sponsored, should be considered by the industry,” he added.
When asked if these guidelines will impact the creative freedom of influencers, experts said that the creative freedom depends on the conversation between the brand/agency and the creator. “Adding a disclosure tag for paid partnership will not change that in any way. The influencers may initially see a dip in viewership on paid content, although I believe if their brand integrations are subtle and organic enough, their audiences would not have a problem in supporting the branded content videos,” Viraj Sheth, co-founder and CEO at Monk Entertainment, stated.
The ASCI guidelines also state that disclosure by the influencer must be upfront and prominent so that it is not missed by an average consumer. Further, if the advertisement is only a picture or video post without accompanying text (such as Instagram stories or Snapchat), the disclosure label needs to be superimposed over the picture/video and it should be ensured that the average consumer is able to see it clearly. For Dolly Singh, a digital influencer, 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,” she added.