Influencer marketing under ASCI scanner

ASCI’s guidelines will come into effect by the end of March after consultations with industry stakeholders

Influencer marketing under ASCI scanner
Influencer marketing is booming in India on social media platforms and is estimated to be worth $75-100 million as per digital marketing agency AdLift

Influencer marketing is all set to be regulated in India. Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), the industry body that regulates advertising communication, has developed a set of guidelines for influencer marketing on digital media platforms. The guidelines will come into effect by the end of March after consultations with industry stakeholders.

Influencer marketing is booming in India on social media platforms and is estimated to be worth $75-100 million as per digital marketing agency AdLift. “Brands allocate 10-15% of their digital media spends to influencer marketing. The market is now growing at 40-70% y-o-y,” says Prashant Puri, CEO and founder, AdLift.

The categories of brands engaging advocates have grown too. “Influencers are not restricted to the beauty, food or travel categories anymore. We work with influencers for products like paints, laminates etc,” notes Ankita Chauhan, group head, strategy, Tonic Worldwide.

The concern with influencer marketing is that lines between advertising and content have started to blur on digital platforms. “Consumers are unable to distinguish between what is a paid for piece of brand communication versus a plain social media post.
Since this form of marketing is significant, it is important for ASCI to protect the interest of consumers and inform stakeholders about industry best practices,” says Subhash Kamath, chairman, ASCI.

ASCI says influencers will need to use tags like #ad or #collab, and add labels to posts and videos to disclose upfront that a post is an advertisement. ASCI is placing the responsibility of the disclosure upon the influencer and the advertiser for whose brand the advertisement is.

Bringing influencer marketing under the ambit of ASCI will mean that the regulator must strengthen its monitoring team to handle complaints and check for violators. Kamath says ASCI is taking several steps to reduce the time taken to review complaints, including frequent meetings of the Consumer Complaints Council and automation of the reviewing process.

The nature of social media is such that anyone can aspire to become an influencer or advocate in their field of specialisation. The market is vast and varied. Kareena Kapoor with 6.1 million followers and a beauty blogger with 10,000 followers on Instagram are both ‘influencers’ engaging with brands like Ariel or a small business selling handloom apparel. “Large brands and influencers with a huge following are more likely to be accountable to consumers as opposed to smaller ones,” says Manika Juneja, EVP operations, WATConsult. This means that while large corporates or celebrities may self-regulate responsibly, it could be an uphill task for ASCI to enforce its guidelines across micro or nano influencers and SMEs.

Furthermore, the platforms on which influencers post content are innumerable. YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and a whole host of short-video platforms and OTT platforms carry user-generated content that could be paid for. “Of these, the majority of influencer marketing posts are shared on Instagram and YouTube,” observes Sagar Pushp, co-founder, ClanConnect.

Of these two platforms, Instagram is the only one that offers a dedicated branded content tool. This allows creators to disclose when a post is a paid partnership and lets advertisers track the performance of branded content campaigns. Other platforms don’t have such an option yet, and place the onus of declaring a paid engagement entirely upon the influencer or the brand while they draft their posts. The catch with even having a branded content tool like Instagram’s, however, is that “posts that are tagged as ‘paid partnerships’ receive less engagement than organic posts,” says Juneja. Furthermore, she adds that the absence of a penalty for violations combined with countless influencers, small and big, makes regulating the market hard for the industry body.

Read Also: Will ASCI’s draft guidelines adversely impact the influence of an influencer

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