On 22nd February 2021, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) released the draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media platforms. The draft was open to feedbacks from influencers, agencies, public, and shareholders. Subsequently, ASCI released its final guidelines on Thursday, 27th May, 2021 will be applicable to commercial messages or advertisements published on or after June 14, 2021. The guidelines make it compulsory to disclose all the promotional information while advertising any product or service.
Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI, revealed that the council received enormous feedback and suggestions from influencers, stakeholders and consumers after the release of the draft guidelines. From advertisers like PepsiCo, P&G, Nestle, HUL to famous influencers like Dolly Singh, Vishnu Kaushal, Aanam C, Scherezade Shroff Talwar aka Sherry Shroff, Raghav Meattle, everybody responded and gave relevant suggestions. After extensive discussions the final guidelines are out and it aims to balance the interests of consumer, influencers, agencies, advertisers and all other stakeholders. Mr. Kamath also requested everyone to follow the ASCI norms for a transparent and responsible change.
One of the most important issues raised with respect to the guidelines were that how would ASCI monitor violations against the guidelines. Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI, answered this query. She clarified that ASCI came across a French technology provider, Reech. The Reech Influence Cloud platform uses Artificial Intelligence to monitor and spot out disclosure breaches on posts of commercial nature on the social media. It uses Machine learning algorithms and pattern searching Regex (Regular Expression) for accurate results. She also emphasized on how advanced technology solutions will be regularly employed to keep track of advertisements that violate the ASCI code.
To ensure constructive feedbacks and expert inputs, ASCI tied up with Big Bang Social, a leading marketplace for social storytelling, to get views of India's leading digital influencers'. Dhruv Chitgopekar, Founding Partner, Collective Artists Network and CEO of Big Bang Social pointed out that the guidelines were the need of the hour keeping in view of the increasing communication by brand through social media. There are appropriate guidelines for traditional media advertising, but with the rapid boom in the influencer marketing, this was most essential. He points our how satisfied and on board he is, with the practicality and comprehensiveness of the guidelines.
On second note, ASCI is also focusing on providing some educational approach to accelerate the influencer advertising. In order to achieve this, ASCI is launching the ASCI.Social platform, which is going to be a one stop destination for any queries or information relating to the guidelines. The digital platform is aimed to be interactive through the medium of FAQs( Frequently Asked Question), potential Dos and Don'ts and any other relevant information regarding the guidelines. It also strives to create an interactive community of influencers, advertisers, consumers and other talent management agencies.
The summary of Final Guidelines with reference to the Disclosure of advertisements is given below:
- All advertisements posted by social media influencers or their representatives, on any of their accounts must carry a disclosure label that clearly points it out as an advertisement.
- In case of any material connection (not necessarily monetary) between the advertiser and the influencer, such information is to be disclosed. Even if the advertiser provides any free or discounted products or services, or any other perk, disclosure is required, even if they weren't specifically asked to talk about that product or service.
- In absence of any material connection, the influencer talking about any product or service will not come under the purview of advertisement and hence disclosure won't be required.
THE DISCLOSURE MUST BE CLEAR AND UPFRONT WHICH CAN BE EASILY GRASPED BY THE GENERAL AUDIENCE
- It should be placed such that it is hard to ignore.
- Disclosures are to be posted everywhere, from ABOUT ME or bios, the description of posts or videos, to any such place where a person requires to CLICK MORE.
- Disclosure should be clearly visible between all the hashtags and links.
- In addition to disclosing on his or her own account, the influencer must encourage the usage of a platform's disclosure tool.
- If the advertisement includes only a picture or video, there should be clear text captions imposed on such posts, to ensure the disclosure is clearly understood by the consumers.
- If a video lasts for less than or equal to 15 seconds, the disclosure label should be visible for at least 3 seconds.
- If a video lasts for anywhere between 15 seconds to 2 minutes, the disclosure label should visible for minimum one third- length of the video.
- If a video lasts longer than 2 minutes, the disclosure must appear for as long as the brand is promoted or the features benefits of the product is mentioned.
- In live streams, the disclosures are to be mentioned both at the beginning and end of the stream and in case the video of the live stream is visible thereafter, then appropriate text captions need to be added.
- In case of only, the disclosures are to be announced at the beginning, end and in between all the breaks of the .
- The disclosures are to be clear enough to be understood by general audience.
Following is the list of disclosure labels permitted that can be used individually or collectively:
- Free gift
- The disclosure should be either in English or in the language of the advertisement itself whatever makes it easily understandable by the consumers.
- In case of a virtual influencer, the clarity regarding non-interaction with a real human being needs to be disclosed clear and upfront.
- The responsibility of the material connection and the content of advertisement to be disclosed is on the advertiser who is advertising his or her products with the help of the influencer. The advertiser has to make sure that the stuff that the influencer posts, is in compliance ASCI code and its Guidelines. The influencer is rested with the responsibility to make relevant disclosures with regard to such collaboration, whereas the advertiser is responsible to contact the influencer to delete or edit any advertisement or disclosure label that doesn't adhere to the ASCI guidelines.
- The influencers need to make sure the credibility of the claims that the advertiser is making regarding the product or service, before posting about the same on their own platform.
With the rapid growth of social media, the fine line between content and promotional content fades away further. The traditional marketing structure is now influenced by the social media influencer marketing scheme which is becoming popular day by day. However, consumers have the right to know what content is being paid for and what content organically comes up at the feed of such influencers. The ASCI guidelines tend to launch this transparency to the influencer marketing. These days, consumers tend to get heavily influenced by the choices of their favorite social media influencer tries to follow the same path by availing the promoted goods and services. Hence the guidelines are absolutely essential to protect and safeguard their interests.
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