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According to digital marketing agency AdLift, India’s influencer market is estimated at $75-150 million a year, as compared to the global market of $1.75 billion.
There is a considerable activity expected in this area as more Indians go online with pocket-friendly data plans and affordable smartphones. As per ASCI’s Trust in Advertising Report, released last December, viewership of ads on digital platforms is virtually the same in rural (82%) and metro (83%) areas. Keeping in mind the growing consumption of digital advertising, the influencer guidelines have become the need of the hour.
While platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and YouTube have in-built features to disclose if an influencer’s content is sponsored, multiple creators still get away by not revealing it as a paid activity. Such non-disclosure is arguably a disservice to consumers and is misleading. There have also been multiple complaints about influencers posting content around products such as alcohol, which are prohibited to be advertised.
With its growing popularity, influencer marketing has also come under the scanner of advertising industry watchdog – Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which has recently introduced the draft digital media advertising guidelines for influencers. These guidelines were available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers for feedback until March 8, 2021. Based on the feedback and inputs, the final guidelines will be issued by ASCI by March 31, 2021 and will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021.
The main objective of the guidelines are:
- to enable consumers to easily identify promotional content from regular posts on digital platforms;
- to guide social media influencers to become more responsible about their digital advertising content; and
- to provide a responsible advertising ecosystem for influencers; promote ethical practices, fair and transparent expression.
The key points of the draft guidelines are as follows:
- Advertisements must be recognizable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Thus, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels (viz., #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored & #partnership). Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered as adequate as consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement.
- The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront (within the first two lines of any given platform, such that a consumer need not click on see more or have to scroll under the fold), prominent, appropriate for the channel and suitable for all potential devices.
- The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it is understandable to the average consumer who is viewing the advertisement.
- Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate.
- If the advertisement is only a picture post such as Instagram stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture so that the average consumer can see it clearly.
- In the case of video not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label should be superimposed on the video in a manner that is easily visible to the viewer. For videos that last 15 seconds or lesser, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of 2 seconds. For videos longer than 15 seconds but less than 2 minutes, the disclosure label stays for 1/3rd the length of the video. For videos which are 2 minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits, etc. are mentioned. In live streams, the disclosure label should be placed periodically, for 5 seconds at the end of every minute so that users who see part of the stream can see the disclosure.
- In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.
- Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making. For example, to make hair shinier, teeth whiter, etc.
- The influencers must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them, such as 2X better, effect lasts for 1 month, fastest speed, best in class, etc. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.
- The contractual agreement between the advertiser and the influencer should include clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters and due diligence.
During the prolonged lockdown period, Indians have spent more time consuming content on their devices, in particular, by turning to YouTube and Facebook videos, and Instagram reels for everything from cooking to health and beauty tips. Resultantly, a fundamental shift has been observed in the influencer marketing space with big brands deepening their engagement with a variety of influencers as consumers. However, there are several examples of influencer marketing happening around us without tagging it as an #ad. Thus, the ASCI guidelines are the need of the hour to protect consumers, brands and advertising ecosystem at large.
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