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ASCI’s draft guidelines will streamline influencer marketing space but more clarity required on several aspects, feels industry

The industry believes the draft guidelines on influencer marketing will not only help customers in knowing what content is promotional but will also make brands and influencer more responsible. However, some feel the guidelines may hinder creativity

In the last few years, the influencer marketing ecosystem has become a key medium for brands to reach out to their consumers in a more targeted and credible way.

The marketing strategy, however, has been out of the purview of codes and regulations that have been set by the industry for advertising.

In order to bring in more transparency and to help consumers distinguish between the promotional content and the organic content. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media.

According to the draft guidelines, a disclosure label will be required to highlight the advertising content. It also adds more accountability for both influencers and brands.

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Arjun Mohan

Welcoming the move, Arjun Mohan, CEO, India, upGrad, said it has the potential to create a profound long-term impact, affecting consumers’ trust on the overall concept of advertising.

“We realise the influencer marketing sector has seen exponential growth over the past decade and has become a core of our brand-building efforts. We look forward to the newly drafted guidelines which I’m sure will further make influencer marketing more transparent and bring forth better opportunities for brands to create responsible advertising for its audience at large,” he added.

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Karthik Nagarajan

“As has always been the case, guidelines like these have always been good for the market and all stakeholders in the long term. We have seen this to be true in audience measurement, viewability and multiple other facets of digital marketing. The consumer always has the right to know whether a piece of content is paid for or organic. So from that perspective, it is a very healthy move forward – not just for the audience but also for influencers and brands,” said Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer, Wavemaker India.

According to him, this space has been commoditised a little too much, too soon.

He added, “We need to take this to a place where we can celebrate great collaborations between brands and influencers that are based on data and great content.”

Kunal Kishore Sinha

Kunal Kishore Sinha, Co-founder, ClanConnect, said the guidelines for influencer marketing will unlock a wealth of new opportunities for the fast-evolving segment that will result in positive outcomes for the sector in the long run.

“These guidelines will not only streamline the space and offer a direction but ensure there is an added sense of social responsibility among the influencer community,” he said.

As he too welcomed this move, he said these guidelines will act as a guiding light for new and established content creators, who will now be more mindful of the kind of content that they are bringing to their target audiences.

He said, “Platforms such as ours will play a major role in assisting content creators in navigating through the various regulations and conform to them without any inadvertent missteps. With ASCI introducing these guidelines, the influencer marketing segment joins the league of recognised and celebrated domains of the advertising ecosystem and indicates further growth and evolution for this space.”

ASCI has sought industry feedback till March 8. The final guidelines will be issued by March 31, 2021. This guidelines will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021.

According to ASCI, the guidelines were a collaborative effort with influencers and it teamed up with BigBang.Social, a leading marketplace for social storytelling, to get the views of India’s leading digital influencers on board. MAD Influence was on the review board.

Gautam Madhavan

Gautam Madhavan, Founder and CEO, MAD Influence, believes the macro or the influencers with large following will definitely adhere to these guidelines as social media is their bread and butter and they will strive to do the best they possibly can. But the micro and the nano influencers, viz the influencers with smaller follower base, may not take this seriously as the quantity of such influencers is really high and educating them on these guidelines will take some time.

For influencer marketing agencies, he said it is both a boon and a bane. “Boon because it brings discipline and structure to the format and bane because this can possibly lower the reach of the total campaign,” he said.

Ambiguities and gaps in the guidelines

Kalyan Kumar

While Kalyan Kumar, CEO and Co-Founder, Social Catalyzers, welcomed the self-regulation guidelines, he said it needs some tweaking to make the process feasible by which this is going to be a realistic process.

Almost all of this requires manual intervention and checks and thus technology enablement is going to be key, he said. It’s easy to see this is a paid media approach, much of which is far more advanced and differentiated from what ‘advocacy’ or ‘influencer marketing.”

“I am all for the regulation but this misses a few nuances of the influencer marketing construct and process and feels a bit like a first cut of what should eventually be the right way to do things. Consumer transparency should be defined, e.g. a lot of definitions are missing. An overt ad is different from an advocacy model and there are tiers of incentivisation paid vs barter vs someone who might be willing to work for free depending on their inner brand affinity. A lot of thinking remains and I would be happy to help out the think tank in that process—more stakeholder conversations are required, i.e. brands, consumers, influencers and enablers such as influencer agencies,” he said.

Additionally there are multiple formats within each platform (some mentioned in the rules) that need different consideration and things like "not using filters" is like asking a designer to not use the basic tools on photoshop. He said more clarity on all of this will be welcome.

While the new regulatory processes are always an additional layer, which by default is a speed breaker for any business and thus takes time for steady state to get back, he said more introspection on the different aspects of influencer marketing is required to make this a smooth and happy intervention.

Pawan Sarda

Opposing the guidelines, Pawan Sarda, Group Head, Digital, Marketing and e-commerce at Future Group, said the labelling and disclosure will let the whole storytelling and content go for a toss and will hinder creativity.

“As far as influencer marketing is concerned, it is all about influencing. Advertising is a sales pitch from the brand side and influencer marketing comes from more of the word of the mouth space where the trust is higher. If the guidelines put in place, what will be the merit of using influencers? I believe it will hinder creativity. Today influencers have a community and people watch them for content and the moment they announce something like this, the whole content will go for a toss. I don’t think one needs to create these kinds of guidelines, which restricts from the advertisers point of view as we reach out to the influencers because of their community and their art of storytelling, which is far more real,” he said.

Kumar agreed that it might hinder the creativity, at least initially.

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