The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has unveiled the final guidelines for streamlining influencer advertising on digital media and making it more transparent. The new guidelines, which will be applicable to all kinds of influencers, was finalised after considering feedback from 25 stakeholders on the draft norms.
Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI, told BestMediaInfo.com that the body has acknowledged the feedback it has been receiving various stakeholders on the draft guidelines released in February this year.
Among other questions, the stakeholders asked as to how ASCI would monitor potential violation of these guidelines. For this purpose, the council has identified a French technology provider, Reech, which will be responsible for suo moto monitoring.
Kapoor explained the efforts ASCI is making to make the guidelines and compliance processes much more clearer to all the parties concerned. It has launched ASCI.Social, a platform to develop an inclusive educational approach to shape the narrative of influencer advertising.
The guidelines make it mandatory for influencers to label the promotional content they post. Explaining this part, Kapoor said it is in the benefit of the influencers to be honest and transparent to their audiences.
Though no penalty has been planned for influencers who violate the guidelines, she said, “If you are constantly violating the particular guidelines, it basically means you don’t care about being responsible to your own audience. I feel such brands and influencers are not here for the long term. If someone wants to be there for the longer term, then they should think about the content, which has a serious impact on audiences.”
What is the objective behind launching the ASCI.Social platform and how will you create a community of social media influencers, consumers, advertisers and talent management agencies?
Digital marketing has now become a big part of the ecosystem; it is no longer in the periphery. When something becomes more and more mainstream, it impacts more people. Influencer marketing will soon become more mainstream. ASCI aims to develop an inclusive educational approach to shape the narrative of influencer advertising. To achieve this, we have launched the ASCI.Social platform, a one-stop destination for all information related to the guidelines. The digital platform will be interactive with dos and don'ts, FAQs, information related to the guidelines, etc. The platform will actually create a community of influencers. We are going to have influencers, advertisers, content creators, people who represent agencies—all of them will come together for a conversation around influencer guidelines, responsibilities, and ethics for the digital ecosystem. We ourselves will come out with content around influencers on the platform. Influencers will put in content in a way they understand these guidelines and raise questions they may have. This platform is for all voices to come together and create a good foundation for the industry.
Are these guidelines fixed or will they evolve in the future as per the changing ecosystem?
Our guidelines will never be static. We have developed them after a lot of efforts and collaborations. The guidelines have to be relevant to the advertising of the particular time. Had our guidelines been fixed, there wouldn’t be any need to have any code or the need to even bring out these new guidelines. But advertising changes, consumers change and so does the way of communication. All these are part of the advertising ecosystem. For us, the main thing is that the guidelines we bring out or the work we are doing should be relevant to today's advertising, or the advertising of the contemporary period. So, whenever we feel the need to modify the guidelines, we will do so. The guidelines will evolve over the period of time.
What advanced technology solutions are you using to keep track of advertisements that violate the ASCI code?
We are seeing a shift towards digital and technology-enabled solutions. We will do several things to make sure we have good compliance and that the influencers know about these guidelines. We have to educate the influencers to make sure they know that complying with these guidelines will be in their own interest. The use of technology will help us to identify those who are not complying. The Reech Influence Cloud platform uses artificial intelligence to identify lack of disclosure on posts of a commercial nature on social media. Machine learning algorithms and pattern searching Regex (regular expression) maximise accuracy. As part of ASCI’s increasing focus on digital content, we will continue to deploy advanced technology solutions to keep track of advertisements that violate the ASCI code.
How will the Reech Influence Cloud platform track all kinds of influencers given that the base is so huge?
Consumer complaints will be there but this platform is over and above that. This is suo moto monitoring, our own monitoring service. We will prioritise where we feel there could be more serious kinds of violations. That can change over time since the platform is flexible but it will keep on monitoring almost all kinds of content that we think is important.
Is there any penalty for those who violate the code or do they just need to pull down the content?
Though there is no penalty, the biggest penalty is your brand reputation. If you constantly violate the particular guidelines, it basically means you don’t care about being responsible to your own audience. I feel such brands and influencers are not here for the long term. If someone wants to be for the longer term, then they should think about the content, which has a serious impact on audiences.
There are so many Indian influencers who stay abroad. Will these guidelines be mandatory for them as well?
If the dominant followers are coming from India or the majority of the followers are based in India, then definitely those influencers will need to comply since the guidelines are meant to protect Indian consumers. We would expect them to comply.
Under the new definition of influencers, wouldn’t the number of followers matter?
From ASCI’s point of view, we have defined influencers in a particular way. The responsibility of being honest and transparent is not only for someone who has many followers. The same responsibility is for someone who is just starting out. Even if you influence just one person, you need to be responsible about it, just like small or big advertisers.
As per the guidelines, an advertiser is needed to call upon an influencer to delete or edit an advertisement or the disclosure label. In cases where brands give full responsibility to agencies to take care of influencer marketing, and if a disclaimer is missed, on whom does the onus lie?
The brand always has the responsibility first. The responsibility of the disclosure is on the influencers. But ultimately the responsibility of the entire ad, including the disclosure, is of the brands. They have to ensure that influencers comply with the norms.
In terms of branded content initiatives, why even need a disclaimer?
There are different platforms in the digital ecosystem. Some have the disclosure options and some do not. We can’t expect consumers to know each platform’s individual policy. So, from the consumers’ point of view, we want standardisation across different platforms. Besides the disclosure ASCI is asking them to make, influencers should look at the platform disclosure as well, so that consumers don’t have any doubt if they are consuming content or an ad.
The guidelines can be viewed here: https://asci.social/guidelines