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What do the new ASCI guidelines for Virtual Digital assets mean for the crypto and NFT advertising?

BestMediaInfo.com spoke to experts about how the new ASCI guidelines for virtual digital assets will affect advertising and marketing for the sector

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has introduced guidelines for advertising for virtual digital assets (VDAs). They are aiming at safeguarding the consumer against any misleading communication about these assets. The guidelines will be applicable to all advertisements released or published on or after April 1, 2022.

The ad regulator also stated that advertisers and media owners must ensure that all earlier advertisements must not appear in the public domain unless they comply with the guidelines.

The virtual digital asset industry, which mostly includes cryptocurrency and NFTs (Non-fungible Assets), has been under the radar of various institutions including the Government for a while now. In fact, the industry is waiting for a Bill on virtual asset from the Union Government. Currently, the crypto players adhere to self-regulation under the guidance of IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India) and BACC (Blockchain and Crypto Assets Council).

BestMediaInfo.com spoke to leaders from the industry to understand how advertising might be navigated in such a scenario and how are the players looking at the ASCI guidelines.

According to Abhik Santara, Director and CEO of Atom Network, this move by ASCI is good. “It is placing at least some guidelines in place for advertisers and brands so that later the consumer does not get a shock. While other regulations by the Government are awaited this at least puts a caution among the consumers who are dealing with VDAs in the near future.”

Asked if the said guidelines will result in more people getting sceptical about the category, Rajesh Ramaswamy, Founder of The Script Room, said more than the end consumer getting sceptical about the sector this will lead to more delays in churning out ads. “The process to get legal consultations will increase and will delay the process a lot.”

Vijay Pravin Maharajan, Founder and CEO, bitsCrunch, said, “On a daily basis we are able to view so many commercials on all forms of media suggesting people invest in cryptocurrency. With no clear-cut laws or regulations, guidelines on such advertisements are definitely not a problem but a necessity for everyone to know that certain risks are involved.”

Ramalingam Subramanian, Head of Brand, Marketing and Communication at Coindcx, said, “ASCI releasing customised advertising guidelines is a very promising and welcoming move for the crypto industry in India. CoinDCX is a member of ASCI and has been actively complying with ASCI’s Standard Ad Guidelines. Alongside, we have also been following some internal guardrails with an objective to be transparent and use appropriate disclaimers in our advertisement campaign across all channels. The new guidelines add in more clarity and we are committed to abide by these and represent our brand in the right light."

Ashish Singhal, Founder and CEO of CoinSwitch, said "The ASCI guidelines are a step in the right direction to standardise advertisements within the VDA space. The VDA industry is supportive of all efforts towards investor protection, however, there are nuances that need to be addressed as the space is ever-evolving. We will continue to work together with ASCI and other stakeholders to refine them further."

How will players navigate the creative challenges with the guidelines?

Crypto players have been actively trying to advertise, even amid the growing scrutiny owing to the digital boom in the country. We also saw celebrities like Ayushmann Khurana and Ranveer Singh promoting cryptocurrency brands.

On the other hand, NFTs have just caught the eye of the consumers amid all the talk about web 3.0 and metaverse. As a result, many companies introduced their own NFTs and also ran advertising campaigns around them. Actor Salman Khan was also seen promoting an NFT by Chingari. Actors like Amitabh Bachanch have also launched their own NFTs.

But the new guidelines from ASCI suggest a long list of Do’s for the players to effectively communicate the risks in the industry.

For example, the words “currency”, “securities”, “custodian” and “depositories” may not be used in advertisements of VDA products or services as consumers associate these terms with regulated products. Also, no advertisement can show that VDA products or VDA trading can be a solution to money problems, personality problems or other such drawbacks.

So, we spoke to industry experts about how they will navigate through these and follow all the guidelines.
“We must not make too much fuss about creativity, as much about protecting the rights of the consumer,” said Santara of Atom Network.

Shrenik Gandhi, CEO and Co-founder, White Rivers Media stated, “Guidelines only strengthen the industry further. We have closely worked with BFSI and Fantasy gaming clients and have seen these guidelines proving to be effective in long-term customer satisfaction. Of course, guidelines in the initial stage may come across a little discomforting as they may appear to kill creative freedom. But when we look at the bigger picture, guidelines are only meant to improve the consumer experience, which is also our ultimate goal in this industry."

Sagar Pushp, Co-founder and CEO, ClanConnect, said behind every advertisement and communication a brand does, the interest of the end-user or the consumer should not be bargained with. “This space is very new and dynamic; most people perceive this as a profitable and quick money sector. They don’t understand the technical aspect of having a blockchain so I think it is important that the communication is not misleading and the end-user who owns a Digital Virtual Asset is aware of the space he is getting into.

Rikki Agarwal, Co-Founder and COO, Blink Digital, said, “The cryptocurrency culture seems to be growing rapidly in India with increasing adoption among young men and women. Though the Union Budget highlighted regulating the crypto and NFTs, still there is no clarity on its legality. The new guidelines by ASCI will certainly have an impact on brand engagements and ad spends going forward. We could also see an impact on how private crypto players plan their ad spendings during festive seasons, cricket tournaments, and on influencers and celebrities. In order to compete with the possible launch of the government's digital currency, brands might consider newer avenues to interact with the consumers. Though the move will definitely help in education and creating awareness amongst the consumers, we will have to wait and watch on how brands relook at their strategy and plan their ad spends."

Some other points in the guidelines say that in the case of a long-format video of over two minutes, the disclaimer should be repeated at the beginning and at the end of the video. Also, the disclaimer must remain on screen for a minimum of five seconds.

In audio, the disclaimer must be spoken at the end of the advertisement. The voiceover should be at a normal speaking pace and must not be hurried. In the case of long-format audio of over 90 seconds, the said disclaimer should be repeated at the beginning and at the end of the audio.

Another condition for social media advertising is that on social media posts, such a disclaimer must be carried in both- the caption as well as any picture or video attachments. The disclaimer within the caption must be placed upfront at the beginning of the post. It adds that where social media posts. or advertisements that have restrictions on text in the static picture, the disclaimer must be carried upfront in the caption before the fold.

Speaking about how these conditions will be navigated by players, Pushp said the recent ASCI guidelines for influencer marketing already do require tags about promotions in the captions. “Also, in my opinion, many influencers do shy away from talking about things like cryptocurrency because even they want to be sure that they are not doing it just for the money. They want their voice to be seen as legitimate. So, we will be working with people who have the knowledge and know what they are talking about.”

He added that celebrities will continue to be signed as they are researching about the space.

“Celebs have always been very careful before endorsing any particular product on national media. A lot of them are investing in NFTs, but they have solid advisors who guide them carefully as to how, when and what sort of investment needs to be made,” added Maharajan of bitsCrunch.

“ASCI has come up with guidelines to keep people from squandering their money on something they are not sure about. Advertisements can be misleading but certain advertisements also can be made based on something that has occurred in real life. Any advertisement with these guidelines in place should provide enough caution to the end-user,”  he added.



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