Great work & great creativity thrive within the rules and framework of the law: Manisha Kapoor

ASCI Manisha Kapoor

Manisha Kapoor, CEO, ASCI speaks with Social Samosa about the recent influencer marketing guidelines, explaining how they were developed with the industry’s concerns in mind and how having a unified set of rules will be beneficial moving ahead.

Influencer Marketing is a rapidly growing industry in India. In 2022, the influencer marketing industry in India was valued at over 12 billion Indian rupees, and projection says it will keep rising in the coming years. 

With this growth in the market, the number of violations have spiked as well. According to the Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) recent report, social media influencers were responsible for 68% of the ads processed in the personal care category, out of which 92% violated the ASCI Code and required modifications.

To increase transparency in the industry and curb malpractices, ASCI has come up with multiple endorsement guidelines making it mandatory for creators to label sponsored content. It is also against the law to hide sponsorship deals. If violated, Central Consumer Protection Act, 2019 (CCPA) prescribes a INR 10-lakh penalty, which may go up to INR 50 lakh, and a ban of 1 to 3 years for subsequent contravention.

Some content creators and influencer marketing agencies have shared apprehensions about these guidelines coming in the way of creativity and affecting brand’s viewership.

As a result, ASCI has released a new report that explores pressing questions in influencer marketing, with a view to make sense of the landscape and achieve a win-win-win for brands, consumers, and influencers.

Social Samosa chats with Manisha Kapoor, CEO, ASCI, in light of the most recent report released by the association on influencer marketing, to better understand the rationale behind them, the major issues they address, and the direction the sector should take. 

Also read: Expert speak: The need for the EdTech industry to course correct its advertising

Edited Excerpts: 

With the rise of influencer marketing, have you seen a rise in complaints of malpractice as well?

Given that this whole sector is kind of emerging and evolving, we have documented the violations through our reports. Just a few days back, ASCI released a report on influencer violations. With the increase in the number of violations, the number of compliance is increasing as well and the main reason for it is the growing industry. 

So much more influencer content is coming in and so many more influencers are talking about the brand. Even when it’s brought to their attention, that there could be a violation, close to 85% of people have  quickly resolved these issues. This gives us more confidence that these guidelines are something that influencers are accepting. 

At the same time, since these rules are a new thing, we just need to give them a little leeway to understand and implement them correctly. As we are trying our best to make brands and influencers understand the guidelines better, there is a growth in consciousness amongst both brands and influencers to be compliant.

Because there is so much new content, you might see the numbers going up, but I would say the industry is moving in the right direction. 

Can you walk us through the new report and share any new data points that you thought were particularly important?

One of the interesting things that we are examining as part of this report is when it comes to online, what is the meaning of trust today. It’s not just the opposite of commerce, which is traditionally what one thought of trust, that if you’re trying to sell something to me that I should not trust you. But today, there is a more pragmatic way to look at trust. Consumers know when someone is trying to sell them something, but they don’t necessarily see it as a bad thing. In fact, they may see it as a useful thing for them. It’s this interesting dynamic that we are trying to explore in this report, which is, what is the real meaning of trust in the influencer world. 

The other interesting thing is how are influencers looked at by brands. One would simply put them in brackets like small, micro or nano. But that is not the only way to look at influencers. There is a more meaningful way to look at them. Maybe by the type of content they create, by the kind of engagement that they get, what is their area of expertise, and so on. It’s not just size, but what kind of influencers and brands could come together is something that we are looking at. 

The other aspect that we are exploring in this report is what is beyond just the last mile of communication because that’s how influencers are looked at by brands. But we feel that there is actually a lot more value sitting in that relationship than perhaps both influencers and brands are becoming aware of.

These are people who are so tuned into your consumers and audiences, so is there a way that brands can engage with them which is on an earlier stage of communication development, rather than right at the end. 

What was the agenda behind the recent summit? 

This is an industry that is still not fully established in the way that everything could be done. Newer influencers are joining, more brands are starting to engage with influencers. What we are doing at the summit is, really examining where we stand currently with this whole relationship. 

What are the fault lines that are developing, is everything hunky dory? Are there expectations that brands and influencers have from each other? What are the new opportunities that they can look at? What is going to be the future?

From an ASCI perspective, this whole idea of sustainable partnerships building, we feel needs to have consumer trust as its very foundation.

Because if there is no consumer trust, brands and influencers coming together would not have any meaning. It is because people trust brands and influencers that they kind of allow them to have a say in their lives. How does that become a very central pivot around which influencers and brands need to navigate and manage what they’re doing. 

Within the influencer marketing industry, which category is the biggest violator of the guidelines?

From an ASCI perspective, we saw VDA last year, which is virtual digital assets, or crypto taking the number one spot. Personal care was second or third, and this year, personal care is the first. We’ve also seen something in food and health as well. These are the top two or three categories we’ve seen over the past couple of years where a lot of influences are used, and the disclosures are not happening. 

According to the last report shared, 79% of consumers trust social media influencers. Why is that? 

Today, people spend a significant portion of their lives on social media. Additionally, a lot of consumption is being driven by social media. Whether it is the consumption of products, the source of information, your source of identity, or where your aspirations are being built, its all happening on social media. A consumer is in a particular place because they are getting something of value from them. They trust that source, which is why they’re there. 

As an individual, when I see something that is adding to my life, in terms of, information, entertainment, consumption, or commerce, I tend to trust them. It’s only when that trust is broken, people start to move away. 

In fact, in the last report, it is the lack of transparency that people move away from influencers. 

It’s not because you’re selling something to me that you aren’t trustworthy. In fact, consumers, if you disclose the information, they’re quite willing and then look forward to this kind of information coming from influencers.  Additionally, due diligence about any product that you’re talking about, make sure that the product can deliver what you’re saying it will and that you have done due diligence on the claims etc. 

Why do brands, celebs and creators avoid declaring their partnership?

This is probably an overhang of almost an earlier era where you felt that ‘if I’m trying to sell you something automatically, I’m not trustworthy.’ It’s that mindset, which actually consumers don’t believe in today. Consumers themselves say that, as long as you’re being transparent, I look forward to hearing from influencers on what they have to say about brands and products. 

People place commerce and trust on the opposite ends of a spectrum, whether that’s not how consumers are looking at it at all. This is something which brands and consumers and influencers need to learn to understand what is the model of trust. 

A lot of people in the industry have apprehensions about certain guidelines affecting creativity. How can influencers navigate through this challenge?

What has to be understood is that none of the guidelines actually put any restrictions on creativity. All that is being said is that when you put out some content, or when you put out something which is in association with a brand, you declare that it is in association with the brand which has nothing to do with the actual content you’re creating. 

But we have to remember one thing that, creating content for brands is not creativity for creativity’s sake. Influencers are doing a function, which is a commercial function. 

I think people who say that certain guidelines hamper creativity, I would say that they are possibly not great creators. Because great work and great creativity thrive within the rules and framework of the law and regulation.

The law and creativity are not opposite of each other. It’s just something that you have to keep in mind. 

A concern that influencers and brands have is that apart from the platform algorithm, which reduces the distribution of the branded post, the storytelling also takes a hit. So how can brands and creators deal with this concern?

Brands and influencers are creating excellent content, they are creating some very creative ads. If your content is really interesting and great, consumers will consume that, and that is something which we have seen as well. 

If you really create great content, I have a feeling that  people kind of really resonate with that. So I would not say that the guidelines are not hampering creativity 

Some trends can be expected in the influencer marketing industry with more guidelines coming in place.

When it comes to collaborations with brands, any guideline which applies in general to advertising will apply to influencer content. Over and above that, really the only guideline that is there is really about being very clear and transparent about your disclosure mechanism and making sure that you disclose that a certain post is, paid. Other than that I did not foresee any immediate guidelines that are coming, they could be refined, etc. But I think fundamentally, all that we are saying is that content should be truthful and disclosure should be there. So long as you don’t breach those boundaries, things will go well.


A woman of letters who scribbles words in her free time and when working. Likes to question the ifs and buts of everything and nothing; while daydreaming of having an impact on the world with her writings someday. She prefers to watch and observe while sipping on her black coffee; but will surely destroy you with words if the topic in question has anything to do with feminism, mental health, makeup and/or K-Pop. That too in five languages!