In conversation with agency custodians, creators, and an ASCI member, Social Samosa deciphers the whats, whens, and hows, of the benefits, concerns, and solutions relating to the new Influencer Marketing Guidelines.
Influencer Marketing Guidelines issued by ASCI will be applicable to commercial messages or advertisements published on or after June 14, 2021. The guidelines make it mandatory for influencers to label the promotional content they post and disclose it whenever they've been incentivized in exchange for the posts.
The Initiation Of Influencer Marketing Guidelines
In recent years the influencer marketing industry went from being non-existent to being a consideration in the allocation of spends in the marketing budget, and recently influencer marketing industries across the globe have been exploring the ethical lines between organic content and promotional content.
In October 2020, an investigation by a UK Watchdog, led to a conclusion that several influencers were engaging in hidden advertising that is not disclosing clearly that they have been paid or incentivized to promote a product, and Instagram had been failing to protect the consumers from being misled.
Acknowledging the BBC report on the investigation, Adam Mosseri, Head Of Instagram, announced the eventual rollout of tools formed in association with CMA (Competition & Markets Authority). The tools comprise of prompt requiring influencers to confirm whether they have received incentives to promote a product, and a new algorithm to detect potential advertising.
Manisha Kapoor, General Secretary, ASCI, mentions that international adoption of influencer marketing guidelines in the developed countries has been one of the triggers that directed its initiation. Although she apprises that one of the major and most significant reasons for the initiation to form these guidelines has been the pandemic and the sheer growth of content creators and consumers of this content.
It became mainstream overnight, and when something in advertising becomes mainstream, it impacts a lot of consumers, and it becomes ASCI's responsibility to check for a need for self-regulation, Manisha states.
The expedition started in December 2020, with the formation of a task force that consists of internal ASCI members, advertisers, influencers, creators, and platforms. Listening sessions with influencers, and advertisers, discussing what would make for fair guidelines, draft guidelines put up for public feedback, rounds of improvements, all led to the final set of guidelines that will be implemented from 14th July 2021.
Aarushi Sethi, Business Head, Pollen, mentions that authenticity and transparency is the need of the hour, and the guidelines will prove to be favorable for the brands as consumers appreciate and engage with the brands that remain honest in their communication.
She adds, as a part of their international mandates, some global brands were already using the branded tag, whereas some weren't, the guidelines standardize this and make a level-playing field.
Influencers would also be encouraged to make conscious choices and consequently increase their brand loyalty.
Falguni Vasavada-Oza, Creator & Acadmeist, says if we look at how ASCI was formed, it was formed to regain the trust of people in advertising, so we don't lose public confidence. "As an industry grows and becomes mainstream, we need certain documentation, code of conduct, and boundaries, otherwise things can go haywire".
She also mentions the guidelines would lead to newer monetization opportunities, brands will find a way to tell a story in better ways, content creators would be included in the strategy stage.
Taneesha Mirwani, Creator, mentions the guidelines encourage creators to choose brands that fit their own brand and content. Vedika Mehta, Creator, shares that it helps the influencers build a base of loyal community who know when the influencer is getting paid or not for a piece of content. The guidelines also legitimize the influencers, making it a valid profession and not a side-hustle.
While the influencer marketing guidelines uphold the consumers' rights and endorse their interests by bringing in responsibility to creativity, it has also raised several concerns within the industries.
The paid partnership and branded tags have long been present on social media platforms, before the initiation of the guidelines too, but several brands and influencers have refrained from using them.
For several reasons such as appearing to be as a genuine consumer posting a positive review, not risking losing followers by frequently posting ads, and many more, influencers choose not to disclose that they have been paid, or benefit, or receive some sort of incentive to post an ad, or brands have been reluctant to show the sponsored content as an ad.
Rajni Daswani, Director, SoCheers, shares that one of the biggest challenges with the guidelines has been brands not wanting to put a sponsored tag, as they've seen influencer marketing as driving organic conversations.
She adds that for the brands it's a direct comparison in terms of allocation of funds, it either goes in paid media or influencer marketing and they may be reluctant to be on board with the tags that disclose the content as paid promotion. She also expects requests of finding hacks to the guidelines may start coming soon.
Taneesha shares that with paid promotion tag in the picture, brands may now want to control the creative narrative even more, as the influencer would now be representing them officially.
She adds that along with creating a loyal fanbase of people who will choose to watch the content, there will be a lot of people who will choose not to watch the content, after knowing that it's an ad. Consequently, it may also lead to brands trying to negotiate prices if they see a dip in engagement, and raises the point of protection of the interest of the influencers.
Saloni Gaur, Creator, says that there are several brands that straight up tell the influencers to not put any paid partnership tags. She believes as consumers come on the internet for entertainment or other purposes, but nobody comes with an intention of watching an ad. If they see a tag stating it's an ad, they might not want to watch it.
To curb the negative and amplify the positive impact of the ASCI influencer marketing guidelines, brands, agencies, and creators, all the parties involved, need to focus on creating engaging content is what all the speakers agreed upon. Engaging content will always work irrespective of the branded tag.
Aarushi reckons it is also a lot about how we (the agencies) interpret the guidelines and present them to the brand in a positive way. If a consumer is engaging with a piece of content even after seeing the disclosure, they have a higher intent.
She elaborates that the difference in engagement between branded and non-branded content is a natural phenomenon, and it will push creators to create original content. Citing an example observed during the lockdown, when brands stopped sending products, as they were on tight budgets, several influencers had nothing to post, while original content was still engaging the audiences.
Rajni mentions that creators would now have more say in what they want to do, and agreeing to the point Vedika also mirrors the thought saying the guideline put the influencers in a powerful position, wherein when a script comes in, and she can say "I'm not saying this because its not true".
Saloni believes her first priority is to engage the audience and keeping the content organic while integrating the product in a funny way. She also states content that goes a complete sellout will see a dip in engagement.
Falguni mentions brands need to sit with agencies and figure out a strategy. Strategy, statistics, analysis, all of it would go into the client-agency side of the process. As for the creators, they need to have faith in their creative abilities and maintain a connection with their audience.
Manisha mentions that the guidelines are not trying to curb anyone's creativity and freedom, it is just trying to balance that out with certain rights of consumers and their interests.
She adds, that when the content is authentic and transparent, the creators would have the audience's trust in the long run. "When you have your audience's trust, it's the most precious thing you can have.
Manisha Kapoor, General Secretary, ASCI, Aarushi Sethi, Business Head, Pollen, Rajni Daswani, Director, SoCheers, Falguni Vasavada-Oza, Creator & Academist, Saloni Gaur, Creator, Vedika Mehta, Creator, Taneesha Mirwani, Creator spoke at a Live panel organized by Social Samosa.