Recently, ASCI created waves by unveiling a set of guidelines for influencer marketing on digital media, a month into the release of the new guidelines, we take stock.
Whenever something new happens, there are bound to be shifts and discussions. Opinions often flow freely, helping shape narratives and policies. The same is happening with the new ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) guidelines for influencer marketing on digital media, which came into effect a little over a month ago. Simply put, it was a result of a need to ensure that people are aware of what they are consuming and influencers can’t get away with fooling their fans.
Extensive industry and creator feedback was taken before the influencer marketing guidelines were implemented and a month later, according to ASCI, the feedback coming in had already been considered in the development stage. “There is no immediate plan to revise the guidelines. We have shared one addendum which has prescribed the format in which we need advertisers to respond,” says Manisha Kapoor, Secretary General, ASCI tells us.
The Month So Far
She feels it’s just the beginning and the organisation’s focus is currently on creating awareness. “We have received and picked up complaints, including those against mega influencers, and we are processing them. In most cases, the influencers immediately take correction action after being contacted by ASCI.” So far, ASCI has processed over a hundred complaints related to influencer marketing, of which about 60 were from consumers and 40 were taken up by them on their own.
To monitor the implementation of the guidelines and ensure that influencers and content creators comply with them, ASCI has tied with Reech, a French agency.
Artificial intelligence is being used to spot guideline violations in influencer posts — the testing phase has been completed and ASCI anticipates an increase in the number of violations they spot and flag. Consumers are, as always, welcome to contact them to report any violation.
“We are definitely seeing a change with several influencers now putting up disclosure labels. We are also seeing marketing agencies and talent management firms updating their contracts or revamping existing ones with content creators and social media influencers based on the ASCI guidelines,” she says, adding that though there have been shifts, there is still some way to go.
Content At The Heart
“While the new guidelines have not impacted the work we have been doing as such, this has certainly helped brands as well as consumers to distinguish promotional content from regular posts and has thus ensured more transparency,” says Divisha Iyer, Associate Vice President – Solutions, Business Head – Influencer Management, Schbang. Not much seems to have changed on an operational level at Schbang as the response they have got so far, from clients as well as influencers, has been positive.
“Giving the audience full disclosure by adding the necessary tag shouldn’t drastically affect a particular category as such — if done wisely. The influencers might initially see a dip in the numbers on their sponsored content. However, in the long run, if their associations with brands are genuine and subtle, they will be able to create a community that supports their content, be it paid or organic. The content has to be extremely relevant to keep the viewers engaged as they know that the content is sponsored,” she adds.
Pollen’s Business Head, Aarushi Sethi feels that the ASCI mandate has shifted the focus of influencers being brand advocates to affecting the bottom funnel of sales.
“The objectives for influencer campaigns too have transformed from mere visibility to actual awareness, engagement, sale (measurable ROI metrics). Brands are not only leveraging influencers for their reach, but also for their ability to create meaningful and honest conversations with their communities. With the lines between promotional and non-promotion content getting clearer, there will be an enhanced sense of value and trust between the consumer and the influencer,” she says.
Categories On Alert
“The beauty, lifestyle and fashion industries have been the most impacted by the ASCI guidelines as these categories have the largest number of influencers and variety in products, which facilitate experimentation/product trials,” Aarushi tells us. She adds that to maintain authenticity with their followers, influencers can’t endorse different products for the same purpose. This is helping them and the ecosystem at large become more accountable and transparent.
“There is definitely a lot more scrutiny on the content and brand representation on influencer collaboration posts. Most brands have their templates of disclosures prepared. Additionally, brands also involve their legal teams to seek approval before these posts are published. Influencers expect brands to comply with ASCI guidelines and are even proactively asking/informing brands on their disclosure parameters. These are all positive signs, especially as the ASCI guidelines call for self-accountability,” Aarushi tells us.
Accountability Under Scanner
However, the impact of the implementation and accountability has not been uniform, says Shradha Agarwal, COO & Strategy Head, Grapes Digital, as some of the brands are leaving it to the influencers. “The current adoption of rules is still not hundred percent. Only the larger MNCs that would be questioned, have a very strong audit process are looking into this. Otherwise, a lot of people are leaving it to the influencers.”
More than the type of brand categories, this has got to do with the type of influencers. If you are talking to an ambassador or a category-name influencer, they are following it a lot more than others. The difference doesn’t come with the industry, it comes with the influencers. At the moment, the onus is on the influencers but it will soon shift to brands if certain cases come out to be.
She further shares her observation with us about a lifestyle influencer who had written about how she had loved a product, which was a birthday gift from her husband but the post was also tagged as paid promotion. “The script needs to change if it is a paid promotion,” she tells us, adding that influencers either need to be frank about how the particular product or service was a gift or make it a direct ad. It can’t be a mix of both. “The storyline has to be very cautiously chosen,” she concludes.