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The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) will release its final guidelines to streamline influencer marketing activities on May 27, between 3:00 and 4:30 pm.

Anyone can watch the announcement by joining the Zoom press conference through this link:

In February this year, ASCI had released its draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media to enable consumers to easily recognise promotional content. The draft guidelines were then made available to industry stakeholders and, accordingly, ASCI made relevant changes based on their feedback.

Draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media

1) Advertisements must be obviously distinguishable by the average consumer from editorial and independent user-generated content, to prevent the audience from being confused between the two. Therefore, a disclosure label must be added from the list of approved labels. Only permitted disclosure labels will be considered as adequate as consumers may not be familiar with various creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement.

2) The disclosure label used to highlight advertising content needs to be upfront (within the first two lines of any given platform, such that a consumer need not click on, see more or have to scroll under the fold), prominent (so people don't miss it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when) and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be visible regardless of the device used, or platform such as website or app etc.).

3) The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that is well understood by the average consumer who is viewing the advertisement.

4) Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section will not be considered adequate because people visiting the site might read individual reviews or watch individual videos without seeing the disclosure on another page.

5) If the advertisement is only a picture post such as Instagram Stories or Snapchat, the label needs to be superimposed over the picture and it should be ensured that the average consumer is able to see it clearly.

6) In the case of a video not accompanied by a text post, the disclosure label should be superimposed on the video in a manner that is easily visible to the viewer. For videos that last 15 seconds or less, the disclosure label must stay for a minimum of two seconds. For videos longer than 15 seconds, but less than two minutes, the disclosure label stays for 1/3rd the length of the video. For videos that are two minutes or longer, the disclosure label must stay for the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits, etc., are mentioned. In live streams, the disclosure label should be placed periodically, for five seconds at the end of every minute so that users who see part of the stream can see the disclosure.

7) In the case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and at the end of the audio.

8) Filters should not be applied to social media advertisements if they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making—for example, makes hair shinier, teeth whiter, etc.

9) The influencer must do their due diligence about any technical or performance claims made by them such as 2X better, effect lasts for 1 month, fastest speed, best in class, etc. Evidence of due diligence would include correspondence with the advertiser or brand owner confirming that the specific claim made in the advertisement is capable of scientific substantiation.

10) It is recommended that the contractual agreement between advertiser and influencer carries clauses pertaining to disclosure, use of filters as well as due diligence.

After the release of the draft guidelines, several stakeholders raised doubts and made suggestions to ASCI.

They wanted ASCI to differentiate between ‘brand advocacy’ and ‘influencer marketing’. The industry said restrictions on filters can limit the creativity of influencers. They urged the council to come out with a clear definition of consumer transparency.

The stakeholders were worried about how the council will manage influencer posts and activity on a large scale as well as verify if an influencer was paid for an activity or if it was for free. They asked ASCI to come up with a mechanism to find out if an influencer is being paid or not, especially when it comes to micro-influencers.

Given the advent of multiple content platforms, the stakeholders wondered if there would be different guidelines for different platforms or different types of content. If any influencer inadvertently forgets to label a post as an ad or skips it, what penalty will it attract? And who all can escalate the complaint?

Apart from the execution, how will influencers-turned-entrepreneurs be monitored? Many influencers eventually turn into entrepreneurs and create their own brands. If that particular influencer promotes his or her own page or product, what do they need to do? Then there are cases of multiple influencers being approached to become brand ambassadors in order to exclusively promote a brand.

Agencies had sought more clarity from ASCI as the draft code was silent on their role. A few marketers also felt the guidelines might make the whole influencer marketing space more cumbersome and bureaucratic because of the need for documentation, filtration and paperwork. They felt they might end up hiring more people to track posts, defeating the very reason why influencer marketing used to be their favourite. Influencers, on the other hand, felt that the part of ‘due diligence’ in the guidelines will put pressure on them since it is not in their hands to check and verify claims all the time.

Brands had urged ASCI to put in place a penalty framework for influencers who misuse their opinion leader status to blackmail brands and work with competitors to tarnish a brand’s online reputation. The agencies and brands both recommended special guidelines for micro-influencers. They also wanted separate guidelines for types of content or depth of association with a brand. This will ensure that micro-influencers, who may be in their early stage of associations with a brand, or may be real loyalists, are not affected in their reach and growth.

Complaint handling

ASCI will issue a notice to both the brand owner and influencer for violation of any guideline in case of a consumer complaint or suo moto cognisance of a potentially objectionable advertisement. In the case of disappearing posts, a screenshot with a timestamp will suffice as prima-facie evidence of the advertisement having been published.

Ready reckoner for social media platforms

1. Instagram: Disclosure label to be included in the title above the photo/beginning of the text that shows. If only the image is seen, the image itself must include the label.

2. Facebook: Include the disclosure label in the title of the entry or post. If only the image/video is seen, the image/video itself must include the label, e.g. FB story.

3. Twitter: Include the disclosure label or tag at the beginning of the body of the message as a tag.

4. Pinterest: Include the disclosure label at the beginning of the message.

5. YouTube and other video platforms: Include the label in the title/description of the post.

6. Vlog: Overlay the disclosure label while talking about the product or service.

7. Snapchat: Include the disclosure label in the body of the message in the beginning as a tag.

8. Blog: Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.