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Brands across categories appear to be slowly and cautiously welcoming the Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) draft guidelines for influencer marketing, but with riders. Many have termed it as a fantastic initiative towards building trust among consumers, brands and influencers but, at the same time, quite a few of them have shared their apprehensions, fear and doubts.

In the second part of the five-part series, BuzzInContent reached out to various brands to discuss their doubts and to know what clarification they want from ASCI. 

Smita Murarka

Smita Murarka, Vice-President, Marketing and E-commerce, Duroflex, said the whole process of dealing with influencers and distinguishing them will become very cumbersome and bureaucratic for brand marketers if the draft gets implemented in the present form. 

She said, “From micro to macro, brands use various kinds of influencers. Many of them are used for brand advocacy; some of them are used for common barter or as gifts, and influencers then put their honest feedback. Some are definitely paid. There are various ways in which we use influencers both for organic and inorganic purposes. It would be very difficult to do the paperwork and follow up after the implementation. Many times even though influencers are paid, they post additional content and honest reviews about a product. So they do a lot of content curation by themselves around what they feel about the brand as they understand their followers a lot. Even we spend a lot of time with them engaging non-monetarily. We have educated them about the products. For brand marketers, the process of dealing with influencers will become very cumbersome and bureaucratic, which is opposed to why influencer marketing became a preferred option. Else brands would have gone to celebrities or sports stars.”

Explaining how brands approach influencers for their own authentic language, filters and creativity, she said influencers create their own version of the brands.

“Of course they charge an amount but that is not equivalent to getting celebrities; it is not completely a paid/transactional matter. Besides making brand advocacy more difficult, this draft defeats the purpose of using multiple influencers and gets restricted to a very few. The creativity that influencers bring to the table also gets defeated. Eventually, influencer marketing will just become a reach medium, which brands don’t want,” she said.

The agencies also questioned the council’s mechanism to track influencers on such a big scale. “I guess we have to recruit more employees also from our end to do this whole paperwork, documentation and tracking. This will lead to bureaucracy in marketing,” she said.

A brand needs to connect with consumers at every level as they are highly aware and expect brands to engage in a meaningful way. 

Madhur Acharya

Madhur Acharya, Head of Marketing, Wow Skin Science, said both brands and influencers have to be responsible towards the consumers, which is where the guidelines come into play. 

By and large, he feels, the recommended guidelines are reasonable and easy to follow barring for a few. “The guideline point #9 that talks about the influencer doing due diligence on performance claims and proving that through correspondence with the brand, sounds too harsh and can be tough. Brands do send out press kits and free products to journalists and influencers, which are not for advertising but just for promotional purposes. So, the clause where a content creator must label even a free product or service as an ad does not seem fair or justified. We feel a review or content counts as an advertisement only when there is a monetary gain for the influencer. ASCI should take into consideration such nuances before finalising the guidelines. There needs to be more clarity in terms of genuine editorial/influencer review and a paid partnership between a brand and influencer,” he said.

Shaan Singh

Shaan Singh, Head of operations, Humanz India, and Director, Boss Entertainment, said if an influencer does not mention a particular post as an ad, they should let it pass for the first or second time.

He feels it will be tough to track, but it's the responsibility of the agency, brand, and the influencer to follow the guidelines as at the end of the day, it is being done to keep everything transparent between the influencer and his or her fan base. 

He also found the term ‘filters’ a bit confusing. “Filters tend to increase an influencer's creativity while doing a campaign and some simple filters won’t affect the product or manipulate it in any way. Therefore, I think it could hamper creativity. I do understand where this notion is coming from,” he added. 

Brands seek the introduction of liabilities, deliverables, penalty framework in guidelines

Most influencers refer to the brief given by advertisers or brands and promote it without any research or experiencing the service or product. Advertisers feel they should be educated about the products and services and should be capable of responding to FAQs about the brand, product or service before they endorse it.

Vivek Shah

Vivek Shah, Manager, Marcomm, Spykar, said a brand should get indemnity from a post put by influencers on their own and who mention it as a form of advertisement so that they can claim to their fan base that they are working for the brand or increase their fan base.

He said when an influencer is contacted to do a campaign for a brand; there should be a written agreement between them on the deliverables and liabilities of the campaign.

“All wrong information given by micro-influencers should not be held liable to the brand. The micro-influencers or any person promoting our brand wrongly should be solely responsible. There should be a contract or guidelines that define the deliverables and liabilities for both parties,” he said.

Organic posts showing no connection with the brands should not hold any liabilities to the brand, he said. Consumers should be well informed on the terms and conditions given about the product so as to not believe in anything and everything the influencers have posted. This could/should be mentioned on the influencers’ content either in the video or picture or in the post caption, so as to be completely honest with the consumers and brands

Petal Gangurde

Petal Gangurde, VP Marketing, XYXX Apparels, feels that a non-competition clause for a stipulated period of time will help safeguard brand interests and help brands, as well as influencers, create more meaningful, long-term content partnerships.

“A penalty framework for influencers who misuse their opinion leader status to blackmail brands and work with competitor brands to tarnish a brand’s online reputation is needed,” she said.

Divij Bajaj

In some scenarios, Divij Bajaj, CEO and Founder of Power Gummies, shared that as a brand he has also observed how a particular influencer talks about two competitor brands performing the best in separate posts fetching engagement. Brands have come under immense pressure from consumers to not crowd the news feed with sponsored content, sometimes trying to pass off without the commercial tag i.e partnership with or sponsored ad.

He suggested guidelines can also include how an influencer cannot be promoting the competitor product within the same category and particulars within at least 1-2 months. As for any new adaptation it takes at least a minimum of 21 days to reflect results.

“Such guidelines would ensure the inclusivity of social media as now the consumers are aware, which has led to less engagement observed if the content is too directly promotional. Personalisation with parity is the key for the influencer industry in the coming future,” he said.

Acharya said that in some cases, the due diligence regarding claims can be tough to obtain. ASCI can bring in more clarity and put the onus more on brands to be transparent about the claims.

Advertisers in unison agreed that the draft currently looks extremely vague, with no legal binding and implication and clarity is required to go ahead with it.

“ASCI should also define what is non-negotiable content or assets because these guidelines are more like a wish list. Define the end-to-end process and what role everybody has to play and who can escalate the matter and the scope of the complaint. Those nuances should be stated very clearly and clarify what is morally correct and what is legally bound. We cannot expect influencers to be our mouthpieces,” said Murarka.

However, a few brands believe this is the first step by ASCI and these guidelines will evolve as the industry grows.

Sachin Kamat

Sachin Kamat, Director, Customer Engagement, Enrich, said this is the right step forward for the industry as many malicious and bad actors will get eliminated, adding more credibility to the segment. A few brands might face inconvenience in mentioning paid advertisement on their content.

In Enrich’s case, 95% of promotions are not paid and so it wants influencers to review the outlets/ services and create good content for their user base in the process.

Kamat said creative influencers will always find a way to create amazing content for brands regardless of disclaimers.