Influencer marketing stakeholders have these doubts about ASCI draft guidelines

In the last part of the five-part series, clubs together doubts and suggestions shared by all parties concerned regarding ASCI's draft guidelines to monitor influencer-brand collaborations

Akanksha Nagar
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Though more and more advertisers are investing in influencer marketing, the medium certainly has its fair share of issues and an absence of accountability when something goes wrong.

Taking cognisance of the nagging problems in the influencer marketing space, especially those related to consumer transparency, stakeholders in the influencer marketing ecosystem have welcomed the Advertising Council of India’s (ASCI) recently issued draft guidelines to streamline the sector but at the same time shared a few suggestions and that they feel will address their doubts and concerns. lists all the doubts raised and suggestions recommended by stakeholders.

How to differentiate between ‘brand advocacy’ and ‘influencer marketing’

The new draft code clearly wants influencers to identify and label upfront that a said communication is an advertisement. But most influencers and brands are concerned about how to go ahead with the guidelines if an influencer post simply mentions a brand name but is not an ad. An overt ad is different from an advocacy model. There are tiers of incentivisation—paid versus barter versus someone who might be willing to work for free. From micro to macro, brands use various kinds of influencers. Many of them are used for brand advocacy; some are used for common barter or as gifts, and influencers then give their honest feedback. Some are paid.

Marketers feel there could be a different set of guidelines to help differentiate advocacy posts from pure marketing posts. Advocacy of issues, products and services online are integral parts of building a social media influencer profile and it may not change for some time.

Unclear definitions

The ASCI believes a lot of social media platforms allow users to apply filters that can be used to enhance the results of a product, which is misleading to consumers. But the industry argues restrictions on filters as suggested by ASCI can limit the creativity of the influencers. Experts have sought a right explanation about filters (because filters are hardly differentiable), and also urged the council to come out with a clear definition on consumer transparency. Otherwise, they argue, there is a likelihood that brands will take advantage of this ambiguity to pass off things on the pretext of influencer marketing. For example, any tall claims that cannot be scientifically proven. Although, the ASCI draft does mention that the consumer deserves the right to know whether any information received is organic and that they aren't misled.

Mechanism to find out if an influencer is being paid or not

The stakeholders have demanded a more realistic process for both influencers and brands, especially when it comes to using micro-influencers. They are also 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.

How these rules will be rolled out and who will be the governing body for sorting and resolving out issues are other concerns. Also, given the advent of multiple content platforms, will there 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 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.

Role of agencies

Agencies have sought more clarity from ASCI as the draft code is silent on their role. As the intermediaries, they believe they are the ones who will ensure the guidelines are followed by both influencers and brands. The guidelines state that influencers and brands will be held accountable for any violation of the guidelines. But if an agency fails to provide a proper brief to them, it would be wrong to hold an influencer accountable for any violation. The agencies say the new guidelines are a huge responsibility for them as well, and not only influencers and brands.

Guidelines will defeat the whole purpose of influencer marketing

Marketers believe the guidelines might make the whole influencer marketing space more cumbersome and bureaucratic because of the need for documenting, filtration and paperwork. They feel they might end up hiring more people to track posts, defeating the very reason why influencer marketing used to be their favourite.

There are various ways in which brands use influencers both for organic and inorganic purposes and it would be very difficult to do the paperwork and follow up after the norms are implemented.

Besides making brand advocacy more difficult, this draft, marketers feel, will make it difficult for them to use multiple influencers and they will be forced to restrict themselves to a very few of them. 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. 

Influencers, on the other hand, feel 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.

Suggestions made to ASCI

Brands have urged the 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. They demand a non-competition clause between brands and influencers and a written agreement between them on the deliverables and liabilities of a campaign.

Many of them feel the guidelines are more of a wish list and want a clear differentiation between what is morally correct and what is legally bound as per the council.

Agencies and brands both recommended special guidelines for micro-influencers. They said the norms may pose a challenge for such creators as the lines between organic and paid communication will be more transparent and asked ASCI to distinguish between larger and more niche influencers.

They also want 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 maybe real loyalists, are not affected in their reach and growth.

Influencer marketing stakeholders ASCI draft guidelines