Influencers' branded content under ASCI scanner

The final guidelines to be released on March 31, 2021, will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021

BuzzInContent Bureau
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To enable consumers to easily recognise promotional content on digital platforms, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released draft guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media.

The brands across sectors are associating with influencers to get across their marketing messages. So, much of what influencers post is promotional and a lot of it is not identified as such. Such non-disclosure is a disservice to consumers and is misleading.

The guidelines for influencers marketing on digital media will be available for all stakeholders, including industry, digital influencers as well as consumers for feedback till March  8, 2021. Based on the feedback and inputs, the final guidelines will be issued by ASCI by March 31, 2021. This guideline will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after April 15, 2021.

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. Examples of such advertisements could be paid music promotion in a video, promoting a store or a brand through a post on the influencers media handle. (Approved labels include #ad, #collab, #promo, #sponsored and #partnership. No other labels may be used as consumers may not be familiar with short forms or other words to connote advertisements.)

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 lesser, 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- eg. 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.

Complaint handling

ASCI will issue a notice to both the brand owner and influencer for violation of any guideline in the 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 eg 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.

In keeping with the changing marketing paradigm, ASCI has closely followed advertising content on digital platforms. Last September, it associated with TAM Media Research to monitor more than 3,000 digital platforms for misleading marketing messages. With the guidelines, ASCI will assist consumers, brands and content creators to ensure all stakeholders’ interests are preserved through a self-regulatory approach.

As per ASCI’s Trust in Advertising Report, released last December, the viewership of ads on digital platforms is virtually the same in rural (82%) and metro (83%) areas. Keeping in mind the growing consumption of digital advertising, the disclosure guidelines for influencers were the need of the hour.

The guidelines were a collaborative effort with influencers. ASCI teamed up with BigBang.Social, a marketplace for social storytelling, to get India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board.

Subhash Kamath, Chairman, ASCI, said, “The digital space is vast. However, promotional content is often indistinguishable from regular posts. Consumers have the right to easily recognise promotional content. The guidelines will help consumers identify promotional content and also guide digital influencers. We look forward to feedback from industry stakeholders, including more influencers, which would help us make the digital space more responsible for all.”

Dhruv Chitgopekar, Founding Partner, Kwan, and CEO, BigBang.Social, said, “We realised the need for a responsible advertising ecosystem in place for influencers; promoting ethical practices, fair and transparent expression.   These guidelines will benefit consumers and digital influencers. We firmly believe it is essential for digital advertising platforms too. We are delighted to partner with a self-regulatory body that wants to be inclusive of all stakeholders.”

ASCI Influencers' branded content