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Global marketing research firm AC Nielsen, in a survey done in the year 2015 with a sample size of 29,000 in 55 countries, said 84% people trusted their peer group for behavioural change above any other source of information.

This has been pushing advertisers to look for solutions other than or along with advertising. And content, either paid or owned, has come to their rescue more than ever. It is available everywhere in the form of branded content, DIY videos, informative articles, macro- and micro-influencers, user-generated content (challenges thrown by brands on short-video platforms) or any other form of content.

Now when advertising is entering an era of new regulations laid down by the government, which, if implemented in letter and spirit, will make 80% of the advertising redundant, according to Samit Sinha, Founder and Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, more and more brands are expected to turn to branded content and other such mediums.

Currently, there is no self-regulation or a regulation mechanism in India for the new forms of branding mentioned above. The country’s self-regulatory body, Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), seems to be way behind its global counterparts and partners when it comes to looking beyond advertising.

Subhash Kamath

At a press meet, soon after the AGM that elected industry veteran Subhash Kamath as ASCI Chairman, it was asked if the council would ever bring branded content and content marketing under its purview.

“ASCI will continue to evolve as the marketing landscape evolves. ASCI is a member of the International Council of Advertising Self-Regulation (ICAS) with our Secretary General on its Executive Committee. We, therefore, learn and adopt global best practices on advertising self-regulation via ICAS,” said Kamath. “We will also find out about the practices on branded content and content marketing and see how to monitor them.”

While ASCI considers every paid or owned medium used by brands in order to reach out to consumers, including communication on social media, eligible to exercise self-regulation, it sees user-generated content out of its radar.

“There are no guidelines on user-generated content because that would mean monitoring what regular citizens say or post. Our scope is restricted to commercial advertising,” Kamath said.

But industry experts feel the need for self-regulation, at least on the part of the advertiser when it comes to the user-generated content such as social media challenges thrown by brands as they are funded by the advertisers.

Another important area of self-regulation is the use of micro influencers who are in hundreds of thousands and continuously helping brands to spread their communication.

While ASCI has guidelines for celebrity endorsers of brands, it is yet to be seen how the advertising ombudsman will equip itself for monitoring on such a large scale.