India has the second largest number of internet users today and that is when only about 55% of the national population in fact has access to the internet. So, effectively in the coming years, India’s digital boom will most likely make it one of the biggest digital industry in the world.
With the increase in internet consumption and social media usage, there has been a significant rise in the number of social media influencers in India. A ‘social media influencer’ is someone who is a social media user and puts out varied user generated content and has in turn gained a considerable number of following and established a credibility on internet. They are someone who has access to an audience and the power to affect their audience’s purchasing decisions or opinions about a product, service, brand or experience, because of the influencer’s authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with their audience, An influencer can intervene in an editorial context or in collaboration with a brand to publish content.
How big is the Social Media Influencer Industry?
The global influencer industry is worth around $1.75 billion and its Indian counterpart is growing at a considerable speed. It is estimated to be worth around $75-$150 million a year today and is likely to grow tremendously in the coming years. We’ve seen the rise of content creators in the last five years itself with many beginning with making videos at home to becoming brands in themselves. Many content creators have millions of people following them on various social media platforms and they’ve started their own merchandise lines, starred in movies and have gone on to become household names. A decade ago, stardom revolved around Bollywood celebrities, but you can understand the increasing fan following of content creators from the fact that many Bollywood actors collaborate with these creators in order to promote their films and to reach a wider audience.
Why was there a need for advertising guidelines?
Many content creators make lifestyle videos, where they continuously review products, clothes, services etc. These videos were being made initially when they started out, as a a means of sharing genuine reviews about the products they used. Since these videos were made by real people sharing personal views, it resonated with their audience and often generated free publicity and marketing for the products. But, over the years, as the audience of content creators have grown and their credibility and reach increased, brands started approaching them for paid collaboration to make content relating to their products. This included product reviews, hauls, vlogs (for destinations) etc.
This turned out to be a win-win situation for both, the content creators, since they were able to monetise their content and able to make a living out of it and for the companies, who were saving a considerable amount of money doing marketing through user generated content and reaching a wide audience.
The only stakeholder for whom it was an adverse situation was the consumers. What started out as genuine peer based reviews turned into pure marketing without the consumer even getting to know about it. Content creators could be putting out pure marketing content which would be indistinguishable from regular posts and the consumers would often be left behind with the impression that what they saw were genuine posts relating to a product, even though a content creator might not have tried that product or service ever before. So basically it turned out to be an advertisement without really looking like one.
To deal with this misleading marketing content, Instagram and YouTube added a feature wherein, whenever a content creator was making a video in collaboration with a brand they could add the tag “Paid Partnership” so as to make sure the consumers are not misled and to maintain transparency with respect to paid collaborations. However, this disclosure by content creators was not mandated by any law or guidelines by any authority in India. Therefore, there have been a lot of instances where the collaborations, despite being a paid partnership was not really disclosed as a “Paid partnership” on social media platforms.
What are these guidelines?
In order to tackle this issue of misleading advertisements in the changing marketing paradigm, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on 22nd February, 2021 framed certain draft guidelines for ‘Influencer advertising on digital media’. These guidelines are made 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 31st March, 2021. This guideline will be applicable to all promotional posts published on or after 15th April 2021. (Read here)
The details of the draft advertising guidelines are as follows:
1) Advertisements must be distinguishable by the average consumer i.e the consumer should not get confused between the regular user generated content and promotional user generated content. Therefore, a disclosure label is required to be added from a list of approved labels i.e #add #collab #promo #sponsorship and #partnership. The rationale behind having a set of pre determined disclosure labels is to avoid confusion and the creative ways in which advertisers and influencers may wish to convey that the said communication is an advertisement.
2) It is also mentioned that the disclosure label needs to be upfront i.e within the first two lines of any platform such that a consumer need not click on ‘see more’ or have to scroll under the fold, it should be prominent and should be visible regardless of the device used.
3) The disclosure label must be in English or translated into the language of the advertisement in a way that it 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 can view a post without actually visiting the profile or bio. So, people 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 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.
|Length of Video||Display time for disclosure label|
|Less than 15 Seconds||a minimum of 2 seconds.|
|15 secs to 2 mins||1/3rd the length of the video.|
|2 minutes or longer||the entire duration of the section in which the promoted brand or its features, benefits etc are mentioned|
|live streams||placed periodically, for 5 seconds at the end of every minute|
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. This is in order to comply with the provisions of “misleading advertisements” under the new Consumer Protection Act, 2019.
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.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019, The Central Authority can impose a penalty on the endorser of the false or misleading advertisement which may extend to ten lakh rupees and up to fifty lakh rupees for every subsequent contravention. The Central Authority may further prohibit the endorser of a false or misleading advertisement from making endorsement of any product or service for a period which may extend to one year and up to three years for every subsequent contravention.
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.
There are also platform specific instructions which are as follows:
|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|
|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|
|Include the disclosure label or tag at the beginning of the body of the message as a tag|
|Include the disclosure label at the beginning of the message.|
|Youtube and other video platforms||Include the label in the title / description of the post.|
|Vlog||Overlay the disclosure label while talking about the product or service|
|Snapchat||Include the disclosure label in the body of the message in the beginning as a tag.|
|Blog||Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.|
Which posts shall covered under these guidelines?
– If the post is an ad for your product, service, event, contest prize run by you.
– If you have received or will receive any payment or a barter for promoting a product, service or brand in the post.
– If you have included a discount code/ hyperlink whereby you get a commission on clicks or sales generated via the link or code.
– If any brand has commissioned or authorized the content of a post
– If you have or will receive a free product/ service/ incentive/hospitality/free trip/discounts or any other benefits for making a post .
In all these circumstance, you need to add the disclosure label to your posts as per the ASCI digital disclosure guidelines.
What happens in case of a violation?
You can be held liable under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and the ASCI will issue a notice to both brand owner and influencer for violation of any guideline in the case of a consumer complaint or it will take a suo motu cognisance of a potentially objectionable advertisement.
In the case of disappearing posts, a screenshot with timestamp would suffice as prima-facie evidence of the advertisement having been published.
Do other countries have similar guidelines?
Many countries around the world like Australia, USA, United Kingdom, etc have advertising standards which aim to ensure that any paid content is clearly labelled as such.
Some of these guidelines are as follows:
|USA||FTC Guide on the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising and “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” (the “Guide”)|
|UK||Influencers’ guide to making clear that ads are ads|
|Australia||Ad Standards guidelines for influencers and AANA Clearly Distinguishable Advertising Industry Practice Note|
|Canada||Influencer Marketing Steering Committee Disclosure Guidelines and Interpretation Guidelines #5 (Testimonials, Endorsements, Reviews)|
|New Zealand||Influencers AdHelp Information on Identifying Ad Content|
The current guidelines were the need of the hour to regulate advertisement content on Social media platforms and to protect the consumers. These were important to enable consumers to make an informed decision and to have a fair choice. It upholds the principles and provisions of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and is indeed a welcomed change.
Image source: here