By Gunjan Chandok
“Social media is not a media. The key is to listen, engage, and build relationships.”
The influencers have been actively carrying the marketing messages of the brands to the ultimate consumers. But the content being promoted is somehow non-identifiable too which leads to disservice to consumers and is misleading.
Empowering consumers is the objective of ASCI guidelines
With the objective of empowering consumers to recognise promotional content on digital platforms easily, the Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has released a draft of guidelines for influencer advertising on digital media.
The guidelines for influencers advertising on digital media were made available for feedback until March 8, 2021 to:
1. All stakeholders
3. Digital influencers
Further, ASCI will use the feedback and input to issue the final guidelines on 31st March 2021 by ASCI. Thereafter, they would be applicable to all promotional posts being published on or after April 15, 2021.
ASCI guidelines to organise the digital space
The main purpose of the issuance of these guidelines would be to organise the vast digital space. This is because the content meant for promotion is often dimmed with the regular content. In other words, an advertisement must be noticeable by an 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.
You as an influencer must add a disclousre label when…
1. You’ve run the post as an ad for your product/service/event/contest/prize.
2. You received or will receive payment/barter for promoting a product, service, or brand in this post.
3. You’ve included a discount code/hyperlink as a result of which you get a commission on clicks or sales generated via this link or code.
4. Any brand commissioned or authorized this communication.
5. You’ve or you’ll receive a free product/service/incentive/hospitality/free trip/discounts or any other benefits for making this post.
ASCI guidelines for disclosure labels as per specific social media platforms:
1. Instagram: The disclosure label has to be included in the text that shows. If only the image/video is seen, the image/video itself must include the label. e.g.: reels, Insta stories.
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. e.g.: 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: Include the label in the title/description of the post. Further, the same is applicable for other video platforms.
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. Blogger: Include the disclosure label in the title of the post.
Apart from this the disclosure label being used for highlighting advertising is required to be:
1. Direct i.e. (within the first two lines of any given platform, so that a consumer need not click on see more or have to scroll under the fold),
2. Prominent (so people don’t miss it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when)
3. Compatible with various potential devices means it should be visible irrespective of the platform whether it is a website or app
4. It has to be written in English or the language should be framed in a way that is well understood by an average consumer.
5. Blanket disclosures in a profile/bio/about section would be considered inadequate since people accessing the site may prefer reading individual reviews or watch individual videos and not seeing the disclosure on another page
6. In case the advertisement is only a picture such as Story on Instagram or Snapchat, the label has to be superimposed over the picture ensuring that an average user is able to notice it.
For video posts:
7. In the absence of a text post case in a video, the disclosure label has to be superimposed on the video so that it is noticeable for the viewer.
(a) Whenever the time span of the video is around 15 seconds or less, the disclosure label should be visible for a minimum of two seconds.
(b) Videos that are longer than 15 seconds, less than two minutes, the disclosure label has to be visible for one-third the length of the video.
(c) Videos longer than two minutes should have a disclosure label for the whole timespan where the brand and its features are being promoted as well as mentioned.
(d) In the case of live streams, the disclosure label has to be placed intermittently, for five seconds at the end of every minute so that viewers watching part of the stream are able to see the disclosure.
(e) In case of audio media, the disclosure label must be clearly announced at the beginning and the end of the audio.
8. The guidelines prohibit the application of filters for social media advertisements in case they exaggerate the effect of the claim that the brand is making- for example, makes hair shinier, teeth whiter among others.
9. The influencers are required to practice due diligence in case of any technical or performance claims made by them. For instance, 2x better, effect lasts for one-month, fastest speed, best in class, etc. The due diligence should be supported by correspondence from the advertiser or brand’s end in order to assure that the particular claim can be accomplished with scientific substantiation.
Complaint handling as per ASCI guidelines:
A notice would be issued by ASCI to both the brand owner and influencer for violation of any guideline that may arise in the situation of a complaint by a consumer or Suo Moto cognisance of a prospective objectionable advertisement. Further, in the case of disappearing posts, a screenshot with a timestamp will suffice as prima-facie evidence of the advertisement having been published is to be used.
The rapid and dynamic social media scenario demanding the need of regulatory and compliance scrutiny this job has been attempted well by ASCI which has been closely following content being advertised on the digital platforms. Last year it associated with TAM Media Research and monitored more than 3,000 digital platforms for misleading marketing messages. 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.
ASCI guidelines are the need of the hour
The disclosure guidelines meant for influencers were the need of the hour because of the growing consumption of digital advertising
Firstly, the guidelines are a result of collaboration amongst ASCI and influencers. Secondly, ASCI teamed up with BigBang.Social, which is a marketplace for social storytelling, in order to get access to India’s leading digital influencers’ views on board.
Finally, having the guidelines in action, ASCI will help consumers, brands, and content creators to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders’ are intact by following a self-regulatory approach making the digital space more responsible for all.
In short, the responsible advertising ecosystem is the need of the hour for influencers- promoting ethical practices, fair and transparent expression. The guidelines are going to benefit consumers as well as digital influencers.