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New Delhi: Ad regulator Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) on Wednesday said that it will write to Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli over his social media posts praising Lovely Professional University (LPU).

The posts, which appeared like a promotional campaign with the cricketer tagging LPU’s official social media handles and using hashtag #LPUStudentsInOlympics was devoid of any disclosure required by ASCI’s newly launched influencer guidelines.

In response to Mint’s query, Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI said “ASCI will take up the issue and write to the celebrity and the advertiser for their clarifications."

On Tuesday, Kohli took to social media, where he has a massive following of 228 million fans across Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, to praise LPU and its contribution to the Olympics.

“What a record, 10% of Indian Olympians are from Lovely Professional University. I hope LPU will send students to the Indian cricket team also! Jai Hind," said Kohli.

The cricketer shared a promotional advertisement by LPU, which appeared in print publication, along with a list of 11 students who are part of the Indian Olympic squad.

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Netizens instantly reacted to Kohli’s post and started posting about cricketer’s account being hacked while others pointed out that he should have used ‘paid promotion’ tag on the post which clearly looked like an ad.

Kohli is considered one of the most influential personality on social media and he’s also one of the most heavily paid celebrity endorsers too. The cricketer defying the influencer guidelines is likely to set a wrong precedence for others, said experts.

Communications strategy consultant Karthik Srinivasan said that Kohli is probably the most popular and leading influencer in India and it is almost incumbent upon ASCI to take some sort of action and at least comment on it. “…it is critical so that it doesn’t set a bad precedence. I’ve reached out to ASCI and they said they are taking it up suo moto on their own. All other influencers and the agencies are keenly looking forward to what ASCI will do in this case or how the penalty will be imposed, if there’s a penalty at all as it will set a new direction. This is the first time the rules are being implemented, we do not know how much power does ASCI have but it has to be vocal," he added.

Clearly, this is seen as an acid test for ASCI which is looking to regulate the burgeoning but highly unregulated influencer marketing space in India.

An email sent to Lovely Professional University is yet to elicit a response.

To be sure, Kohli is the top celebrity endorser for the fourth consecutive year despite the covid-19 disruption in the 2020 Duff & Phelps celebrity brand valuation report, maintaining his brand value at $237.7 million.

His social media following grew at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 35.4% to 165 million across platforms while raking up 2.8 million engagements per post. Even in a pandemic year in the absence of any live sports event in the first half of 2020, the cricketer was seen connecting with the fans across social media platforms.

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