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The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) has started monitoring digital and social media platforms for violations of its influencer advertising guidelines from Wednesday, it said a month after introducing the new rules for promotional content in digital.

The ad regulator has partnered with a French technology provider, Reech, which will use artificial intelligence to scan digital content across platforms.

Since the launch of the guidelines on 14 June, ASCI has received 46 consumer complaints regarding non-disclosure of what appears to be a paid promotion by influencers. Personal care and beauty was the most cited category, and the highest number of complaints were against Instagram influencers.

The influencer ecosystem in India covers social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and a host of short video platforms such as Chingari, Moj and MX Taka Tak.

“Although disclosures have started to appear, there is an equal number of posts where they are not being used as well. We have received complaints about both Stories (on Instagram) and regular posts across social media platforms," said Manisha Kapoor, secretary-general, ASCI. “In most of these cases, as soon as we write to influencers and advertisers, the posts are modified within a couple of hours. Our suo-moto monitoring will start in full force from 14 July, and there will be an increased number of complaints."

As stakeholders start to implement the guidelines, many influencer marketing agencies, talent management firms and digital agencies have issued a diktat to their influencers to abide by the guidelines. However, key challenges remain.

While most big influencers with over one million followers have started using disclaimers and hashtags such as #AD or #Sponsored, a large number either post without using tags or openly defy the norms.

A beauty blogging account on Instagram that goes by the name Skinslayer with over 28,000 followers recently posted a story refusing to use #AD in its posts. The account, which is managed by Madhuri and Yamini Swetha, was referring to barter collaboration where a brand sends products to an influencer and, based on their personal experience of using those products, the influencer posts content around it.

“Why should I name this an #AD when there is real effort that went behind creating the piece of content and when the promotion is not scripted? I’ll be terming this as a #collaboration or #Sponsoredforthework going forward," Skinslayer’s Instagram story read.

Responding to Mint’s query over email, creator Madhuri of Skinslayer account clarified, “the story (on Instagram) I shared has clearly mentioned that I will prefer to use #collaboration or #sponsored if a lot of my followers find #ad hashtag to be scripted or something as I never did scripted collaborations/ads - that was just to let them know that I take my own sweet time to test the products and share honest thoughts on the same, be it #ad or not."

Ashutosh Harbola, the founder of influencer marketing company Buzzoka, said the biggest issue with influencer marketing is the way PR firms push for barter deals (exchange of product/service expecting a positive review), often urging creators to not use the ‘sponsored’ tag or put out any disclaimer about products being gifted by a brand. “In most such barter deals, influencers are often not paid upfront but are provided with products in an expectation of a positive review which is where most violations are happening," he added.

A set of advertisers across automobile, tech and FMCG, among other categories, are also part of the problem, said Neel Gogia, co-founder, IPLIX Media, an influencer marketing and talent management agency.

Gogia said his agency took a revenue hit because a few campaigns have been locked before the guidelines were issued. Now advertisers are not comfortable using the paid promotions tag that has left influencers stranded. “They either have to let go of the money or flout the norms. As of now, there is no clarity on penalties or the repercussions that an advertiser /influencer/agency may face for not adhering to the guidelines. ASCI should communicate clearly about the penalties in case of non-compliance. Only then will it be taken more seriously," he added.

While ASCI doesn’t have the authority to penalize violators of its guidelines, it can inform government departments about non-compliance.

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